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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2019 Teacher of the Year: ‘Everyone Benefits From Diversity’


Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year addresses the delegates during the NEA Representative Assembly.

Rodney Robinson, the 2019 National Teacher of the Year, brought the 7,000 NEA Representative Assembly delegates to their feet on Saturday with an impassioned plea for diversity, increased opportunity for our most vulnerable students, and a day of reckoning for politicians who refuse to fully-fund public education.

“When we talk about education justice,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, “Rodney lives it every day.”

Robinson teaches social studies at Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center in Richmond, Virginia. He became a teacher to honor his mother, who was denied the opportunity due to poverty and racism in rural Virginia.

As Robinson told RA delegates, his mother was still his greatest teacher, imparting life lessons that shaped his career as an educator – namely an early understanding of the need for equity. Not all children grow up on a level playing field and some need more help in order to achieve.

“A one-size-fits all model of equality does not work in education and education funding,” Robinson said. “Equity ensures that the students suffering from multi-generational poverty receive the same resources and education as those born with a silver spoon in their mouths.”

The staggering budget cuts that have devastated the public education system in so many parts of the country have to be reversed. “The national economy has recovered from the Great Recession and is surging at record highs.  It’s time the children of America received their fair share of the nation’s resources!” Robinson said.

Economic and resource equity is integral and long overdue, but Robinson shifted the focus of his speech to another urgent gap that deserves the same level of attention.

Cultural equity, Robinson explained, continues to be a staggering challenge for the U.S. education system.

Robinson singled out the nation’s severe shortage of teachers of color in our classrooms. While more than half of the school-age population are students of color, 80 percent of teachers are white. Study after study has demonstrated the undeniable benefits of a more diverse teacher workforce – particularly for students of color.

“We need to make sure students have teachers who look like them and values their cultures,” Robinson said. “All students deserve teachers and role models who appreciate and understand the unique gifts they bring to the table no matter their race, religion, gender status, or sexual orientation.

“We need more teachers of color in American because everyone – and I mean everyone- benefits from diversity!”

Watch Rodney Robinson’s Speech

Robinson told the delegates about TJ, one of his recent students.  TJ’s story is in many ways sadly familiar: He was born into poverty to a drug-addicted mother, misdiagnosed in school and placed in an underfunded special education program. TJ then attended a dilapidated, mold-infested, overcrowded and understaffed high school where he never received the attention he needed. He was soon arrested and convicted for a violent offense and sent to the diversion program where Robinsons teaches.

With Robinson’s help and the assistance of a full-time psychologist, TJ began to show real signs of progress.

“We were able to give him the academic, mental, and social help he needed to be better because we are a fully funded school with teachers who look like him and understand his culture,” Robinson told the delegates.

Still, Robinson is worried. TJ will soon return to the same underfunded, understaffed school that was unable to provide him with the attention and resources he needs.

“He doesn’t have any counseling at the school to improve his mental health,” Robinson said. “I hope it works out for him but it doesn’t look good. He needs special resources and they are not available to him… Why does a kid have to go to jail to get a full-funded school and the resources they need to be successful?”

Robinson closed his address with a powerful plea for educators everywhere to join their colleagues already on the frontlines to step up and say “enough is enough!”

“We have hit the point of a national emergency …I ask the legislators of America, what is your life’s blueprint when it comes to the kids of this country?” Robinson said, paraphrasing Martin Luther King.

“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!”



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NEA Representative Assembly Honors 2019 ESP of the Year


2019 ESP of the Year Award Matthew Powell addresses the delegates during the NEA Representative Assembly in Houston, Texas. JULY 6, 2019.

Matthew Powell, the 2019 Education Support Professional of the Year, took the stage at the NEA Representative Assembly on Saturday. Introducing him to the almost 7,000 delegates gathered in the George E. Brown Convention Center in Houston, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García commended Powell for his “commitment to public education and our students.”

“Technically, he has the title of custodial supervisor,” Eskelsen García added. “But that is just one of the many hats this talented man wears.”

In addition to his work as a custodial supervisor, Powell is also the night watchman and fills in as a bus driver when the district needs substitute drivers. He works at Graves County Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Kentucky.

Powell, who was named ESP of the Year at the annual NEA ESP national conference in March, is a passionate advocate for teaching the whole child—and for the critical role ESPs play in that effort. In his speech to the RA, Powell highlighted the lasting impact every school staff member has on students and their community.

“My ‘class’ includes all 538 of the students in my school,” Powell told the delegates. “My classroom is on the bus, in the cafeteria, on the playground, in the halls, at the outside koi fish pond, and many other places around the school.”

Powell took time in his speech to salute four educators—a teacher, a bus driver, a “lunch lady,” and a school custodian—who affected him growing up and helped him become the educator he is today.

“What these educators really did was create an atmosphere where I felt supported, fed, and safe. They created an environment for me to enjoy and thrive in school. They had different roles, but they seized their unique opportunity to make a positive difference in my life,” Powell said.

Powell recounted how in May 2016 a tornado swept across western Kentucky, leveling large swaths of Graves County, where he teaches. While his school was spared, Powell and his colleagues sprang into action to help the community recover, assisting in the delivery of supplies to students and their families.

Sharing this story with delegates was not intended as a “trip down memory lane,” Powell said.

“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. That power is available to each and every one of us, every day, in big ways and in seemingly small ways,” he said, to applause from delegates.

Powell, a dedicated political activist for public schools in Kentucky, pointed to the powerful alliance between teachers and ESPs in igniting the #RedFor Ed movement across the country.

“ESPs have valuable experience and expertise that should inform our schools about decisions made inside our schools,” Powell said.  “We know our students well and many of us live in the community where we work…We deserve a seat at every table where policies and decisions are made that impact our work,our students and our communities that we serve.”

Powell was a vocal advocate for the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees (RISE) Act, which acknowledges the outstanding contributions of ESPs and classified school employees in the nation’s schools.

“It established the first-ever federal recognition of ESPs,” Powell told delegates. “It was a victory that would not have been possible without the educators who reached out to members of Congress and shared their voice. It was an amazing achievement, but one that was long overdue.”

Quoting Helen Keller, Powell urged delegates to remember that “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

“We must keep using our collective voice and telling our stories to elevate our profession and demand what we need for our students,” Powell said, in closing. “Never forget, we are the experts when it comes to public education.”





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Energizing Educator Activism With Art Build


Art Build at the Experience Area during the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly in Houston, Texas. JULY 7, 2019

Wyoming art teacher Paige Gustafson found her happy place at the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly (RA) in the delegate experience area, where paintbrush in hand and dozens of cups of paints around her, she put the final daubs on a fabric panel saying “Fund Public Education.”

“I love it. I feel like, especially as an elementary art teacher, we’re often forgotten, and art is so incredibly important,” said Gustafson. “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.”

While attending the annual meeting, this year in Houston, Tex., hundreds of NEA members worked with artists from the Milwaukee-based Art Build Workers to create and contribute to graphic depictions of collective action. Together, they turned massive parachutes into protest banners saying, “Ready to Strike” and “Red for Ed,” or painted patches with slogans like, “Teachers—We Work for The People” and “Public Schools—The Heart of Our Community,” to take back to their classrooms and communities.

Paige Gustafson at the NEA RA Art Build

The RA-based “art build” is the latest in a line of art builds across the country, supported by NEA and organized jointly by Art Build Workers and local unions, such as the United Teachers of Los Angeles, California’s Oakland Education Association, and the Prince George’s County Education Association in Maryland. The way it works is that the professional artists associated with Art Build Workers first talk to union leaders and community members about the needs of their community, brainstorming slogans and images, and then they work with local educators, parents, students and others to create the art that amplifies their message and goals.

“I want them to feel connected to something larger,” said Paul Kjelland, a Milwaukee artist and Art Build Workers member who manned the screen printers in Houston, churning out hundreds of fabric panels that delegates could finish with their own brushed paints. “Especially when we’re working with unions prepping for strikes, we want to bring people together. We want to create a safe space where educators and community members can bridge gaps in their community, spend time together, and make something together that’s meaningful.”

Ashley Whyte

Often, what’s most important is not the art itself, but the process of making it, said Milwaukee art teacher Jeannette Arellano, who provided the template for the “ready to strike” parachute, based on an image of her sister, a Houston community organizer. “Gaining community, building relationships—that’s the powerful part.”

The first art builds were done in Milwaukee, in partnership with Voces de la Frontera, a local advocacy group. Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA) members assisted with the process, and were inspired to do the same for state budget hearings, said Joe Brusky, a MTEA member who travels with Art Build Workers to document their work in photographs. In 2017, at the Wisconsin State Capitol, they built 600 picket signs and two parachute banners to carry through the streets.

Last year, art builds supported #RedforEd strikes in Oakland, California, and in Los Angeles, where hundreds of community members, over three days, created eight 24-foot parachute banners, 1,600 silk-screened picket signs, 1,000 posters, and 30 banners that decried school privatization and corporate greed, and championed smaller class sizes.

At the RA, Ohio kindergarten teacher Ashley Whyte selected a “Fund Our Schools” panel to paint. “I am crafty, but I am not an artist,” she said. “But I was attracted to this because it gives me some time to sit and relax and create art for my classroom.”



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Threatened and Attacked By Students: When Work Hurts


Shannon Macaulay, teacher at Meadowbrook High School. (Photo: Luis Gomez)

The student was extremely upset about something. A paraeducator approached him to inquire. In response, the student kicked her squarely in the stomach. She fell to the floor gasping for air.

Fortunately, Danielle Fragoso and another teacher were in that
cooking class last summer. The two teachers had no choice but to try
and restrain the student. He began to scream, kick, and punch. Fragoso was hit in an eye.

It got worse. The student eventually grabbed a large chef ’s knife from the counter.

“I was able to grab hold of the hand with the knife right around the wrist area,” Fragoso recalls. “He kept trying to stab me and the other teacher.”

At one point, the student started screaming to no one in particular asking why it seemed so difficult to out-fight two women.

“He was also shouting that he wanted us dead,” says Fragoso, a special education teacher at Daniel Hand High School in Madison, Conn. “After 15 minutes, we finally got the knife away and he ran out the room without cutting anyone.”

In her 15 years as a teacher, Fragoso was experienced enough to not panic at the sight of a knife-wielding student. She’d been there. A student once stabbed her in the back with a pencil, requiring Fragoso to seek medical attention.

“Luckily there were two of us or the outcome would have been much different,” she says. “My only thoughts were of my students and hoping none of them would get hurt.”

Many teachers, administrators, and education support professionals (ESPs) are at risk of being bitten, kicked, scratched, and punched while at work.

Some assaults are intentional acts of violence while others are the result of, for example, working with students who have mental challenges.

Whatever the circumstances, more and more educators are ending up in the emergency room. While some are forced to use their medical leave, others choose instead to resign.

