At NEA Representative Assembly, Educators Prepare to Make an Impact in 2020


Galvanized by the historic mobilization of public school educators that caught the attention of the entire nation, educators converged on the George E. Brown convention center in Houston, Texas on July 4 for the 157th National Education Association Representative Assembly (RA). The theme of the 2019 RA was Our Democracy. Our Responsibility. Our Time! After four busy and exciting days, the more than 6,000 delegates left Houston ready to carry the momentum of the #RedforEd movement into 2020 and play a pivotal in choosing the next president.

“This movement has created something better for millions of students and educators, but it’s bigger than that,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told delegates in her keynote address. ” We’ve created something better for communities—for this country that we love.”

And that unnerves people like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the army of billionaires who are funding the school privatization schemes that driver her agenda. But if we are to bring real change, Eskelsen García said, we need to look to the top.

Electing a new U.S. president in November 2020, she said, should be a priority of anyone who cares about public education. And public school educators should not shy away from working toward that goal.

“Political action isn’t subversive,” Eskelsen García said. “It’s the essence of democracy. … We will use our collective power to listen and learn and teach and reach and engage and organize and convince.”

At this year’s RA, NEA took a big first step in leading the conversation around public education and Election 2020 with the #StrongPublicSchools presidential forum.

For two hours, ten presidential hopefuls – former Vice President Joe Biden, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Kamala Harris, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tim Ryan, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren – made their case to the delegates (and viewers nationwide who watched the forum via livestream). They fielded questions from NEA members on everything from education funding, privatization, testing, school safety, and student debt.

Although NEA members undoubtedly had their preferred candidates, most came away impressed by the substantive conversation and the fact that – as Eskelsen García pointed out in her opening remarks – while educators were hearing from the candidates, “the candidates were listening to you.”

“They have clearly been listening to teachers,” said Oklahoma teacher Brendan Jarvis. “Only a strong and large organization can make an event like this possible, and give teachers a seat at the table in the next administration.”

‘Our Kids Deserve Better’

Taking a seat at the table (and keeping it) is a goal shared by all teachers and education support professionals, said 2019 NEA ESP of the Year Matthew Powell. Powell, a custodial supervisor in Kentucky and one of the most politically active educators in the state, addressed the RA on July 6.

“I want to remind all of us of the influence and power we have in the lives of our students, in our schools, and our communities,” he said. “That power is available to each and every one of us, every day, in big ways and in seemingly small ways …Never forget, we are the experts when it comes to public education.”

National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson carried the inspiring message forward with a powerful speech later in the afternoon. Robinson, a social studies in a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center in Virginia, made an impassioned plea for diversity, inclusion and greater educational opportunities for our most vulnerable students.

“We have hit the point of a national emergency, as we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters all over this great nation, and we need leaders who are willing to stand with us,” Robinson said.

In his closing, Robinson put lawmakers across the country on notice.

“Thousands of students, teachers, parents, and administrators are stepping up and saying enough is enough. And I promise you your judgement day will not be on your final day on this earth, but on Election Day when millions of Americans–led by every single person in this crowd-march to the polls, break down the doors, kick you out of office and say our kids deserve better!”

Strong and effective activism sometimes starts with a strong image. Hundreds of delegates discovered that when they visited a designated area in the hall, where artists from the Milwaukee-based Art Build Workers helped them create powerful protest art for signs, posters, and parachute banners.

“Creating images that go along with a movement, whether it’s racial or social justice [or the national #RedforEd movement], brings people together, and creates ownership in the movement,” said Wyoming art teacher Paige Gustafson.

Paige Gustafson at the NEA RA Art Build

John Stocks, in his last address as NEA executive director, urged the delegates and educators everywhere to embrace their growing power. “We need you to come together and make this country whole. Our democracy is calling out for social justice patriots.

“Let’s be perfectly honest. An educator can do more for our democracy in five minutes than some lawmakers can do over their entire career,” said Stocks.

Dolores McCracken, former president of the Pennsylvania Education Association, posthumously received the NEA’s highest honor, the NEA Friend of Education Award. McCracken’s two adult children accepted the award.

The RA awarded David Schneider, a communications professor at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) in University Center, Mich., as the 2019 Higher Educator of the Year.

What Democracy Looks Like

It wouldn’t be an RA, however, without New Business Items, lots and lots of New Business Items. The RA is a democratic body, so delegates spend most of their time debating and voting on new NBI’s – policies, resolutions, amendments that will direct much of the Association’s work in the coming year.

