May 142016
 

By Ann Welsh

The Lusher Charter School community is special. Teachers, students, parents, and the administration work every day to promote “Learning the Lusher Way” and to exemplify Lusher’s number one rule: Be Kind. The level of engagement from the entire Lusher community is unsurpassed. Only with this consistent effort from all members of the Lusher community can our students achieve the success they’ve enjoyed as a result of their experiences at Lusher. Lusher students have discovered new approaches to environmental remediation after oil spills, have introduced the President of the United States at a celebration of National Poetry Month, and have performed at Carnegie Hall. A Lusher student has even had a planet named after her by NASA!

But Lusher is more than any single outstanding student. Lusher is more than its arts program, its state championship soccer, swimming and track teams, its national championship chess team, or its academic record. Lusher is a family. A family that is the top ranked K–12 school in the state of Louisiana. A family that has always been unified in its quest to encourage the development of excellent artists, engineers, writers, scientists, and, most importantly, human beings.

But suddenly that unity is at risk. There is a wedge in the heart of our school. Union organizers have covertly invaded our campuses, creating unfamiliar and uncomfortable divisions between the teachers, the administrators, and the school’s governing board. In an extension of their efforts nationwide to undermine the charter movement, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and its local subsidiary, the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), are subverting the powerful sense of togetherness that makes Lusher so unique.  The AFT has invested heavily in promoting the unionization of Lusher.

One must ask, “why”? Lusher is consistently ranked amongst the best performing schools in the state and in the nation. Lusher has a 92 percent employee retention rate (the average annual turnover is 18 percent in New Orleans’ schools). Lusher was voted a top place to work by its teachers in the 2015 NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune Workplace Survey. How is unionization going to improve Lusher? I don’t know, but it would raise an estimated $45,000 annually in dues for the union organizations.

I am disappointed that, after the Advocates for Arts-Based Education (the Governing Board of Lusher) voted to remain neutral in the unionization controversy, Chunlin Leonhard, a member of the Board, would champion unionization in this publication. I support the board’s decision to allow Lusher’s teachers to decide this issue through a secret ballot administered by the National Labor Relations Board (a federal agency). While I am highly skeptical of the intentions of the American Federation of Teachers, not just in our school, but also in the city as a whole, teachers ultimately have the right to choose whether or not they want that organization at Lusher.

I believe the teachers will reject this effort, since they already enjoy the benefits, and more, that the union alleges to offer; without the encumbrances a union demands. The next few days leading up to Tuesday’s election may be difficult ones in our buildings. Teachers, along with the parents, students, and administrators that appreciate and support them, are suffering through fractured relationships and derisive hyperbole; driven by the differing opinions surrounding the value of unionization.

I do take solace in the certainty that on Wednesday, after the vote, regardless of the outcome, that the Lusher family – teachers, administrators, parents, students, and board members – can, and will, put all of this tension behind us and come together as a pride of Lusher Lions.

Ann Welsh is the mother of two children who attend Lusher Charter School. She served as PTSA president from 2011 to 2015 and continues to be an active member of the Lusher family.

  • Woobniggurath

    Ms Welsh, have you actually asked you self your question, “Why would Lusher teachers choose to have organized representation?” I think instead you are just telling yourself “These people have no real reason for doing what they are doing.” Think that you might be wrong. What would make a certified education professional unhappy enough with their workplace to want to risk conflict and disruption in order to change it? I’m sure if you think about it objectively, or rather, put yourself in their shoes, you may be able to imagine such reasons. Perhaps you have even worked in an environment in which you and your colleagues felt threatened by a dysfunction which you had to act to correct or escape. Is that not more reasonable to think of as the teachers motivation rather than believing that these people who have committed their lives to one of the most demanding and crucial roles in our society are choosing to selfishly disrupt a “perfectly functioning” organization simply out of a hunger to seize power and control?

  • RalphAdamo

    General hostility toward labor unions, and particular hostility toward labors unions organized by and for teaching professionals, needs to be weeded out of this discussion altogether. Most of the advances in middle class standards of living can be attributed to the courage and determination of labor organizers going back to the beginning of the last century. If the very idea of working colleagues organizing to secure and advance their jobs and working environment causes ‘unfamiliar and uncomfortable divisions,’ what does that tell us about their working environment in the first place?
    In fact, I believe the claims of division and discomfort are overstated; I believe that all parties involved — especially the school’s extraordinary faculty and exceptional administrators– are better that that.