“It’s not as rare an occurrence as most people might think,” Fragoso says.

Classrooms in Crisis

According to a government on school crime and safety, 10 percent of public school teachers reported being threatened with injury by a student from their school and 6 percent reported being physically attacked by a student from their school.

Published in 2018, “Indicators of School Crime and Safety” was compiled by agencies from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice.

“Being attacked or threatened in one’s workplace should not happen
anywhere, especially in a classroom environment, where we want our
students to feel safe and loved,” says Fragoso, who spoke earlier this year at a public hearing conducted by the Connecticut General Assembly.

More than a dozen teachers and Connecticut Education Association
(CEA) officials testified to education committee members, while more
than 100 others submitted written testimony describing behaviors that create unsafe learning environments for students.

Fragoso, CEA officials, school counselors, and other educators urged lawmakers to address the crisis of violent student behavior which is occurring in rural, urban, and suburban schools. They asked legislators to support House Bill 7110: An Act Concerning Enhanced Classroom Safety and School Climate.

CEA President Jeff Leake (top) and CEA Vice-President Tom Nicholas testify before Connecticut state lawmakers about classroom and school safety.

The bill would require schools to help students exhibiting extreme behaviors, provide increased student supports and teacher training, and address children’s mental health and social-emotional needs. Gov. Dannell Malloy vetoed a similar bill last year, but the latest proposal has been updated with more specifics.

Students as young as five are biting, kicking, punching, throwing items, urinating on teachers, and lashing out in other destructive ways that put students and others in danger, Jeff Leake, CEA president, told the committee.

“They are coming to school with complex needs, and schools don’t have the resources to address the root causes of these incidents,” he explained.

“These pieces are key, as too many of our teachers have been pressured to not report or tell others of the incidents that are happening in their classrooms.”

Tom Nicholas is a school social worker and CEA vice president. He described how last school year, in just one month’s time, he had been hit and kicked about 15 times, had a student threaten to kill him with a gun, and fractured three vertebrae trying to protect a student who had run outside the building.

Fragoso testified that she felt supported by her school district administration and was encouraged to speak out to protect her students and colleagues.

“We need systems in place not only to help teachers who are fearful of reporting incidents of threats, and to ensure that they are protected and heard, but also to provide supports and treatment to the students who need help,” she told committee members.

Insufficient Resources

Members of the Bristol-Warren Education Association (BWEA) in Rhode Island organized a sick-out in February to get the attention of school board members as well as state legislators regarding the need for more school resources officers, counselors, and therapeutic services for students.

“For three years, we went through the grievance process asking for interventions for our most needy students,” says Michelle Way DaSilva, BWEA president.

“We do not have sufficient mental health services for students experiencing trauma and who lash out in unpredictable ways.”

DaSilva recalls a recent incident where a kindergarten student hit a teacher in the arm after the teacher asked for the student’s cell phone.

Violence Against Teachers – An Overlooked Crisis?

Violence against teachers is a “national crisis,” says Dr. Dorothy Espelage of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And yet, the issue is generally ignored or at least underreported by the media and given inadequate attention by scholars – a deficiency that has widespread implications for school safety, the teaching profession and student learning.

Fortunately, at that age, they are not strong enough to do serious damage. But if they are not disciplined correctly, that behavior will continue as they grow and develop, says DaSilva.

“In middle school, the number of teachers being assaulted and disrespected is getting worse,” she says. “Some of our middle school students are bigger than some teachers, so it is very unsafe for all involved.”

As in schools across the nation, the discontinuation of counselors, paraeducators, social workers, and services for special education and other needy students has caused a disrupted learning environment.

Earlier this year, the Oregon Education Association (OEA) published, “A Crisis of Disrupted Learning: Conditions in Our Schools and Recommended Solutions.”

Some assaults are intentional acts of violence while others are the result of, for example, working with students who have mental challenges. Whatever the circumstances, more and more educators are ending up in the emergency room. While some are forced to use their medical leave, others choose instead to resign.”

According to the report, disrupted learning environments occur “when student behavior significantly interferes with instruction and/or school staff members’ ability to maintain a stable classroom or ensure student safety.” At times, students can become dangerous to themselves or the classroom as a whole. These incidents can often result in clearing a classroom of students to ensure everyone’s safety.

Over three years, OEA members shared stories of extreme behaviors in Oregon schools. According to the report: “These behaviors have made classrooms feel unsafe for students and educators, and everyone is feeling their impact. Student needs are going unmet and educators have very real concerns about whether they can provide safe, welcoming and inclusive learning environments for all with the resources they have.”

“The issue was not being addressed,” says DaSilva, a teacher for 23 years, the last 21 at Kickemuit Middle School. “So, naturally, it was getting worse.”

In May, DaSilva and BWEA agreed to withdraw several grievances after school administrators signed a memorandum ensuring that viable plans would be put in place.

“We want to get students what they need to be successful,” DaSilva says. “We also want our schools to be safe.”

Reaching Out

In Minnesota, a bill introduced in 2016 would have required school boards to automatically expel a student who threatened or inflicted bodily harm on an educator for up to a year. The bill was introduced in part as a response to a 2015 incident in St. Paul in which a high school student began to strangle a teacher after slamming the teacher into a concrete wall. The teacher suffered a traumatic brain injury.

The bill died in committee after fierce opposition from Education Minnesota (EM) and other state education groups, which instead promote restorative practices as a response to student discipline.

James Parry is the supervisor of the REACH program at Stewartville Middle and High School. The acronym stands for: Relationships, Education, Accountability, Character, Hard Work. The REACH class at Stewartville is an elective for students in seventh through 12th grades. It follows a restorative practices model that helps students to understand and take responsibility for their actions, rather than be punished under zero-tolerance policies. For his part, Parry considers students who may suffer from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and the effects of poverty, such as housing or food insecurity.

James Parry supervises the REACH program at Stewartville Middle and High School.

“Just yesterday, I was in our school cafeteria for lunch duty when I heard one of the food service workers scream for help,” Parry recalls from a May incident. “I turned to see two boys in a physical fight, one of them from REACH.”

Parry calmly stepped in between the two students and said: “Really?”
The student in the REACH program later approached Parry.

“He apologized and said he knew he was wrong, but that he just “flipped his lid” in response to remarks from the other student,” Parry says.

“Sometimes conflicts like this are between students and sometimes a teacher is involved.”

The student eventually apologized to the service worker.

“This is unbelievable growth for this student,” says Parry, who was
awarded the 2019 EM Human Rights Award. “In REACH, we (adults) focus on things like gratitude, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, honesty, integrity, and perseverance as a way to connect with students about real life.”

For students, Parry stresses that all people, at whatever age, have stressors in their lives that sometimes get the best of them.

“I identify roadblocks, triggers, and our responses to them,” Parry says.

“It is not any one trigger that makes one “flip their lid” and be aggressive or violent at school.”

It is when these triggers “pile on top of each other that it becomes difficult to control our emotions,” Parry explains.

In his own case, Parry shares with students that any combination of three or four of the following are too much for him: Tired, hungry, thirsty, rushed.

“I am good with one to two of those, but add the third and maybe a
fourth, … it is just too much,” he says.

“We (educators) need to regulate ourselves first if we really want to help our students do the same.”

When discussing restorative practices with teachers, Parry stresses that “when a student comes into the classroom agitated, it is rarely the teacher who has caused this. It is something that happened earlier in the day, at home last night, or something in their near future that they are worried about. We have the power to offer unconditional love and non-judgmental support. Combined, these allow us to put our students in a better mindset to be able to engage in the educational process.

Surveying the Landscape

Sonia Smith is president of the Chesterfield Education Association (CEA) in Virginia. When it comes to students assaulting teaches and education support professionals (ESPs), she fears that many suffer in silence.

“Many do not report assaults from students for fear of retribution from administrators,” says Smith, an English teacher on fulltime release with CEA. “Our village is fractured and we need to heal the village.”

In April, a 15-year-old male student threw a backpack and two chairs at a teacher, hitting her in the face and breaking her glasses. She was rushed to the hospital. Days later, another teacher was hurt after a violent incident at another school.

Sonia Smith (Photo: Luis Gomez)

“After those two incidents, people reached out to me in private,” Smith says. “There are more incidents happening that go unreported. It’s systemic.”

The calls that Smith began receiving prompted her and three other CEA members to create an anonymous online survey to find out who in the district has experienced verbal abuse and violent assaults from students.

“We’re not asking for names,” Smith says. “The goal is to share the findings and collaborate with the school board on implementing solutions.”

The survey is comprised of seven multiple-choice questions with text boxes that invite personal stories about past incidents and how administrators responded when told.

“That’s where people open up,” Smith says.

The survey can take as little as three minutes to fill out or more depending on the level of description and number of experiences revealed by the participant.

“I feel good about the survey,” says Shannon Macaulay, an English teacher at Meadowbrook High School. “It means that central office is listening to us.”

Macaulay would like to see more policies in place that are consistently enforced across the board.

“Most of my students are pretty mature and want to graduate so they know how to behave at school,” she says. “But there are some who stare you down, walk out of class when they feel like it, and disrespect you without any consequence from the front office.”

Earlier this year, a female senior student ripped up a quiz in dramatic fashion in one of Macaulay’s classes. After that, she removed a shoe and tossed it at the teacher.

“She reached into her backpack for another shoe and then threw that one at me,” says Macaulay. “It escalated with her kicking a trash can and threatening me.”

After Macaulay called the front office, two security guards restrained the student until the police showed up. The student was handcuffed and driven away.

“This student comes to us with a lot of anger,” Macaulay says. “I have sent emails to administrators out of concern, not blame. But nothing is done.”

In cases like this, Macaulay says the survey gives her hope that district officials will develop policies on how to consistently respond to students under these circumstances.

Smith is already getting calls from the media about when the survey results will be released.

“We are going to deal with the data internally at first,” she says. “This is not a public shaming, but if the results will help legislators take action to help out students, then that would be a favorable outcome.”



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West Virginia Lawmakers Out to Punish Educators for Taking a Stand


(Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

In October, the West Virginia Legislature promised to give educators a pay raise. It failed to deliver on that promise and so a special session was called to hash out the details. As many suspected, strings would be attached.

“Not exactly an earth-shattering revelation,” wrote Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, in an editorial in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “but even we’re a little shocked at how far West Virginia’s [senate] has gone to punish public school teachers and service personnel for striking two years in a row to defend their livelihoods and the kids they teach.”

On June 3, the state senate narrowly passed an amendment to its Student Succeeds Act (S.B. 1039), which does include some provisions educators support, like providing more social workers, counselors, and nurses. But the bill also comes with a heavy dose of bitter pills: banning teacher strikes, removing local control from county superintendents to close school districts for a strike, canceling extracurricular activities during work stoppages, and docking the pay of teachers and staff who go on strike—or firing them altogether.