This year, delegates adopted more than 60 out of 160 proposed, dealing with topics as far ranging as the impact of technology on students, the opioid crisis, immigration advocacy, charter school “co-location,” and ethnic studies.

RA delegates also elected two educators to NEA’s Executive Committee, the Association’s highest-level governing body. Robert Rodriguez, a special education teacher from San Bernardino, Calif., and a champion for diversity and LGBTQ rights in schools, was re-elected to a second two-year term.

RA delegates debate a New Business Item.

The newest member of the executive committee is Christine Sampson-Clark of New Jersey, also a special education teacher.

“I’m honored to join NEA’s Executive Committee and look forward to representing the voices of my fellow education professionals in this role,” said Sampson-Clark. “Our members deserve professional respect as well as the resources needed to provide all our students with great schools. NEA is vital to these goals.”

RA delegates got the chance on the last day to say hello to NEA’s new executive director, Kim Anglin Anderson, who effective Sept. 1 will replace John Stocks. Anderson was previously with NEA for 15 years, creating and leading NEA’s Center for Advocacy and Outreach in 2016 before leaving to serve as executive vice president of the Democracy Alliance.

In a brief address to the RA, Anderson told the delegates how thrilled she was to be “coming home” to the NEA.

“What’s in my heart is what’s in yours: a love of the students we serve. And the responsibility we share to instill the values of democracy and equal opportunity in order to model in our schools what a just society should look like.”





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Former PSEA President Receives NEA’s Highest Honor


Kristin Ellenberger (center) and PSEA President Rich Askey accept the Friends of Education Award from NEA President Lily Eskelsen García during the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly.

On Friday, the Representative Assembly (RA) posthumously honored Dolores McCracken, former president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), with NEA’s highest honor, the NEA Friend of Education Award.

“She was fierce and she was loving,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, who called McCracken “a true inspiration to every student and member who had the good fortune to meet her…She was unwavering in her representation and support of PSEA’s 181,000 members and all of Pennsylvania’s public school students.

McCracken’s adult daughter, Kristin Ellenberger, and PSEA President Rich Askey accepted the award from the more than 7,000 RA delegates.

Wow. There’s not enough words to explain how I feel — thank you on behalf of my father, my brother, my family. You know how much my mom loved all of you, and her work, and she truly believed every child deserved every opportunity in the world.
– Kristin Ellenberg

McCracken first got involved in public education when her children started elementary school and she took on the role of president of Churchville Elementary’s home and school association. “In Dolores’ words, ‘I got involved, and ended up making it a lifelong habit,’” said Askey.

A former paralegal, McCracken then entered the classroom as a paraprofessional in a sixth-grade inclusion classroom in the Council Rock School District—and stayed nearly two decades. “When you work in public education and you believe you’re making a difference, one year turns into two years. And the next thing you know, you realize…you’re not going to leave,” McCracken said, in a 2017 interview.

After serving in various local and state union leadership roles, McCracken, in 2017, became the first education support professional to serve as PSEA president, where she led PSEA’s legislative and political programs, focusing always on improving the teaching and learning conditions in Pennsylvania’s public school classrooms.

McCracken died on Nov. 13, 2018, at age 65—but her legacy as an advocate for Pennsylvania’s children persists in legislation, policy, and practice. “While we mourn the loss of our dear, dear friend and member of our NEA family, we cherish her memory that will be a blessing. And we recognize the indelible impact she had, not only in Pennsylvania, but beyond,” said Eskelsen García.

During her tenure as president, “Dolores was always keenly keenly focused on improving teaching and learning conditions in PA. She was creative, she was collaborative, she pushed for bipartisan support,” said Eskelsen García, “and everything she fought for became law in Pennsylvania,” including legislation that promotes school safety, reduces the time that Pennsylvania’s students spend on standardized tests, and protects education support professionals from losing their jobs to the privatization of public school services.

She was creative, she was collaborative, she pushed for bipartisan support,” said Eskelsen García, “and everything she fought for became law in Pennsylvania,” including legislation that promotes school safety, reduces the time that Pennsylvania’s students spend on standardized tests, and protects education support professionals from losing their jobs to the privatization of public school services.

“Over her two-decade career, she worked tirelessly to change the lives of hundreds and hundreds of students. She strongly believed that our students are more than test scores…and every one of them deserves a world-class education,” said Askey.

