Excerpt from the article in LA Weekly, "Why Charter School Teachers are Split on Unionization," By Gene Maddaus. Published on Monday, November 30, 2015
The jewel in the Alliance crown is the Patti and Peter Neuwirth Leadership Academy, located in a shiny new building at 47th and Main streets in South L.A.
The student population reflects the demographics of the neighborhood — about 90 percent Latino, the rest African-American. The students come from poor families, with 98 percent qualifying for subsidized lunch.
And yet the school has a tremendous track record of success. Last year, 99 percent of its students were accepted to college.
At Neuwirth (the schools are named for donors; the Neuwirths have given Alliance more than $1 million) there is a relentless focus on college readiness. The school motivates seniors by posting their names in the hallway alongside the schools that have accepted them, much in the way that a sales department would motivate its staff by posting a monthly leader board.
Many of the students transferred from underperforming L.A. Unified district schools. Kiara Hernandez, a 16-year-old junior, came from Barack Obama Global Preparation Academy.
“It was horrible,” she says. “We chased substitute teachers away. The kids ran the school.”
In one class, she says students threw books out the window. Once, they set a trashcan on fire. The school responded to by holding an assembly and warning that the next time the administration would call the police. The students laughed it off.
She says such a thing would simply never happen at Neuwirth. “You would be expelled,” she says.
Other students say there’s no hazing or bullying at Neuwirth, and no drug dealing, gangs or metal detectors. They also note that teachers have an easier time controlling the classroom.
“The staff are held to high expectations,” says Omar Prudencio, a junior. At his L.A. Unified school, he says, “The teachers were just there to collect a paycheck.”
Several of the teachers at Neuwirth also have had previous experience in regular public schools, and they too note a huge difference. “The kids who come here want to be here,” says Lindsey Vordran, who teaches English.
Ami Sheth, an English teacher, says that when she taught at Hollywood High School in L.A. Unified, there were fewer counselors and much bigger classes. In some cases, there weren’t enough desks to go around, so students had to sit on file cabinets or air conditioners. She also says the union was partly to blame for the problems there.
“They protected horrible teachers. It was so shocking,” she says. “I definitely don’t want to have anything to do with UTLA. There’s something magical about this school, and I want to protect that. I can only see them tarnishing it.”