Additionally, the bill proposes an unlimited number of charter schools and diverts public dollars toward voucher programs.

“[T]he Student Success Act … [was] never about students at all,” Lee explained. “[T]his late addition is petty and vindictive, and probably what Senate President Mitch Carmichael … wants more than anything, after being embarrassed by the teachers, school service personnel, and their unions two years in a row.”

In 2018, WVEA members statewide went on strike for nine days, which lit the fire for #RedForEd across the U.S. Thirteen months later, they showed their power again with another work stoppage over charter expansion and vouchers.

West Virginians Ignored

The Student Success Act is similar to a previous senate bill (S.B. 451) that died in the house in February 2019. The main discord between the two chambers was over charter schools and vouchers.

Wendy Peters, an elementary school teacher, told MetroNews at the time, “Some folks in leadership are more beholden to these out-of-state interests, who have poured a lot of money into this,” she said. “They let charter school and education savings account (voucher) folks have three hours to answer and ask questions in the (Senate) Finance Committee, and then they gave the teachers, the principals, and the superintendents of the state 70 seconds (each),” referring to a February public hearing.

We need to show up. I’m not going to be teaching all that many years more, but I care about the legacy I’m leaving behind for future educators and for the kids in the classrooms.” – John Quesenberry, West Virginia teacher

Peters may still be right.

Charters and vouchers are back in West Virginia and have even captured the attention of U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who tweeted her support for these unproven schemes.

John Quesenberry, a civics and history teacher of nearly 31 years in Beckley, W.V., has taken note, saying that DeVos’s input only “strengthens our resolve to continue to stand for our kids because we don’t want what she did in Michigan to take a foothold here.”

“When it comes down to it, Betsy DeVos doesn’t have a vote in the legislature,” he says “and that’s what we’re fighting against: people from outside of the classroom and out-of-state special interests telling us (educators) what to do.”

While DeVos may not have a vote, West Virginians do.

Remember in November

This latest attack on educators is “stressful, but it also makes people angry that a handful of politicians can dictate what they want regardless of what the people say,” explains Quesenberry.

The West Virginia Department of Education recently produced a report the captures the public’s thoughts, opinions, concerns, and expectations about public education. Thousands of West Virginians shared their resounding support for increasing teachers’ compensation, more student support services, and addressing the math teacher shortage. Charters and vouchers we’re at the bottom of the priority list.

WVEA members, however, continue to organize and work with their allies. “Bridges have been built and people are working together…it’s empowering,” says Quesenberry, co-president of the Raleigh County Education Association.

Educators are now contacting their representatives and meeting with them face-to-face to push back against the provisions educators see as detrimental. They’re also organizing to show up to the state capitol on June 17, when the house is set to consider the Act.

“We need to show up,” says Quesenberry, “I’m not going to be teaching all that many years more, but I care about the legacy I’m leaving behind for future educators and for the kids in the classrooms.”

Despite the outcome on June 17, the work will continue, as educators have their sights on the November 2020 election.

Linda Pentz of the Monongalia County Education Association commented via Facebook, “It’s heartbreaking to watch leaders make such poor decisions for the children of WV. It is time for WV to take control of who is representing our state.”

Officials at WVEA echo this sentiment. “The issue will not go away as long as the same people remain in place,” says WVEA President Dale Lee.



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50 Years After Stonewall: LGBTQ Pride in America’s Schools


NEA EdJustice 
Resources and stories for creating safe, affirming schools for LGBTQ students.

Take Action: Tell the Senate to Pass the Equality Act
More than half the states in the U.S. lack fully inclusive non-discrimination protections, leaving millions of people subject to potential discrimination in their daily lives.

NEA’s Read Across America Calendar
Educator-recommended, age-appropriate titles that explore identity and can blend effectively into existing classroom activities and units of study.

NEA Center for Social Justice Trainings
Designed for all NEA members, particularly those committed to addressing bias around sexual orientation and gender identity, this program teaches school personnel how to create a safe school climate for students and staff.

 

HRC’s Welcoming Schools Program
The nation’s premier professional development program providing training and resources to elementary school educators to embrace family diversity, create LGBTQ and gender inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying, and support transgender and non-binary students.

GLSEN
The national organization championing LGBTQ issues in K-12 education since 1990.

GSA Network
LGBTQ racial and gender justice organization that empowers and trains queer, trans and allied youth leaders to advocate, organize, and mobilize an intersectional movement for safer schools and healthier communities.



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Union Stands Behind Counselor Punished For Advocating For Students


High school counselor Kris Bertsch Rydell (photo: courtesy of California Teachers Association)

A Santa Rosa High School (SRHS) counselor is being punished for standing up for her students. So say students, parents, and her colleagues in the Santa Rosa Teachers Association (SRTA), who are rallying behind the highly decorated and respected veteran high school counselor, Kris Bertsch-Rydell.

As a veteran counselor, Bertsch has instructional history and knows how the counseling system works. “I’m a strong voice. I’ll advocate for my colleagues as professionals and for our students who don’t have a voice. That’s the reason I became a school counselor,” she says. “There are too many students and families who feel like they don’t have a voice. Someone’s got to speak for them.

“Now my union is speaking for me.”

Santa Rosa City Schools management filed a Notice of Unprofessional Conduct (NUC) because Bertsch is advocating for her students, says SRTA President William Lyon.

SRTA filed an unfair labor practice charge that district management discriminated against Bertsch and interfered with her rights protected under California labor law.

Management’s claims involve Bertsch asking questions about school board policies. Cited examples include sending polite, professional emails to the superintendent, school board members and SRTA leaders asking for clarification on board policies on issues such as credit recovery, online schools and new graduation requirements for math. “I asked if we can offer Pre-Algebra to make sure students are prepared. That was ‘unprofessional,’” Bertsch says with a sigh.

“As counselors, we need board policies as guidance for how we do our job. When I ask the question, I’m advocating for myself as a counselor to do my job, as well as for my students and my school. We all have the same concerns.”

I didn’t truly realize this before, that when I spoke up for my students, my union has my back.” – Kris Bertsch-Rydell

Management also charged that she used school email to do union business, which is in fact protected by California labor law. “But it’s not just union business, it’s counseling business,” she notes. “It’s related to how to do my job, so my colleagues can do their jobs.”

“I didn’t truly realize this before, that when I spoke up for my students, my union has my back,” Bertsch adds. “SRTA has stepped up in such an amazing way to help me. It validates that what I did and am doing matters. If I can’t advocate for students when I see a wrong and do something about it, I shouldn’t be sitting here. My students depend upon me to make things right for them. Or at least, to speak up and try to problem-solve in ways that will make things right for them.”

Hundreds of people have sent letters of support and showed up at school board meetings sporting orange ribbons (SRHS school colors are orange and black). Students are showering her with support.

In the school newspaper, The Santa Rosan, staff writer Emilie Davis noted that Bertsch “works tirelessly every day to make sure all of her kids are doing well, both in their classes and in their personal lives. … She did her job. She stood up for her students and did what she thought was right. She was repaid by having her job threatened.”

In the article “Why a dedicated counselor deserves to stay,” Davis noted the absurdity of district management criticizing Bertsch for using the word “dude” in an email. “It’s time the district starts walking the talk and stops punishing educators who put their kids first,” Davis wrote.

The timing of the story in the student newspaper was good, because it was a particularly low point for Bertsch.

It’s time the district starts walking the talk and stops punishing educators who put their kids first.”SRHS Student Emilie Davis

“So many times we do what we do and get negative feedback. The students’ support validates what I do every day, and my goal of serving students,” she says, adding that the student support has helped her get out of bed some mornings “because it’s been pretty stressful. I’m a pretty strong person, and I’ve gone through the grinder a few times. This has been beyond detrimental.”

SRTA’s contract calls for progressive discipline, requiring a conversation, notice, and plan for improvement before threatening discipline and termination. In this case, district management skipped the first steps.

Lyon contends this behavior is in retaliation for advocating for students by asking difficult questions. “Kris Bertsch has had fantastic reviews by the eight administrators she worked with during her 25 years in this district. She is an advocate for students, and we’re concerned district managers are trying to intimidate teachers by trying to muzzle Kris. She is being punished for standing up for her students and her profession. And that’s not acceptable.”

“When members are bullied or threatened, it has a chilling effect on their ability to speak up for themselves, each other, and their students,” adds Lyon. “The most effective way to combat this is to stand up for each other.” He is concerned about educators being bullied for supporting Bertsch, noting some of her supporters have received non-re-election notices. “We stand for respectful treatment of all SRTA educators.”

To date, district managers have not taken further disciplinary action. SRTA members and students will continue to advocate for Bertsch, they say, just as passionately as she has advocated for students and colleagues for the past 25 years.

This story originally appeared in California Educator



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How Closing Schools Traumatizes Students and Communities


A student walks down a hallway at the Jean de Lafayette Elementary School, on the final day of school Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Chicago. The school was one of 50 slated to be closed by the city.(AP Photo/Scott Eisen)

Since 2004, Oakland Unified School District has closed 16 schools and is now targeting an additional 24 by the start of the 2019-20 school year. District officials call it “right-sizing,” a term borrowed from corporate America – appropriate given that many of the shuttered schools will be converted into for-profit charters. While policymakers see failing or “bad” schools, parents, students and educators see pillars of the community that have not been adequately funded and are worth fighting for.

Closing down his school, one Oakland seventh grader testified in January, “is like putting me up for adoption ..[My school] made me who I am.”

These are scenes that have been playing out in urban school districts across the country. In 2013, Chicago announced it was closing 50 schools, 90 percent of which served all-black student populations. The plan triggered massive protests from parents, educators, students and community members.  The mobilization to save their neighborhood schools is recounted in “Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side,” by Eve L. Ewing.

In the book, Ewing, who in addition to being an assistant professor at the University of Chicago is also a poet and podcaster, vividly describes the anger, destabilization and sense of displacement felt by the families impacted most by school closings. 

These are the voices that need to be heard as policymakers make decisions that put children’s lives on the line, Ewing says. And, as she recently told NEA Today, no amount of  bureaucratic jargon and cherry-picked data can conceal the racist underpinnings behind the top-down, punitive policies that have dominated the education agenda over the past two decades.

“Ghosts in the Schoolyard” should be read by any official who actually makes these sort of decisions, but what other audiences do you most want to reach? Did you happen to see the teacher in Boston publicly handing out copies of your book to members of the School Committee who were considering closing the school where she works?  That must have been gratifying. 

Eve L. Ewing, author of “Ghosts in the Schoolyard.”