    • liveoak

      Agreed. The school has not been turned upside down. Every day, I see happy children learning and playing, while teachers teach and take excellent care of them. I know the tensions exist, but we all control our own responses to the debate. The organizing teachers don’t control parents’ or other teachers’ feelings and behavior. (And plenty of people including many outside of Lusher’s community are engaging in fear mongering … so blaming the organizing teachers for any divisiveness doesn’t make sense when so many anti-union parties are fueling the flames.)

  • liveoak

    I agree that Lusher is a resilient community. A family? Well, it has many positive family-like qualities, absolutely. There is warmth, compassion, concern for our collective children’s upbringing, pride in one another’s accomplishments, and even love. I have felt and witnessed all of this at Lusher and I too trust that these qualities will persist with or without unionization. My (unionized) childhood teachers occupy similar places as family members in my heart and mind and I know my children have similar attachments to many of their teachers. My concern with referring to schools as “family” in this type of context, however, is that doing so dismisses workplace concerns (e.g., as inappropriate or disloyal — after all, we’re family, an accomplished family) or renders them invisible by failing to acknowledge that schools are indeed workplaces where employees have some different needs and boundaries than those experienced within families. I’m agnostic as to whether Lusher *should* have a union. That’s up to the voting employees. But I’m adamant that we not use “family” to mask the reality of schools as workplaces.

    • Andrea Williams

      I’m a teacher and a former teacher at this school. I’m not certain as to why the use of the word family I’m the workplace, particularly schools is so pervasive now. I am a cycnic and believe it is a disingenuous ploy to make teachers feel as tbough someone actually cares about you. Teachers are treated slightly better than a serf. In truth admin just wants scores so they can keep their high paying jobs and parents, rather it is true or not just want you to give their kids good grades so that they can boast to their friends. That’s fine, I am not delusional about the situation. Family even the best of them can be dysfunctional and that has no business in a workplace.

      As for unions in the school and the push back against it from parents, they’re simply afraid they will not be able to bully teachers anymore. Admin won’t be able to make you do that which you don’t want to and readily dismiss you for not being compliant.

      In fairness to the author of this article, she is a lovely person and I adored her daughter.

  • Jane BradyToomey

    I appreciate the mention of the arts programs and excellent education that Lusher educators offer our children and young adults. Lusher shares company with many strong public schools in our city in its strong devotion to the academic and social development of children. The faculty and administration have also integrated parents in a volunteering role that makes the school community particularly unique. Its a great place.

    However, the teachers themselves are not volunteers. They are employees that depend on the livelihood they earn creating their lessons, grading papers, inspiring and guiding student research projects, and advising students in creative writing, music, dramatic and visual arts. They also manage unruly students, document instances of bullying, identify kids with learning issues, solve disputes between students, and identify and report signs of abuse or neglect. These tasks are not executed solely in the spirit of “family”. Teaching is a very real job with tough demands and nearly constant calls for keen professional judgement. It is also a job where there are risks around every corner and very little room for error.

    As a Lusher parent, I have no doubt that my children will continue to benefit from the compassion, talent and dedication of their teachers at Lusher, whatever their status; union or not-union. I also know enough of the teachers at Lusher to know that their decision to pursue collective bargaining was their own–not a decision they were pushed into. In fact, i don’t think I have ever met a teacher who gets pushed around too easily.

  • Ari

    The people who are putting a “wedge in the heart of our school” are certain Lusher board members and PTSA board members, and our CEO, all of whom have created unnecessary divisiveness which will greatly hinder the ability of our school to work with our very dedicated teachers regardless of the outcome of the election. These individuals need to allow the teachers to vote in an atmosphere free of divisiveness and accept the results of the election without any further rancor.

  • LGD Resident

    If it weren’t for organized labor, these kids would still be in the mines or factory floors. Organized labor is unity, without it who will stand up against tyrannical bosses? Lusher, as I’ve come to find out, only cares about test scores, not children, parents, and certainly not teachers. I was so turned off by the administration and their cold, abrasive attitudes that I rejected them when my kid was accepted. Sure, it’s a pretty campus and they have high test scores but it’s a hostile environment.

  • will_k2

    If the author here is concerned about the impacts of divisive rhetoric, perhaps she would do well to not add to it.