Out On the Line: On Charter School Unionization and the Chicago Teachers’ Strike

In Act 1 we talk to teacher-organizers Martha Baumgarten and Renee Ridolfi about their pathway to becoming teachers and how they ended up at Acero Charter Schools in Chicago. Commenting on the broad problems with charters and with the broader privatization of education, they reflect on what they have learned about practices of anti-racist solidarity — spoiler, you don’t find it at Teach for America — and what they might have done differently.

Act 2: Between charter unions and charter abolition

In Act 2 we dive into the specific experience of being a teacher in the Acero charter school network, or what Renee describes as “setting myself on fire to keep everyone else warm.” We discuss the heroic response of teachers to these working and learning conditions: the first ever charter school strike in the winter of 2018-19. Through the lens of this work, Renee and Martha comment on the current moment, where teachers are under extreme pressure to resume in person classes during a pandemic.

About our Guests:

Renee (left) and Martha (right) pose in their Acero uniforms, accessorized with union stickers

Renee Ridolofi is a school social worker in the Durham and Chapel Hill area, and she specializes in child/adolescent mental health. Drawing on her background in elementary education, she worked for two years as a teacher in UNO/Acero schools while she was completing her Master’s in Social Work from UChicago. During this time, she was part of the first-ever strike by charter school teachers.

Martha Baumgarten is an organizer and educator who currently teaches elementary special education in Cook County, IL. Before that, she worked for six years at Chicago’s Acero/UNO charter school network. There, she served as union steward, Vice President for Teachers, anon  the committee that united the Chicago Teachers Union locals representing public teachers and charter teachers (respectively). Fun fact: Martha and Lucia attended the same summer program — the Youth Theological Initiative, featured in a previous podcast-– as teens. The rest is history!

Martha (wearing the red beanie) speaks to a gaggle of journalists during the charter school strike of winter 2018-19.
Mark Mckee (center with trumpet) and Max Bowen (left in black hoodie) record a music video in a junkyard. We're grateful to have them as musical collaborators.

Music and Sound

Outro music in Parts 1 and 2 is by Akrasis: Mark McKee (beats) and Max Bowen (Raps): “A Good Spy (Reprise)” from Children Singing in Hell and “TTE” from Unemployed Apologist.

Music by Akrasis is available on BandCamp: https://akrasis.bandcamp.com/. Check them out!


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