Eve Ewing: Yes, I did see that story. The photo of the teacher holding the book up was profoundly moving. So certainly I’m interested in lawmakers reading the book, but I also wanted to reach the people who have been closely impacted by these decisions to close schools – the parents, teachers, community members. Many have told me that the find the book to be validating. It makes them feel like they didn’t dream this up, you know?  It’s really unfortunate that the world we live in makes people feel that those sort of experiences are not being legitimated. I hope the book can be a lesson for researchers to take people at their word about how they are so deeply affected.

Another audience is young people. I want them to understand the history and context of the social system in which they find themselves, but also the history and context of struggle and how the people who came before them have worked really hard to try to make a better world.

You taught in Chicago public schools. How did that experience shape the way you approached the book and your work in general?

Ewing: With all the research I do, whether it’s about school closings or anything else, I’m always trying to think about how people on the ground who are actually living with the consequences of how things actually play out.

Every public school teacher has had the eye-rolling experience of being handed something to try in your classroom where you are like, “Ok, this is not going to work.” Had anyone talked to me or had any respect for me, I could have told them that, but no one ever asked.  So I don’t want to be that researcher. I try really hard to think closely, and to ask people about their actual lived experiences, rather than assuming my own expertise.

ghosts in the schoolyard coverI also worked as an aide in a couple of other schools on the South Side. All of them were 100% black and low-income, but I saw real differences in how the teachers approached the students. I saw teachers who were punitive and, frankly, cruel, and teachers who were what we call in the literature “warm demanders” – very loving, very caring,  but also had high expectations. So I saw how the tone, tenor and climate of the schools – and how what the students were able to do – changes when someone treats them like human beings.

Reading about the sense of loss felt by students, parents and educators was difficult. This was a traumatizing experience for them. Were you prepared for that when you interviewed them and listened to their testimony?

Ewing: I think I was intellectually prepared but I don’t think there’s any way to be emotionally prepared. Because some of these experiences were mirrored in my own life, I sort of knew what to expect. But I spent lot of time listening to recordings of children crying. On a very visceral level, that’s very difficult, but it’s important for me to have that perspective.

Yeah, people tell me all the time that reading the book was upsetting. But that affective reality, that sort of emotional reality, should be part of the calculus when we make these decisions that impact the lives of children so deeply. So no, while the trauma experienced by these families wasn’t surprising to me, it might be surprising to the people who were the engineers of this policy.

The avoidance to talk about the role of race in any of these decisions is pretty strong, right? 

This community’s choice to resist a school being characterized as “failing” is in fact about much more than the school itself: it is about citizenship and participation, about justice and injustice, and about resisting people in power who want to transform a community at the expense of the people who live there.” – From Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s Southside by Eve L. Ewing

Ewing:  People are comfortable talking about race when they are talking about how some racial groups are not performing up to par, when it’s through the lens of talking about deficits that are perceived in students of color, particularly black students.

It would be a different if we pushed ourselves to talk about race and education policy in terms of the way that current policies reinscribe and reinforce racial inequalities, and the way the education system interacts with other stratified systems in our society to ensure that students don’t have the same resources or opportunities based on race.

There’s a difference between talking about race and talking about racism. Scholars before me have established that that sort of deflection can in many ways be a racist tactic. The idea that it’s not racism, it’s this other thing, has been a very effective way of silencing any sort of critique.

As you say in the book, racism can be just as much, if not more, about the outcome as opposed to the intent. To what extent has it saturated our recent education policies?

Ewing: Well, the speaker goes to 11! To me, these questions are entirely about race. What underlies all these supposed reforms has so much to do with how much we control black people, how we control black children, how we assimilate immigrant groups, how we commit cultural genocide against native people. All of these in their way are the underlying projects of school reform.

“We Need to Be Disruptors of Institutional Racism in Our Schools”
To tackle institutional and systemic racism, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told the South by SouthWest conference in March, we have to be aware of every part of the system, including the silence of implicit bias that blinds us to the larger system and what needs to be disrupted and dismantled.

So much goes uninterrogated about how and why our schools look the way they do. Why, for example, are people are so attracted to curriculum reforms that supposedly elevate test scores and graduation rates to astronomical levels simply by ensuring that children live under an intense disciplinary regime – one that minimizes their capacity for free expression and maximizes the degree to which their bodies are under control?

These are the costs that people are willing to pay for the supposed dividends of test scores, right? And even a lot of policymakers who identify themselves on the left and who are White still advocate for policies for children of color that they would never dream of implementing if their own children were in the classroom.

More room has been made recently for a serious discussion about funding inequality in our education system. How far can that conversation go without talking about race?

Ewing:It’s a start, but it depends on how much we want to scratch below the surface. If we want to talk about funding inequality, we have to talk about property taxes. If we want to talk about property taxes we have to talk about residential segregation. We have to start talking about wealth inequality, right? We have to start talking about the transference of wealth. We have to talk about opportunity hoarding.

I often bring up about the analogy and the sneeze and the cold. One is the symptom and one is the actual virus. At some point you have to talk about the virus if you’re sitting around sneezing all the time. What is it that is actually making us sick?

Are you optimistic about the heightened awareness of how many of these policies are affecting students? There’s been quite a bit of progress on some fronts, including charter schools and overtesting. 

Ewing: Well, I’m not really sure we’re seeing all that much progress yet. I do think we’re seeing rhetorical progress and that is a really important first step. And I do think that people across racial groups are beginning to see the brunt of some of these policies. So that’s a real potential for solidarity.

But I don’t know that the heightened awareness has been matched by the policy environment. Under Betsy DeVos, I think we’ve been regressing on quite a few areas, just thinking about vouchers for example. But there is a potential of something powerful happening there, for sure.

closing schools and race

The nine-day strike in February by the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association forced the district to put s temporary hold on its plan to close 24 schools.

You’ve said that people shouldn’t conflate “schooling” and “education.” Schooling are those institutional practices that, as you said earlier, emphasis control and standardization, whereas education is genuine discovery and learning. To what extent are competing visions or ideas about the role of public education getting in the way of transformative change?

Ewing: We live in a hyper-individualist society. So when many people think about schools, they see them as an engine to attain the most material gain that they possibly can for their individual child. And I think that’s fine. It’s a natural human impulse, especially for parents.

But we should expect policymakers to have a different lens. They have to think about how we build systems that work for all students, that are not based on principles of competition, but instead on principles of resource provision. So how are we meeting  our ethical and moral obligation to provide all children regardless of their social position with adequate resources?

But I think a deeply-rooted anti-blackness undercuts that. A lot of research bears this out. When people are choosing schools, when people are assessing what a good school is and what bad school is, when they are thinking about what kind of curriculum they want to implement in schools – if the children being served are black, the game changes from one of thinking about nurturing and resource provision to one of punishment and control.

People see blackness as a proxy for low-quality and the presence of black children as a proxy for badness. So that and hyper-individualism are two mindsets that have to change, but policymakers and politicians have to take a lead on that. We can’t sit around and wait for people to suddenly be better people in order for our school systems to be better. We have to demand courage and innovation to create the policies that are going to create conditions of equity. And then everybody else has to catch up or not.

“A System That Blames Children”
relay program for teachersMass school closures in Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and other cities has created a multi-tier system where academically strong schools at the top are located in higher-income neighborhoods and not readily available to all students. Closing schools not only has a negative impact on student performance but also creates hardship for communities already struggling with disinvestment.

Pushed Out: The Injustice Black Girls Face in School

Black girls make up 16% of girls in U.S. public schools, but 42% of girls’ expulsions. What forces have made these students targets?



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Serving the Whole Child Involves Every Educator


Meeting the needs of the whole child in our nation’s public schools requires an integrated approach to include social, emotional, and academic learning. And the federal government wants to help the cause to the tune of $260 million.

“It’s not like you can do just one of these,” said Jessica Cardichon, a director with the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), which sponsored a recent discussion at the U.S. Capitol titled, How Federal Policy Can Empower States and Communities to Provide Whole Child Education For All Students

“It’s a comprehensive approach across school systems,” said Cardichon, who moderated a panel of education, research and policy experts who stressed the need for federal funding to support the implementation of research-based whole child approaches that foster 21st century skills. “Additional after-school services are also essential to some students to reduce the negative effects of poverty.”

In April, the House Appropriations Committee released a fiscal year 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) funding bill, which includes $260 million for a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Initiative to support a whole child approach to education.

“It’s not groundbreaking,” said panelist Philip Tizzani, a staff member with the House Appropriations Committee. “It’s been a slow-build.”

Tizzani said the SEL initiative, which is pending, would require districts to match federal funding. Federal funds make up approximately 9 percent of states’ education spending along with state and local efforts.

“We (Congress) need to make investments in these policies,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who delivered introductory remarks at the event. “We need to embrace proven holistic policies that educate the whole student.”

Child-Centered Environment

Panelists discussed how sufficient funding would help schools meet whole-student needs and what states, districts, and schools can do to provide a multi-tiered system of student support.

“When kids enter school, they are not all at the same starting line,” said Deborah Delisle, president and CEO of Alliance for Excellent Education. “How do you bridge that gap?”

One solution: States and districts can provide professional development for school staff to help create child-centered environments that foster students’ well-being and encourage creativity, according to panelists.

“It’s also important for educators to be engaged in their own learning,” Delisle said.

Abbe Futterman is the principal at The Earth School in New York.

“You have to know where the child is in their development,” said Futterman, a panelist. “Teachers need to be prepared to support children as they come … fostering an emotionally and culturally supportive environment.”

The Learning Policy Institute has offices in Palo Alto, Calif., and the District of Columbia. Its staff includes researchers, educators, public policy and communications specialists who work with policymakers, educators and community groups to promote and advance fair and equitable education policies.

Collaboration between schools, health care agencies, housing and other community groups also helps students to reach their full learning potential.

“A strong community that supports robust relationships is a key factor in whole child education,” said Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, LPI president, in a statement. “Education Support Professionals (ESPs) are key members of this community, fostering safe, positive learning environments as they work with students in and outside of the classroom. Their work is critical to meeting the needs of the whole child.”

ESPs: A Rich School Resource

There are almost 3 million school support professionals working in the nation’s K-12 schools and higher education institutions. Of NEA’s 3 million members, almost 500,000 are ESPs, who are organized by NEA into nine career categories.

“One third of the adults interacting with children in our K-12 system are ESPs,” said Tim Barchak, an NEA senior policy and program analyst who attended the event. People such as paraeducators, school secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, food service and health workers, security officers, and others “help students succeed not only in school but in life,” he added

During the question-and-answer segment, Barchak remarked that given their responsibilities, ESPs should be provided with sufficient professional development to reflect the role they play in assuring student safety, health and other SEL needs.

“That workforce should also be stabilized with fair compensation and by ceasing privatization,” Barchak added. “Preparing students for the future requires more than looking exclusively at instructional methods and curriculum.”

