This week, a supermajority of teachers and certificated staff at San Diego’s High Tech High filed a petition with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) for union recognition. HTH, with 16 schools spread over four campuses and an enrollment of more than 6,000 students in grades K-12, is the largest operator of charter schools in San Diego County.
More than 60 percent of HTH’s approximately 400 teachers have signed the petition.
In a letter to the HTH community, the union-organizing committee stressed its support for “the mission” of HTH and explained that the primary reason for forming a union is to improve teachers’ ability to “collaborate and advocate” on issues of equity.
“In order to hold our organization [HTH] accountable to long-standing promises of equity and the vision for its future, we have decided to organize our union High Tech Education Collective (HTEC) at HTH with the California Teachers Association,” the organizing committee wrote.
The pandemic, combined with the ongoing national fight for racial justice, made it clear to many of HTH’s faculty members that they had little input in school decision-making and that inequities faced by students weren’t being adequately addressed by the charter management organization’s three boards or school administrators.
“It’s a widely shared view that by forming a union across all of our campuses, we will for the first time have a real seat at the table,” said Jared Hutchins, a 12th-grade government/media literacy teacher at High Tech High North County. “This has been an ongoing discussion for the past year.”
The organizing effort has received support from the wider school community. “I’ve been a High Tech parent for more than 15 years straight, with four of our children having attended one or more schools in the network,” said Lorena Gonzalez, assemblywoman for California’s 80th District. “It is the teachers and staff who make this educational experience so incredibly special for our kids. They deserve a voice on the job, which will improve the opportunities for all of our children. Today’s actions by these teachers will close the circle on the creation of a first-class school system."
The union-organizing effort began in 2020. HTH faculty members connected with each other primarily online through the video-meeting service Zoom, email messaging and texting to discuss issues and the need for representation.
“We love this school and we really want it to work,” said Paola Capó-García, a 12th-grade English teacher at High Tech High Media Arts in Point Loma. “We want to make the school more sustainable. But, too often our students feel abandoned due to teacher retention issues. This needs to be addressed.”
Health, safety, professional development and extra-curricular obligations are additional issues a union can help address, Capó-García said.
HTH’s schools include seven authorized by San Diego Unified and nine authorized as Statewide Benefit Charters. HTH is well known in California and nationally for its project-based learning model.
Unusual for a charter management organization, HTH has been authorized by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to offer preliminary and professional credentials. In 2007, HTH opened a graduate school of education offering master’s degrees in education in teacher leadership and school leadership to teachers in and outside the charter school network.
HTH has three governing boards. The High Tech High Board governs and controls the schools. It is chaired by Gary Jacobs. HTH Learning is a private nonprofit and oversees the facilities. The HTH Foundation is a private nonprofit primarily responsible for securing philanthropic support.
Across the state, charter schools enroll roughly 630,000 students – about 10 percent of California’s 6.2 million public school students – and are required to adhere to the state’s public-sector labor laws. Nearly 1,500 California charter-school teachers have petitioned to form unions since the pandemic began last March.
Once the HTEC petition filed this week is certified, The PERB will call on both the new union and HTH managers to sit down to discuss issues and begin bargaining a first contract. Representatives from the California Teachers Association will assist HTEC at the bargaining table.