Previous winners of the NEA Friend for Education award include: Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai; education policy expert Linda Darling-Hammond; U.S. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); and U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA).



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NEA President: “Something Big Is About to Happen”


NEA President Lily Eskelsen García delivers the keynote address at the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly.

In her keynote address to the 2019 National Education Association Representative Assembly on Thursday, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told the more than 7,000 delegates that the stakes in 2020 are too high for any educator to disengage from the political process.

Eskelsen García delivered her speech on July 4, usually a day to celebrate freedom and independence. Now, she said, everyone must stand up for something that is endangered.

“I’ve taken it for granted that in an open, democratic society, the moral arc of the universe would always bend towards justice,” she said. “That our country would keep finding ways to be more inclusive of folks who had been excluded; that we’d be looking for ways to give opportunities to folks who had so little; that we’d see more ways to appreciate our diversity of cultures and languages and races and our LGBT communities.”

Now more than ever, the nation needs its educators to take up the call. “The moral arc of the universe needs us now to put our backs into education justice,” Eskelsen García told delegates.

It’s already happening. In early 2018, West Virginia educators staged a historic walk-out sparking the national #RedforEd movement that quickly spread to states whose schools had buckled under a decade of extreme budget cuts.

Suddenly, politicians everywhere were listening.

“Even without a march, surprising doors were opened.  Politicians who usually said, ‘Talk to the hand,’ reached out to our leaders and said, ‘Let’s talk. We would so rather you not go all West Virginia on us,” Eskelsen García said.

Momentum carried over into the fall with the midterm elections. Educators delivered in spectacular fashion, helping sweep pro-education candidates—many of them former or current educators—into office at every level of government. Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Educators should never apologize, never shy away from being “political,” Eskelsen García said.

“Political action isn’t subversive.  It’s the essence of democracy.  Showing up informed and engaged, prepared to make a difference is exactly what democracy looks like.”

And NEA is prepared to be powerfully engaged in the 2020 election.

“I hope I’m not being too subtle.  I want to be clear,” Eskelsen García said. “The United States of America must have a new president. …Donald Trump is pushing our beautiful, imperfect nation towards authoritarianism and despotism. In the history of history, wherever authoritarian, anti-democratic despots took over, they had a common strategy. It’s about who you oppress, who you scapegoat, and the institutions you corrupt.”

To elect a new president—one who respects our democratic institutions, who has an inclusive vision for the country and strongly supports public education—NEA members will need more information than ever before.

On Friday, July 5, Ekselsen García will host 10 presidential candidates at the first ever #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum. It promises to be an exciting opportunity for members to hear directly from the candidates about their thoughts on public education.

“So much depends on betting this right,” Eskelsen García said, because so much is on the line. But all signs point to unprecedented mobilization by educators in the 2020 campaign.

Eskelsen Garcia recounted how, while attending a reception at Nancy Pelosi’s offices prior to a State of the Union address, she was approached by Evelyn Fabito. Fabito, a teacher in Maryland, was working the event as a server, one of her three jobs.

“I do a lot of these kinds of events,” Fabito told Eskelsen García. “But tonight, I see all these important people and I see you, the NEA president right here with them, and I just know, something big is going to happen.”

Those words stuck with Eskelesn García long after she departed the U.S. Capitol that night.

“Evelyn Fabito was the most important person I met that night,” she recalled. “There is no freaking way I’m letting her down.  Something big is going to happen and she’s going to be part of it. … We will use our collective power to listen and learn and teach and reach and engage and organize and convince.  And who better to do all that than those who teach our students their rights—but also their responsibilities in our democracy.”

Read the full remarks here.



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Presidential Hopefuls to Attend NEA’s Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly


Delegates stand to vote during Red For Ed Day at the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly in Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 5th 2018. (Photo/Calvin Knight)

Nearly 7,000 NEA members will begin arriving in Houston, Texas, today for NEA’s 157th Annual Meeting and 98th  Representative Assembly (RA), the world’s largest deliberative body that sets policy for the organization. The meeting will be held June 29 to July 8 at the Geroge R. Brown Convention Center, with the last four days dedicated to the RA.

The theme of this year’s meeting is Our Democracy. Our Responsibility. Our Time! and the headlining event will be the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum on July 5 where several 2020 presidential candidates will answer questions from America’s educators about the future of public education. Confirmed attendees include former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Kamala Harris, Gov. Jay Inslee, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with other confirmations expected in the coming days. The forum will be moderated by NEA president Lily Eskelsen García.