Panelist Charles Kamasaki, a senior advisor with UnidosUS and the National Council of La Raza, said in response to Barchak’s comments that “the most diverse segment in a school are ESPs.”

They often act as confidants and translators between Latino and Asian parents, teachers and school administrators, he explained.

“I’m in one hundred percent agreement with you (Barchak) that funds should be provided for their (ESP) training,” Kamasaki said. “They are often the entry point and great supporters of kids who are ELL (English language learners).”

Added Delisle: “Every adult who interacts with that child, like the bus driver, should be trained to understand their (student) needs.”

Within NEA, the whole child framework is built upon five tenets where each student:

  • Enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
  • Learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
  • Engages in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
  • Gains access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
  • Is challenged academically and prepares for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (SISP) also work to remove barriers to student learning. School staff in this category include school counselors, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, library media specialists, speech pathologists and others.

“School support professionals are key to assuring students have the services they need to succeed academically and socially, inside and outside the classroom,” Barchak said.

LPI has produced several publications addressing whole child issues, including Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success, Community Schools: An Evidence-Based Strategy for Equitable School Improvement, and Protecting Students’ Civil Rights: The Federal Role in School Discipline.



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Labor Movement Comes Back Big After ‘Janus’


In January, Virginia teacher Nicole Loch attended a #RedForEd rally at the statehouse in Richmond. She arrived on a charter bus sponsored by the Fauquier Education Association (FEA), even though Loch had never joined the union—a decision she had resisted for 11 years.“It was a bus full of other educators from my county,” says Loch, a civics teacher at Auburn Middle School in Warrenton.

“When I got to Richmond, I saw the power of mobilization and strength in numbers,” she says. “I knew then I needed to join.”

Loch marched and chanted for a mile—from Monroe Park to the capitol steps—where the crowd numbered 4,000. Standing there—holding a sign with the words “I Teach, I Matter”—she realized that many of the 250 FEA members at the rally had been meeting for months to organize their road trip, produce T-shirts and signs, and arrange meetings in the offices of legislators to discuss education policy and funding in Fauquier County.

nicole loch

Longtime teacher Nicole Loch joined her local association the day after attending a statehouse #RedForEd rally. (photo: Philippe Nobile)

“I felt I had been left behind,” she says. “I had no idea what people in my county had been doing to prepare for the event because I wasn’t a part of FEA.”

A mere 24 hours after the rally, Loch had joined FEA and the Virginia Education Association (VEA)—the state’s largest educator union.

“Being an FEA member has emboldened me to speak out about the value of public education and demand action from local officials to do what’s best for children and educators,” says Loch, who became a building representative soon after joining FEA.

The Perfect Civics Lesson

Loch attended the rally, she says, because she wanted to show her students what it means to advocate for public schools.

“I teach them to exercise their First Amendment rights and speak out when they see injustice,” she says.

Loch had read about the massive 2018 educator walkouts in “red” conservative states like Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, which attracted 26,000, 45,000, and 35,000 protesters respectively. Within months, 267,000 more educators in Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina organized walkouts. She heard how educators, with the support of their unions, attracted public support and forced reluctant legislators to invest in schools and increase educator pay.

Arizona educators rally for school funding in April 2018.

The perfect civics lesson fell into Loch’s lap when Oklahoma educators took their fight to the polls last November and ceremoniously ousted 15 of 19 legislators in the state House. Why? They had voted against raising taxes to fund education. The previous spring, Oklahoma educators had organized a nine-day #RedForEd protest that ended when lawmakers approved a tax increase to pay for $6,100 average pay raises for teachers and $1,250 raises for education support professionals (ESPs).

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. workers initiated work stoppages only seven times in 2017, the second-fewest since the agency started keeping records in the 1940s.

In 2018, aggrieved educators, parents, and other community members participated in 20 walkouts. That’s nearly three times the amount of the previous year. In addition to walkouts, innovative organizing strategies, social media campaigns, and town hall meetings have marked a new labor movement unseen in a generation.

Looking back, Loch says she was impressed by the solidarity of colleagues across the country but not enough to join her own union in the Commonwealth, a right-to-work state.

“I earn below what a professional with 11 years’ experience and a master’s degree should make,” she says. “I couldn’t make sense of the expenditure.”

Power in Numbers

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) decision last June. The plaintiff, Mark Janus, was an Illinois state employee who received the raises and benefits negotiated by his union. The ruling allows him and other public sector workers the right to benefit from union contracts without having to pay their fair share for that representation.

kember kane

Maryland teacher Kember Kane speaks at a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2018 during Janus deliberations. (photo: Jay Mallin)

Janus overturned Abood v. Detroit Board of Education—the 1977 case in which the court unanimously upheld fair share fees that support collective bargaining. Each state was left to decide whether to permit such fees. With Abood, workers who didn’t want to join a union didn’t have to. Rather, they paid a reduced “fair share fee” or “agency fee” to cover the cost of union representation and bargaining services that unions provide for the benefit of all employees. Such fees were reduced amounts charged to workers who opted out of union membership. By law, the fees could not be used for political purposes.

“There are many educators in my building—as in many schools—who don’t know how powerful they are until they organize,” says Loch. Since the Janus ruling, almost 30 new members have joined FEA, bringing total membership to 460.

Bargaining for the Common Good

NEA had projected a loss of as many as 200,000 members in addition to 90,000 agency-fee payers after the Supreme Court decision. Instead, as of March, more than 217,000 new members had joined NEA since the Janus decision, and the Association has more members today than it did last year be-fore the Court’s decision. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), with 1.7 million members, added 88,500 members by the beginning of this year, which offset the 84,000 agency-fee payers the union lost after the ruling. Even case defendant AFSCME reports that for every member opting out since Janus, the union has gained seven new members.

david jeck

Superintendent David Jeck granted educators of Fauquier County Public Schools professional leave to attend the January #RedForEd rally in Richmond. Jeck is an FEA member. (photo: Philippe Nobile)

Almost 15 million Americans still pay dues to unions, according to BLS. Increasingly, those unions are supporting campaigns that benefit the entire community. Across the country, unions are helping to champion improved public transportation, healthcare, and public education.

In the nation’s new non-agency fee environment, NEA has supported grassroots #RedForEd movements by providing expertise in digital communications, logistics, member mobilization, research, and legislative strategy. In states across the nation, NEA has helped parents, students, and educators win billions of dollars in increased funding for public schools.

Since 2014, the NEA Center for Organizing has worked with local and state affiliates to develop union leaders, expand membership, and engage educators. Through Education Summer, for example, the center trains members for six to eight weeks to become education organizers who can identify local issues, recruit new members, and establish community relationships.

The center’s New Educator Campaign is another example of NEA’s efforts to recruit and retain members. Operating year-round, the campaign works with incoming teachers, ESPs, higher education members, and association leaders to build a culture of organizing in a post-Janus world of voluntary union membership.

At the state level, for example, more than 19,000 North Carolina educators with support from NEA rallied last year in downtown Raleigh to demand better pay and increased funding for public schools. The power of collective action was exhibited again in Raleigh at a second march in May with 20,000 more educators in attendance.

On a local level, the California Federation of Teachers funds the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE)—an advocacy group for low-income communities of color. Before Los Angeles teachers organized a walkout in January, ACCE members and other groups—like Reclaim Our Schools LA—articulated demands for smaller class sizes, reduced random student searches, and more social services, that the union brought to the bargaining table—and won.

‘Janus’ Was Personal

Nationwide, educators are publicly and audaciously voicing their opinions about how to recruit, support and retain teachers, ESPs and higher education members.

Officials with NEA-Rhode Island (NEARI) had predicted a 20 to 30 percent membership loss in the first year after Janus. Instead, NEARI had gained about 275 members by March.

Sarah Markey is a NEARI UniServ director, and co-presenter of a workshop titled, “Engaging ESPs After Janus.”

“After the Janus decision, we were heartbroken,” says Markey. “It felt very personal, intended to hurt the people we care about most: educators and students.”

Markey’s co-presenter, Kristin Chase, is president of the 160-member East Providence Teachers Assistants (EPTA). Statewide, she says members were prepared for a worst-case scenario after Janus.

“I’m happy to say that a vast majority of our locals remained steady,” says Chase, who is the NEARI vice president for ESPs. “We saw no noticeable difference in any membership category.”

Kristin Chase (left) and Sarah Markey of Rhode Island conducted a workshop at the
NEA ESP conference in March involving the ‘Janus’ ruling.

Chase and Markey say this positive result is due primarily to one-on-one member engagement, which they stress in their presentation.

“Getting more members to step into leader-ship roles is a huge component in sustaining active participation for the long term,” says Chase, who helped EPTA achieve 100 percent membership.

Anti-union organizations, think tanks, and right-wing activists backed by corporate donors, including ultra-conservative billionaire David Koch and his brother Charles; U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her family; and the Bradley Foundation, had long been preparing for a case like Janus as part of a larger campaign to undermine the power of unions.

On the heels of the Janus decision, these anti-union forces have funded dozens of lawsuits across the country designed to weaken the labor movement. And with an increasingly partisan judiciary, unions cannot rely on the courts to do justice.

“It is the continued activism of educators that will lead to a better future for public schools and students,” says Markey.

Stay Ready

“It’s clear that corporate interests want to get educator associations out of their way,” says Brian Nelson, who is president of NEA-South Kingstown (NEASK), and a math teacher at Curtis Corner Middle School in South Kingstown. “Their goal is to privatize the education system and turn it into a profit bearing institution.”

In the months before the Janus ruling, Nelson attended educator meetings and union gatherings at schools across the district to discuss the ramifications of the case.

“I explained that if collective bargaining is weakened or eliminated, it would impact their salaries, health care quality, retirement benefits and workplace environment,” he says. “We didn’t lose members after the Janus decision. No one opted out.”

To increase their community presence, and to enhance their own team spirit, many of the 310 members of NEA-SK bowl together and organize other social outings. “At times, I felt each school was on its own island,” Nelson says. “Bowling nights help to bring us together and provide community members with the opportunity to approach us and discuss our work with students.

Brian Nelson welcomes the new post-‘Janus’ era.

“While building a more public profile, NEA-SK members have already won a formidable victory. During the summer and fall of 2018, they worked with other community groups to prevent the closure of a beloved elementary school, which was opened on time in September. And last November, four out of the five pro-education candidates endorsed by NEA-SK for town council won by large margins.

“The election was our golden opportunity to create the change that our members deserve,” Nelson says.

Approximately 865 NEARI members reside in South Kingstown—even though they work in other towns and belong to other locals. If spouses and domestic partners are included, the number jumps to 1,730 allies.

“We capitalized on that affiliation and had a strong show-ing on Election Day that flipped the council,” says Nelson. One of the council members elected was NEARI’s Sarah Markey.

