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Noble Teachers Aim To Become Biggest Union Charter Network In Nation

By Stephanie Lulay | March 3, 2017 9:50am | Updated on March 6, 2017 9:33am
 Baker College Prep in South Chicago opened August 2013.
Baker College Prep in South Chicago opened August 2013.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

CHICAGO — Educators at Noble Networks Charter Schools are taking steps to become the largest unionized charter school network in the nation. 

During a citywide meeting Friday, Noble Street Charter School teachers presented the network's leadership with more than 100 signatures of educators who are actively forming a union across Noble's 17 campuses. The petition asks Noble Street CEO Michael Milkie and the Noble board to allow educators to form a union without interference from management.

The Noble educators said a union would help them better advocate for their students' needs and ultimately improve the quality of education in Noble schools. If formed, the union would be the largest unionized charter school network in the nation. 

In a statement, Milkie said that he believes a "restrictive union contract" could hurt Noble schools. 

“We respect the rights of individuals to organize or not organize, and we will continue to address concerns of teachers, staff, parents, and all members of the Noble community. In my experience as a former CPS teacher, I believe a restrictive union contract could eliminate the curriculum and flexibility we have to best serve our students’ needs," Milkie said. "I’m proud to have worked hand-in-hand with Noble educators to send 90 percent of Noble seniors to college last year, and I know that our teachers will remain focused on that most important mission.”

But James Kerr, English teacher at Hansberry College Prep in Auburn Gresham, said a union would give teachers a "voice in decision-making for our students." 

"Our students consistently perform well and go to respected universities. They were able to do this through the community we built in our classrooms," Kerr said. "A union will be the voice of our communities, advocating for the families we serve.”

Christina Verdos-Petrou, Spanish teacher at Golder College Prep in West Town, said retaining staff is key to creating "Noble families." 

"Our working conditions are our students' learning conditions," she said. "Having a voice in improving these conditions keeps educators in their schools, allowing them to teach the brothers and sisters, cousins, and neighbors of our students.”

Chris Baehrend, president of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff Local 4343, said the union's current 1,100 members support the Noble teachers' effort to organize. 

“They are asking for management to be fair and neutral in this process," Baehrend said. "After they have succeeded, nearly half of the charter educators in Chicago will have the power of a union behind them in advocating for the schools their students deserve."

Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and a veteran English teacher, and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten are also supporting the Noble teachers. 

“They’re joining together for the same reason as thousands of their colleagues — so they can improve kids’ well-being and help them achieve their dreams," Weingarten said. "I’m excited the Noble educators are raising their voice, and we will be standing together with them in their fight.”

The Chicago Teachers Union also stands in solidarity with the Noble staff, President Karen Lewis said. 

"Personally, I am extremely proud of their desire to strengthen their collective voice to better advocate for the students they serve," Lewis said in a statement. 

The Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff Local 4343 is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. The local represents more than 1,100 teachers and staff in charter school campuses across Chicago. 

Founded in 1999, Noble Charter Network operates 17 schools across Chicago: Baker College Prep, Butler College Prep, Chicago Bulls College Prep, DRW College Prep, Gary Comer College Prep, Gary Comer College Prep Middle School, Golder College Prep, Hansberry College Prep, ITW David Speer Academy, Johnson College Prep, Mansueto High School, Muchin College Prep, Noble Street College Prep, Pritzker College Prep, Rauner College Prep, Rowe-Clark Math & Science Academy, The Noble Academy and UIC College Prep.