In October, NJEA President Barbara Keshishian sent a letter to the state’s charter school educators, inviting them to the NJEA Convention. The letter was their ticket for free admission on Friday, Nov. 11 to all parts of the convention that were open to guests: the exhibit hall, keynote speaker Manuel Scott, Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf’s presentation, High Tech Hall, the Celebration of Excellence, and other opportunities.
“Normally, the cost of attending the convention is $75 per day for non-NJEA members,” Keshishian wrote. “However, because we are confident that you and your students will benefit from your attendance, we have decided to waive that fee for New Jersey’s charter school educa tors, allowing you to attend for free.”
There are over 100 charter schools in New Jersey, with over 40 more charter school applications expected to be approved by the end of January. Of these, only 11 are staffed by members of NJEA.
Charter school members
“In the end, we are still public school teachers, and we are required to do the same things,” said Maria Parelis, a fifth and sixth grade social studies teacher at Marion P. Thomas Charter School in Newark. Parelis is president of the Marion P. Thomas Education Association.
Parelis has attended four NJEA Conventions: two prior to her membership in NJEA and two since she helped organize a local association in her charter school. As a nonmember, she had been unable to attend the professional development workshops, but took advantage of the other professional opportunities available to her.
Parelis noted that charter school members find value in the convention.
“I even saw some of our students’ parents there,” she said. “They wouldn’t be here unless they felt it to be worthwhile.” The Marion P. Thomas Charter School places a premium on parental involvement, requiring parents to volunteer 40 hours of community service to the school.
While Parelis appreciates the professional development opportunities available through NJEA, it was concerns over how the school handled administrative matters that led her and her colleagues to organize with NJEA.
“The union helped us protect our benefits and pension records,” Parelis said. “They didn’t like it at first, but now the board is accepting the union little by little. They have taken many of our concerns into consideration and have written them into the school’s employee policies.”
The association is still negotiating its first contract and will head to a mediation session in January.
Sibyl Ponder is president of the Schomburg Charter School Education Association. She and SCSEA Vice President Dianne Goff attended this year’s NJEA Convention, using public transportation from North Jersey to attend.
SCSEA organized after staff experienced five years without a raise. The association is in the midst of bargaining its first-ever contract and appreciates the support it receives from NJEA.
“Through membership in the association we have a better chance of someone speaking on our behalf,” Ponder said.