NEA continues to work to support affiliates across the country as they plan collective actions on behalf of their students and schools. This work is the manifestation of New Business Item 48, passed by delegates to last year’s NEA Representative Assembly. The measure called on NEA to support a national campaign of labor action to save public services, fight for union rights, and improve NEA members’ living and working conditions. Educators in affiliates nationwide are leading the campaign. And NEA is helping them win.

“It’s been amazing to see what educators are doing for their schools, students, and communities,” says Markey.

Empowered Educators

About 250 people attended a March budget meeting of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors in Warrenton, Va., many of them wearing red T-shirts with the words, “Advocates for Change.”

All but one of the 46 speakers addressed education funding, teacher and ESP pay, campus facility upgrades, and other school issues.Two days later, at a joint work session between the board of supervisors and county school board, FEA President Lauren Brill sat in the front row with FEA colleagues Carolyn Leach and Bobby Jenkins.

“Until recently, people felt like they weren’t being heard,” says Brill, a teacher at Margaret M. Pierce Elementary School in Remington. “Richmond was a spark for change.”

“However, being heard and being funded are two different things,” she adds.

Virginia is the 11th wealthiest state in the nation and ranked by Forbes magazine as Number One for business. Yet, the state ranks 42nd in per-pupil state funding and 32nd in teacher pay.

“Virginia teachers are paid about $8,500 less than the national teacher’s average salary,” says Superintendent David Jeck, who granted professional leave to educators wanting to attend the rally. “With regard to state funding for schools, we are still below 2009 levels when adjusted for inflation.”

In Virginia, teacher pay scales can vary from one county to the next due to state funding, property values, and variations in local tax policies. In neighboring Loudoun County, for example, a first-year teacher with a master’s degree earns $55,941 per year, or about $1,000 more than a teacher in Fauquier County with a master’s degree and more than 10 years’ experience.

Together with a higher cost of living, four out of 10 educators are forced to live outside the area where they work, says Leach, a teacher at C. Hunter Ritchie Elementary School in Warrenton, who lives in neighboring Midland.

“The state does not give us that much funding,” she says. “This affects school conditions, pay scales, and where people can afford to live.”

FEA members Carolyn Leach (left), Bobby Jenkins, and Lauren Brill meet regularly with school administrators. (photo: Philippe Nobile)

Superintendent Jeck is a former teacher, coach, and principal, and current FEA member.

“It just made sense to join FEA,” says Jeck, who wore a red T-shirt at the Richmond rally and addressed the crowd on behalf of Fauquier County educators. “Their messaging is right.”

Jeck and Brill often meet informally to discuss education issues. They share pride in the county’s 96 percent graduation rate, close-knit community, and collaboration between educators and administrators.

“We have monthly sit-downs,” says Brill.

Jenkins is a county school bus driver and FEA’s vice president. He and other ESPs meet with FEA member and Assistant Superintendent David Graham at least once a month for breakfast.

“He (Graham) use to drive a school bus,” Jenkins says. “We understand each other.”

As in many parts of the country, Virginia educators have not been discouraged by Janus or any other anti-worker, anti-union court rulings. Instead, they took matters into their own hands, taking the battle to the steps of the statehouse and the public sphere. They signed up new union members, rallied against the underfunding of public schools, and joined a labor movement with broad public support.

“Wherever you live in this country, policy makers need to hear from us and be held accountable,” says Jenkins. “The union gives us leverage and a voice.”



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“If We Don’t Do Something, It’s Never Going to Change”


(photo: Joe Brusky)

At the panel discussion on educator walkouts at the National Education Writers Association (EWA) conference this week, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia was asked what was driving this unprecedented activism happening across the country, including the latest action in Oregon this week.

“A moment in West Virginia became a movement,” Eskelsen Garcia said. “It is inspiring. It’s energizing. And it’s always a little scary because no one knows how these things will turn out, but so far we’ve had 100 percent success in that every place where teachers have raised their voices and thrown on their #RedForEd t-shirts and gone to the public, they’ve won support. [It’s about ending] the absolute neglect of education funding and giving kids the programs and services they need.”

People are hearing what educators have been saying for years: There is much more that should be done to support public education. It hasn’t been enough for decades.

“Parents, the public, have all marched with their educators in support of more funding for education.” Eskelsen García said. “They’re asking, ‘What do you mean you have to pay for your own supplies? What do you mean you have 40 students in classrooms.’ ”

Panelist Kathereine Strunk, a researcher at the University of Michigan, said we know that kids who miss school on a day unexpectedly miss learning. “If you miss five days of school for a snow day you miss learning,” she said. “We expect to see studies about kids and learning loss from strikes. These are not costless to them.”

Educators walkouts have resulted in more funding for students, Eskelsen Garcia responded, but she’d never seen kids win a million dollars for their school after a snow day.

Dov Rosenberg, an educator from Durham Public Schools in North Carolina who joined his state walkouts, said they are taking action because for the students who are not getting what they deserve and that parents and teachers want the same thing for their students.

“We demonstrate because we feel nobody is listening; it’s necessary to do something we know will have an impact,” he said.

If we don’t do something, it’s never going to change. Teachers keep picking up the slack.” – NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

To lesson the impact, Rosenberg told the panel how they had organized food distribution centers so the kids who rely on them can still receive free breakfasts and lunch.

“We can’t provide childcare, and it is a hardship, these aren’t easy,” he said. “We stay mindful of how we can serve students on days we are striking so there is less hardship.”

Many students, he added, marched with their parents alongside their educators, getting a real-life education in civics and political action.”

Shar Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform, which supports more charter schools, told the audience that the unions would have the public believe that walking out is the only lever they have to pull. Jeffries said educators should exhaust every lever before leaving the school or classroom to protest.

Rosenberg responded that political action isn’t harming students when the whole point of a walkout is to improve students learning.

“It is the last lever. We tried phone banks, letters to representatives, and supporting legislation that would increase funding, and it didn’t work. We have to use what power we have, and the most power we have is our labor. We are furious that our students are forced to learn in the miserable conditions we are required to work.”

Madeline Will of Education Week, who moderated the panel, asked how unions are faring in the wake of the Supreme Court Janus decision.

“Our membership is up all over the country when we were supposed to be plummeting,” said Eskelsen García . “We are energized. This is about the Koch brothers and their ilk trying to get rid of our membership. We know the only power we have is a collective voice…. And we have three million professionals who love their students and stand ready to put their boots on the ground.”



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Say Thanks on Teacher Appreciation Day


It’s that time of year again: Teacher Appreciation Week, and National Teacher Day is May 7!

Over the past year, more than ever before, teacher voices have been heard  – and not just in classrooms. These educators are making a difference across the country and in their own communities.

The #RedForEd camapign  has united educators, parents and students in a powerful movement to advocate for and protect the nation’s public schools. After years in which funding for public schools has stagnated or even fallen, teachers are demanding the support and learning environments that students in every neighborhood deserve. The campaign has been waged on the streets, on social media, in the legislatures, and at the voting booth.

Supported by the National Education Association’s 3 million members, National Teacher Day 2019 has two main goals: thanking teachers for their commitment to students, and encouraging talented and committed individuals to consider becoming teachers.

On Wednesday, May 8, NEA is encouraging the public to support #RedForEd and show appreciation for the educators who are advocating for better learning conditions for their students and pay and benefits commensurate with the demands and responsibilities of teaching.

The campaign is asking people to show solidarity and wear red, and to share their reasons for supporting the campaign on social media.

·       #ThankATeacher with NEA’s help using our Thank a Teacher Toolkit.

·       You can show your appreciation for the teachers in your life and teachers across the country by sending a card through social media or download the cards for print here.

·       You can print a Certificate of Appreciation for your favorite teacher here.

So thank you to all educators. Whether it’s your first year or fourth decade in a classroom, we know the job is enormously challenging. Still, you connect with students, inspire them, unlock their potential. Thank you for your dedication, creativity and passion! 



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Virginia’s Rodney Robinson Named 2019 National Teacher of the Year


Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year

Rodney Robinson, a social studies teacher in Richmond, Virginia, was named the 2019 National Teacher of the Year on Wednesday by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

Robinson, a 19-year veteran of Richmond Public Schools, teaches at Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Justice Center. CCSSO commended Robinson for creating “a positive school culture by empowering his students – many of whom have experienced trauma – to become civically-minded social advocates who use their skills and voices to affect physical and policy changes at their school and in their communities.”

Robinson says he looking forward to helping lead a conversation about the students he calls “the most vulnerable in society” and how the nation can address the school-to-prison-pipeline that has pushed too many kids out of school.

“This year I hope to be the voice for my students and all students who feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated and undervalued in America,” Robinson said.

At the Virgie Binford Education Center, which serves youth ages 10-18, Robinson uses a social studies curriculum that centers on juvenile justice and the prison system. Robinson collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Forman Jr at Yale University in developing the unit. The curriculum allows “students to step outside of themselves and examine the system and the circumstances that have led to their incarceration and a better understanding of how to avoid future incarceration,” Robinson wrote in the introduction.

Robinson, who previously taught at Armstrong High, Wythe High, and Brown Middle School, earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Virginia State University and a master’s degree in administration and supervision from Virginia Commonwealth University. In addition to being published three times by Yale, Robinson has received numerous awards for his accomplishments in and out of the classroom, most notably the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence.

A proud member of the Richmond Education Association, the Virginia Education Association, and the National Education Association, Robinson is a vocal and dedicated union activist, and was a featured speaker at the VEA Fund our Future rally in Richmond.

Robinson is standing up for students who “feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated, and undervalued in America,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.  “He is not only a beacon of light but also a mentor, a leader and a role model in the fight for racial and social justice in education….Every student in every public school in this country deserves a teacher like Mr. Robinson no matter their ZIP code or their circumstances.”

Robinson has focused great deal of his efforts on the need for mental health services in schools and singles out the stigma surrounding treatment. As teacher of the year, Robinson will have a heightened platform to advocate for the students who are being left behind by budget cuts and a system that emphasizes punitive discipline over preventative and rehabilitative measures.

“I want school counselors, I want conflict mediators, I want restorative justice, I want people to come in and actually work with the kids and not just put a kid in handcuffs whenever there is a minor disagreement,” Robinson told WCVE Radio in Richmond.

Robinson says the positive influence black educators can have on the lives of vulnerable students cannot be overstated. When he was a student at King William County High School in the 1990s, Robinson admits he struggled “to find his place” and looked up to his band director Mr. Calvin Sorrell, who at that time was the only male, black teacher in the district. Today, only 15 percent of licensed teachers in Virginia are people of color.

“It’s important to have role models of all races and ethnicity — especially for students of color,” says Robinson.

After graduating high school, Robinson set his sights on becoming the kind of educator many students who have made mistakes desperately need.