Many candidates have already announced their plans for increasing support for education after witnessing overwhelming community support for the historic and sweeping #RedForEd movement. NEA delegates will be able to ask for more details about how the candidates will improve funding and resources for all public school students.

“Educators are poised to play a major role in choosing the president of the United States. And now we are taking this energy to the 2020 campaign where we will lead a conversation about the schools our students deserve,” said García.

The #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum will be critical to the campaigns of each of the participating candidates: One in 100 Americans is an NEA member and 1 in 39 voters reside in an NEA household. Educators are poised play a major role in choosing the president of the United States, and NEA members represent sought after demographics including college-educated women and suburban professionals swinging elections from coast to coast.

More Highlights from the 2019 Annual Meeting and RA

The meeting will kick off with NEA’s Aspiring Educator Student Leadership Conference, June 29 to July 2,  where the next generation of educators will learn how to build influence and develop as a union leader, recruit and suppor diverse educators, racial and social justice and educator biases.

At the NEA-Retired Annual Meeting, June 30 to July 2, members will learn about how to protect and improve retirement pension and health benefits, mentoring opportunities, legislative and political action goals and winners of annual communications and distinguished service awards.

Racial and Social Justice

The Conference on Racial and Social Justice, held July 1-2, will address the fundamental issues of equity, social justice and the enduring, complex system of oppression while exploring ways to build community across identities and perspectives. Through interactive workshops, sessions, and skill building, attendees will access information and resources, plan and strategize, and engage on issues that affect educational opportunities for communities of color, LGBTQ people and women.

Speakers will include Judith LeBlanc, a member of the Caddo Nataion of Oklahoma and Director of the Native Organizers Alliance; Isa Noyola, a translatina activist, a leader in the LGBT immigration rights movement, and deputy director of Mijente, a grassroots hub for Latinx and Chicanx organizing and movement building; Boots Riley, a poet, screenwriter/director, performer and community organizer who joined the Oakland Education Association to chamption direct action to support students; and Taína Asili, a Puerto Rican singer, filmkaer and activist. The meeting will close with a keynote from NEA’s Social Justice Activist of the Year.

NEA President Keynote

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García’s keynote address will open the four-day RA at approximately 10:30 a.m. Follow Eskelsen García throughout the convention at @Lily_NEA.

NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards
From the front lines of 1964 Freedom Summer and the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike to behind bars in California’s prison(s), they are unwavering champions of students, educators and unionism. They enrich and defend the lives of our youths in immigrant, refugee, Native and LGBTQ communities. They light the way for those left behind. They dream big and inspire others to do the same. They are the recipients of the National Education Association’s most prestigious NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards. Since 1967, NEA has recognized and honored educators, individuals, and community partners who are advancing the mantle of human and civil rights for students, public education and communities across America. This year, NEA will acknowledge 12 outstanding social justice champions at its Human and Civil Rights Awards ceremony at 5 p.m., Wednesday, July 3, 2019.

Friend of Education

On July 5, Dolores McCracken will receive the NEA Friend of Education – the organization’s highest honor – posthumously. President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, she passed away on November 13, following a brief battle with cancer.McCracken was a local, regional, and statewide PSEA leader for more than two decades, directing her talents and energy toward programs and initiatives that improved both public education and the lives and livelihoods of PSEA members. She got involved in public education when her children entered elementary school, serving as the president of the Churchville Elementary Home and School Association. That experience propelled her into a nearly two-decade career in public education, working as a paraprofessional in a sixth-grade inclusion classroom in the Council Rock School District. McCracken was a local, regional, and statewide PSEA leader, directing her talents and energy toward programs and initiatives that improved both public education and the lives and livelihoods of PSEA members. In 2017 she became the first ESP elected President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

ESP of the Year

Matthew Powell is a Custodial Supervisor, Transportation Specialist and Night Watchman at Graves County Central Elementary school in Mayfield Kentucky, and the 2019 National Education Association (NEA) Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year. Powell, who has worked to ensure a positive, clean and safe learning environment for students, fellow educators, and everyone in his school community, will address delegates on July 6.

Teacher of the Year

Later on July 6, they will hear from National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson, a 19-year education veteran. He became a teacher to honor his mother, who struggled to receive an education after being denied one as a child because of segregation and poverty in rural Virginia. In 2015, Robinson started teaching at Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center, in an effort to better understand the school-to-prison pipeline.

Follow the action with regular updates from the RA in Houston.

 

 





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