WHAM 13  |  October 19, 2017  |  Carlet Cleare

Some parents and education advocates are rallying against new criteria for state charter school teachers.

On October 11, SUNY approved a proposal allowing high-performing charter schools to create their own independent measures for teachers outside of statewide standards. That includes charters that have been voted to be renewed for 5 years and have 60 percent of its students in grades 3-8 outperforming students from local school districts in testing.

Some local parents, teachers union representativess and community advocates are upset by the new exception.

“These are kids, if anything, that need the very best teachers,” said Tom Gillette, the regional director of NYSUT. “The cream of the crop rather than somebody who’s only had a week in a classroom before they’ve been given some certification.”

The measure allows charter schools to fill positions more easily with the unconventional teacher qualifications. That means some will do away with Bachelors or Masters degree requirements and fewer student teaching hours.

“It takes a week to learn student names,” said RCSD teacher Candace Rubin. “How can you possibly weed out unqualified candidates with a week of student teaching? It’s absurd.”

The chair of the SUNY Charter Schools Committee, Trustee Belluck said, “By approving this new pathway for teacher certification, SUNY is building on our successful track record of innovation and ensuring schools are held accountable through measurable results. New York is taking the lead in addressing the national teacher shortage while opening up the profession to qualified and trained individuals who want to give back, bring their enthusiasm and expertise into our classrooms, and provide a high-quality education to all New York’s students.”

“I understand even for child care, you need 1,000 hours of training,” said Lydia Rodriguez, who has a granddaughter attending a Rochester charter school. “So these teachers have ten times less than what our child care needs. They have less field training than a barber or even a nail technician, and that’s a slap in the face to our teachers who are highly qualified and our students.”

SUNY Charter Schools Institute is working on guidance documents to accompany the regulations. The Institute will leverage the expertise of SUNY, where teacher training is among one of SUNY’s founding commitments.

“You’re now saying you’re going to create your own standard to where it’s even less training,” said Mercedes Phelan, community organizer of Metro Justice. “If we’re having issues now, we’re going to run into more problems.”

The group stood outside the Exploration Elementary Charter School of Science and Technology on Lake Avenue, the same school where a mother accused a gym teacher of slamming her 6-year-old son, allegedly knocking out his front tooth, when trying to restrain him in September.

The incident has these folks concerned that, without stricter teaching requirements, similar situations could occur.

“How do we expect, as parents, for our children to get a quality education when the teachers aren’t quality trained?” Rodriguez said.

That charter school has issued a statement, saying police have informed them no criminal charges will be brought against that gym teacher. However, he’s still suspended until further notice. Rochester Police confirm the school’s claim that the investigation into that teacher is officially closed.

Kia White-Thompson, the mother of 6-year-old K’Harii Williams, is not happy about this.

“Every time I think about it, I just start crying because it stresses me out,” she said. “It’s not fair. I just think it’s the biggest slap in the face, on top of this school already not saying anything to me. Then, my son is not having any justice whatsoever. Nobody knows what my son is going through.”