“Most are in survival mode 24 hours a day, seven days a week… but they still persevere and strive for success. They are my inspiration, and I will fight to my last heartbeat for them,” Robinson says





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For ESPs, Being the Best for Students Requires Continuous Learning


Andrea Beeman (left), Matthew Powell, and Kimberly Scott-Hayden have helped implement the ESP Professional Growth Continuum.
(PHOTO: Andrea Kane)

It’s common knowledge amongst educators that professional development for education support professionals (ESPs) is largely non-existent or irrelevant, if offered at all. Whether five or 20 years on the job, ESPs receive limited access to career learning opportunities unless they provide it themselves.

“Everyone thinks professional development is for teachers only,” says Matthew Powell, custodial supervisor at Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Ky. “But ESPs also need the opportunity to learn and grow in their careers.”

After working for 12 years as a special education paraeducator, Powell returned to college to complete a bachelor’s degree in educational studies. To meet expenses during this time, he worked as a school custodian on the night shift.

As a member of NEA’s ESP Careers Committee, Powell is working alongside ESPs and teachers from across the country to increase professional learning opportunities for school support professionals. Already, the committee has led to the development of new universal standards that provide a pathway for professional growth for ESPs throughout their careers.

These universal standards are outlined in the ESP Professional Growth Continuum (PGC).

“At the end of the day, if ESPs increase their skills and knowledge, it’s students who ultimately win,” says Powell, recently named the 2019 NEA ESP of the Year.

The PGC provides the first ever career continuum for ESPs grounded in eight universal standards within three levels of practice: Foundational, Proficient, and Advanced/Mastery. This landmark resource describes applicable standards and levels of practice across all NEA ESP job categories.

Participants can choose to work independently or join a group, known as a professional learning community. Several NEA affiliates across the country are working with members and other education leaders to develop student-centered learning opportunities aligned with the PGC to support ESPs in their professional practice.

“It goes back to wanting to be the best we can be for our students,” says Powell, who helps implement PGC standards for custodian and maintenance service workers at Grave County Schools. “The PGC gives us that opportunity.”

Local Successes

In New Jersey, Kimberly Scott-Hayden led the development of trainings for East Orange Maintenance Association (EOMA) members using PGC standards. The program started after Scott-Hayden approached Dr. Kevin West, East Orange School District Superintendent.

“Before anything, you need to effectively communicate a message, a perception, or a theory,” says Scott-Hayden, who first enticed Dr. West with an idea about training ESPs to communicate more effectively at work.

In East Orange, EOMA’s original 32 members were the first to join the training sessions. Scott-Hayden and Dr. West decided to begin with this question: How can I grow professionally to become more culturally aware and effective in communicating with students and colleagues?

Scott-Hayden and the team found that discussing culturally sensitive issues can be difficult. Still, they asked participants how they collaborate with members from culturally diverse groups, how they evaluate their ability to recognize reactions in individuals different from themselves, and how they address the consequences of inequities based on identity or group membership.

“Understanding the culture of your community gives you a better sense of your students,” says Andrea Beeman, a paraeducator who serves with Powell and Scott-Hayden on the NEA board and ESP Careers Committee.

Once educators saw the passion of Scott-Hayden and her team, the New Jersey program quickly expanded across East Orange. The team was awarded one of NEA’s Great Public Schools Fund Grants for $90,000 over three years starting in the 2018-2019 school year. She says she could not have predicted the spike in membership after the grant was issued, which reached 370 members to now include teacher assistants, paraprofessionals, and security guards along with the original maintenance workers.

Members of the ESP Careers Committee met in March at the NEA ESP Conference in Las Vegas, Nev.                 (PHOTO: Andrea Kane)

“Just based on the work they are seeing, people have said, ‘I’m buying into this.’ It builds capacity,” says Scott-Hayden. “It gives you an opportunity to show your district that you are an important stakeholder in your career development. You can use PGC to bargain, as leverage to increase your salary, or for career advancement. It will cultivate leaders.”

In Ohio, Beeman says trainings aligned to the PGC will help close the achievement gap.

“In order to do my job effectively, I have to know a student’s strengths, weaknesses, interests, and aspirations, hopes and dreams,” says Beeman, who works at Maple Heights High School in Maple Heights.

Along with opportunities for professional growth offered by PGC is the chance to better connect with students, Beeman explains. She says students want to know a few things, such as: Will you help me, do you care about me, and do you see me as an individual.

“Responding to that begins with gaining a clear understanding of a student’s racial and cultural background,” Beeman says. “My focus is to meet my students where they are and on their terms.”

How the PGC Works

While the continuum provides a career path toward personal and professional growth, it is not meant to be linear or hierarchical. The model is fluid so ESPs can build their professional capacity in one or more standards. Participants might be “proficient” in one standard and “advanced” in another based on how skills compliment on-the-job experiences and training.

NEA offers an opportunity for members to conduct a PGC self-assessment and strengthen their knowledge and skills through NEA micro-credentials, which are short, competency-based recognitions that allow educators to demonstrate mastery in a particular area. Micro-credentials are available for each of the eight universal standards outlined in the PGC. By completing micro-credentials, ESPs can learn how to use the standards to reflect on current levels of skills and knowledge and map out opportunities to grow in their professional practice.

“As educators progress through the levels of practice, increased knowledge and skill levels are going to help them when they engage in difficult cultural conversations with students,” Beeman adds.



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‘A Deal is a Deal’: Sacramento Educators Go on Strike


The #RedForEd wave hits Sacramento. Today, April 11, more than 2,800 Sacramento educators are on strike to protest the Sacramento City Unified School District’s (SCUSD) bad faith bargaining and to support a fair settlement that includes additional resources, such as art and music, smaller class sizes, more school nurses, and psychologists. The contract also includes an 11 percent increase in teacher salaries.

“[The strike] grows out of frustration of the failure of the superintendent to honor a contract that he signed more than a year ago, and the continued treatment of our contract [as] optional, [instead of] something that’s binding on both parties,” David Fisher, a second-grade teacher and president of the  Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA), said in an interview.

The superintendent is Jorge Aguilar, whose refusal to honor the contract has led to the city’s first strike in nearly 30 years. SCTA members voted by 92.3 percent to protest the unlawful, unfair labor practices by superintendent and the school board.

In November 2017, after more than a year of bargaining, SCTA and the district settled and signed a bargaining contract with a commitment to reprioritize resources toward students and classrooms. Since then, the district has committed 31 unfair labor practices. Now, the district is back tracking on the mutually agreed upon contract that meets the needs of students.

Thousands of educators, students, and parents will hit the picket lines to demand that SCUSD keep its promise to lower class sizes and increase student services—and to act lawfully and remedy its illegal actions that are hurting nearly 50,000 Sacramento public school students.

Sacramento’s Kara Synhorst, an English teacher of nearly 20 years, captured the sentiments of many educators in a video posted to Facebook: “I’m offended and insulted at the way teachers are being portrayed…My union has offered ways for the district to save money…If anyone is refusing to come to the table, it’s Mr. Aguilar and the district. We have a contract. Don’t ask us to negotiate a new one when you won’t even implement the last one—because [as] my students already know: A deal is a deal.” Synhorst was speaking directly to Aguilar.

The local argues that instead of honoring the contract, the district mismanaged funds and is now $35 million in the red. A state takeover threat looms over the district, too. But this wasn’t always the case.

The district was in the best financial position in its history up until 2017, when the contract was being bargained. Discussions centered on how the reduced costs in the district’s healthcare plan would generate more money. The plan was to negotiate further down the road and apply those savings toward schools.

Instead, the district went on a “spending spree, adding more than $6 million in vacation buyouts for top administrators,” explains David Fisher. This resulted in deficit spending for the first time in years.

In an interview with Education Week, Fisher said, “This really feels like a betrayal…If a district can just throw up their hands and say, ‘Yeah, we know we agreed, but now our budget situation has changed, so we’re not going to do it anymore,’ that sets a terrible precedent for what districts can do when they sign agreements.”

The strike is currently scheduled to last for one day.





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Congress Approves National Award Program for ESPs


After the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act (H.R. 276) by a vote of 387-19 in February, the Senate quickly followed suit with its own unanimous approval in March.

“This recognition is way overdue,” said Debby Chandler, president of the National Council for Education Support Professionals (NCESP), which works within the National Education Association (NEA) to represent the interests and issues of education support professionals (ESP).

It has taken more than a decade of seemingly endless meetings between elected officials in Washington, political appointees from two different presidential administrations, and numerous NEA staff, board members, lobbyists, ESPs and other activists for the bill to get this close to becoming law.

“The voices of our board members and activists who contacted Congressional members in the first few months of this year made the difference,” said Marc Egan, NEA director of government relations. “We had worked behind the scenes and knew we had a moment to try to capitalize on.”

Popularly known as the RISE Act, the bill has been sent to the president for review.

“Lobbying for a bill like this is one of those moments where you realize how fortunate you are to work on behalf of educators nationwide,” Egan said. “Over the many years we fought for this bill, I would say to members of Congress, ‘This is as much of a mom-and-apple-pie bill that you can find.’”

“After many years by educators of advocating for such a national award, Congress is right to recognize the unsung and often unseen heroes of the education professions – education support professionals and classified school employees.” – NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

The legislation provides recognition by the federal government for the outstanding contributions of ESPs to the nation’s public schools and the students they serve. If signed by the president, the legislation will direct the Secretary of Education to establish a national award program recognizing the excellence exhibited by these public school educators in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Similar to the National Teacher of the Year award program, governors from each state will work with educators, associations, and other stakeholders on identifying nominees for final selection by the education secretary.

“Schools simply cannot run without us,” said Chandler, who is an NEA board member and a secretary at John R. Rogers High School in Spokane, Wash. “We ignite the love of learning while providing essential services to the whole student.”

There are almost 3 million school support professionals in our nation’s public schools, colleges, and universities. They comprise one-third of the public education workforce.

“Although they seldom seek the spotlight, this national award will increase awareness of the important roles we play,” said Matthew Powell, the 2019 NEA ESP of the Year, and a custodial supervisor at Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Ky. Since 1992, NEA has recognized these educators annually with its ESP of the Year award. The award program will continue for NEA members even if the RISE Act is enacted.

Alfonso Salais teaches Spanish in the International Baccalaureate Program at Lansing Eastern High School in Lansing, Mich. He is a member of the NEA ESP Careers Committee and son of an ESP.

“My mom has been in the food and child nutrition service for over 35 years,” he said. “The level of expertise, dedication, and skills that she brings to her school district is second to none.”

Salais acknowledges that when most people think about educators, they have teachers in mind.

“This paradigm needs to change and broaden while highlighting all the important people at a school who play a critical role in the growth and development of children,” he said. “A bill like this will highlight the work of education’s unsung heroes — ESPs.”

