Reprinted from Slate by Hella Winston on September 29, 2016.
“As a little girl growing up in Thousand Oaks, California, Alisha Mernick liked to play make-believe teacher,” writes Hella Winston in Slate. “She never imagined then that as a real teacher she would one day find herself facing off with the head of her school, not to mention an armed county sheriff. But one morning this July, that’s what happened to Mernick, 31, a New York University–educated visual arts teacher in her sixth year at Los Angeles’ Alliance Gertz-Ressler High School, while she and a union organizer from the United Teachers Los Angeles handed out leaflets to new Alliance hires near the parking lot of a school building. The handouts contained information about the ongoing effort by teachers at Gertz-Ressler and several other schools operated by Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a Los Angeles–based charter network, to unionize Alliance teachers and counselors.
“Alliance educators began their push to unionize in large measure, Mernick says, because they were concerned their employer was not ‘actualizing its core values,’ including the establishment of smaller classes and a personalized learning environment for its students, most of whom are poor and Latino or black. Mernick says that teachers who have signed on to the union effort want more input into decisions regarding curriculum and pedagogy. They’re also questioning how the school assesses their performance and discloses how it spends its funds. Making changes in these areas, Mernick believes, will help Alliance retain the kinds of qualified teachers it prides itself on hiring.
“But speaking up can feel risky for nonunionized charter teachers. …