Like his mother and family, Salais notes that ESPs “live in the same communities where they work, attend the same places of worship, and shop in the same grocery stores as their students and their families. They are an invaluable resource even outside of school.”

Of NEA’s 3 million members, almost 500,000 are ESPs represented in the following nine career groups:

  • Clerical services
  • Custodial and maintenance services
  • Food services
  • Health and student services
  • Paraeducators
  • Security services
  • Skilled trade services
  • Technical services
  • Transportation services

“In all these capacities and services, we give hope, build bridges, heal and mend broken hearts, build self-esteem and nurture students,” said Chandler. “Passage of the RISE Act will spotlight the important work ESPs do to make a difference in the lives of students.”

For more information about ESPs, visit: www.nea.org/ESP.



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2019 ESP of the Year Matthew Powell Does It All


NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia introduces 2019 Education Support Professional of the Year Matthew Powell to the annual NEA ESP Conference in Las Vegas, Nev. on March 23, 2019.

When he is not managing the custodial team at Graves County Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Ky., Matthew Powell can be found serving as the safety officer for the crisis management team of Grave County Schools. When the need arises, he also fills in as a special events bus driver.

Even more, in 2016, Powell established residency on school grounds as a nighttime security guard to boost student safety, and for legal reasons. By claiming residence in a small housing unit located near the Graves County middle and high schools, Powell has been able to keep the city of Mayfield from annexing school property. According to Powell, the annexation would result in revenue loss for schools and a payroll tax hike for education support professionals (ESP), teachers, and other school employees. Standing his ground, Powell has self-financed a lawsuit against Mayfield which is currently pending with the Kentucky Supreme Court.

For his undying dedication and hard work on behalf of students, colleagues, and his community, Powell was named the 2019 National Education Association (NEA) ESP of the Year during the ESP of the Year Award Dinner at the NEA ESP Conference in Las Vegas, Nev. The annual award is NEA’s highest for an ESP.

“Matthew thinks in terms of possibilities rather than impossibilities, solutions rather than problems, do’s rather than don’ts,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Most of all, he believes that students should be at the center of every decision we make in our schools.”

Powell received a standing ovation from the more than 900 ESPs, school administrators, and other educators from across the country who are participating in the 28th annual conference.

“I will always fight for all of our students and ESPs, and public education together, said Powell. “Coming from Kentucky I know what it’s like to fight, especially when you have a senator who won’t listen. And I will continue that fight along with elevating ESPs.”

Eskelsen Garcia presented Powell with a commemorative trophy, bouquet of roses, and $10,000 check. Powell also received a coveted ESP of the Year Hall of Fame plaque.

“He not only cleans school facilities and looks out for students, but he catches potential members wherever he can and convinces them to join KEA,” said Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), in her nomination letter to the ESP of the Year Selection Committee. “He is one of the most kind, tenacious, and hard-working individuals I have ever met.”

Approximately 2.8 million school support staff work in the nation’s public school systems, with more than 75 percent living, shopping, worshipping, and voting in the school communities in which they work.

2019 ESP of the Year Matthew Powell

The conference theme, Education Support Professionals: Uniting Our Members and the Nation for Strong Communities, Empowered Educators, and Successful Students, set the tone for the 47 workshops, discussion sessions, and keynote speeches.

“Everyone knows that teaching is important, but even the greatest teachers need support from the professionals who transport students to school, keep the building safe and clean, prepare nutritious meals, offer support in the classroom and manage the front office,” Powell said to the West Kentucky Star.

Powell, a member of the Graves County Education Support Professionals and NEA board of directors. A graduate of Graves County High School, Powell has been employed with the school district since August 2007 and has worked at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. He is a graduate of the KEA Fellows program and NEA Leaders for Tomorrow, Class of 2016.

While working for Graves County Schools, he earned a bachelor’s degree in educational studies from Western Governors University in 2012. He has also served as a district softball coach and team bus driver for the past three seasons.

“I am a strong advocate for meeting the needs of the whole student,” Powell told the Star. “This approach can only succeed when parents, teachers, administrators and support staff all work together.”

School support professionals comprise more than one-third of all public school employees. Within NEA, ESPs are categorized in nine career groups:

  • Paraeducators
  • Clerical services
  • Custodial and maintenance services
  • Skilled trades
  • Technical services
  • Security services
  • Transportation services
  • Food services
  • Health and student services.

Also included in NEA’s school support job category are Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (SISP), which includes speech-language pathologists, audiologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologist-counselors, nurses, social workers and others.

“ESPs are the backbone of our schools,” Powell has stated. “We do make a difference and deserve to tell our stories.”

At the conference, ESPs attended workshops which allowed them to earn credits to further their professional goals in the NEA ESP Professional Growth Continuum (PGC) and NEA Leadership Competency Framework (LCF).

Participants enrolled in the PGC could easily identify the workshops that align to one or more of the program’s eight universal standards: communication, cultural competence, organization, reporting, ethics, health and safety, technology and professionalism. Workshops were labeled with the PGC universal standard(s) with which it aligned. Newcomers to the PGC were advised to sign up by visiting the NEA Certification Bank.

Similarly, workshops indicated in the conference program their alignment with the six LCF domains – advocacy, communication, fiscal health, governance and leadership, leading our professions, organizing and strategy. These competencies are designed to prepare NEA members as community leaders particularly with regard to education associations.

As an NEA board member, Powell helped to develop and implement the PGC. He has stated that he was inspired to help establish the program so he could “advocate for ESPs so they can be champions like the support staff who championed for me.”



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During Lockdowns, Collaboration Among Staff Key to Student Safety


Shielding her students against a storm of gunfire is something Andrea Beeman hopes she will never experience. It is gut-wrenching to even ponder, says Beeman, a paraeducator at Maple Heights High School in Maple Heights, Ohio.

Contemplating such a deadly scenario is tempered, she says, by knowing her school’s crisis response team includes administrators, teachers, and education support professionals (ESP) who participate in active shooter drills and have specific roles and responsibilities.

“The more collaboration among school staff during a drill, the better prepared we are to keep students safe,” says Beeman, who also serves as a building monitor. “My students will need to listen to my directions and trust me in an emergency.”

In today’s school climate, active shooter drills are as common as fire drills. Nine out of ten public schools currently conduct active shooter drills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

To prepare for an armed assailant on school grounds, it is advised that schools create a safety team that includes an administrator, mental health professional, nurse, security officials, educators, and even parents, according to the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers, who jointly published a guide book titled, “Best Practice Considerations for Schools in Active Shooter and Other Armed Assailant Drills.”

Andrea Beeman

Planning for an active shooter situation should include the adult experience, personal skills, and professional knowledge of food service workers, custodians, and other ESP, says Dan Kivett, a security officer at Citrus Valley High School in Redlands, Calif., and president of the Redlands Education Support Professionals Association (RESPA).

“Trainings and drills must be all-inclusive,” says Kivett, an NEA board member. “For example, if bus drivers are parked on campus during an emergency, do they stay or go?”

Whether mandatory or not, Beeman advocates for staging an active shooter drill within a month of starting school while communicating policies and procedures with parents.

“The start of the school year is when everyone in the education community is reviewing rules and procedures,” she says. “Parents attend open house events and meet with staff. Conducting a drill early on will show our emergency preparedness.”

With ESP located in all areas of a school campus, even during non-working hours, it is vital that they be included in school crisis plans, Kivett adds.

Teamwork

The NEA 2018 School Crisis Guide includes cafeteria, transportation, maintenance, and health and student service professionals among staff who are vital to a comprehensive approach in preventing unnecessary violence during an emergency, though this is not the case at some schools.

“Unfortunately, some ESP may not know what to do because they aren’t trained or fully involved in drills,” says Kivett. “It’s a safety issue that concerns me.”

Kivett trains security officers and helps to conduct emergency operations planning for the Redlands United School District. He’s particularly concerned about playground supervisors and building monitors who may not have been prepared for responding to a range of emergencies, whether caused by humans or by a natural disaster.

“People may reactively know what to do in a crisis, but do they know what to do when they’re responsible for dozens of children,” he says. “With a shooter or earthquake or chemical spill, for example, every second lost can be the difference between living and dying.”

Any School, Any Time

The Educator’s School Safety Network estimates that threats or actual violence happen about 10 times a day in U.S. schools. The 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado heightened the need for schools to be better prepared to respond to armed assailants and other forms of violence, such as bomb threats. About 16 campuses lock down daily, with nine of those incidents related to gun violence or the threat of it, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. More than 6,200 lockdowns occurred during the 2017-2018 school year.

Dan Kivett

Following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., the U.S. Department of Education recommended expanding the lockdown-only approach for schools, which confined students and staff to their rooms. Instead, the department now recommends an options-based approach that allows school staff to make more independent decisions about how to protect their students depending on evolving circumstances, such as to evacuate a building rather than stay locked in a classroom.

These approaches include adapting the “run, hide, fight” model that was originally developed for adults in response to workplace violence. This expansion has spurred an increase in the number of school districts conducting drills.

“Drills really help staff consider the “what if” scenarios,” says Kivett. “If it’s a hurricane or fire, what do you do? If it’s a shooter, where do you go?”

Student Stress

While lockdowns may save lives during a real crisis, the drill itself can inflict “immense psychological damage on children convinced that they’re in danger,” according to the Post study. More than 4.1 million students endured at least one lockdown in the 2017-2018 school year.

A report from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence indicates that some drills “foster fear and anxiety” and “can intensify the fear of gun violence children already suffer.”

“We encourage immediate access to a counselor in a safe space to ease any stress or anxiety caused by a drill,” says Beeman,  who works with high school students with developmental disabilities.

Should the need arise, NEA encourages schools to work with local hospitals and mental health agencies to aid students experiencing trauma.

Beeman faithfully meets students in the morning as they exit buses and stays with many of them until they are picked up after last bell and head home.

“I escort them to breakfast, lunch, electives, and help them develop soft skills needed to maintain a job after they graduate,” says Beeman, an NEA board member. “I can sense when they are experiencing undue stress. We are there for them.”

Says Kivett: “The point is not to scare students but to do all that is humanly possible to keep them safe in this era of violence.”

‘School Hardening’ Not Making Students Safer, Say Experts

A skewed focus on target hardening neglects the time and resources needed to spend on professional development training, planning, behavioral and mental health intervention supports for students, and other best practices.
But research and experience consistently shows that a comprehensive approach is needed for school safety programs.



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DeVos Won’t Give Up on Vouchers


(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

In her two years as U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has seized on every opportunity to undermine public education. She has called for deep cuts to federal funding, rolled back protections for our most vulnerable students, and shilled for the for-profit college industry that has defrauded countless students.

DeVos has floundered, however, in advancing her pet cause: the federal expansion of school vouchers. Even with GOP majorities in the House and Senate and the strong backing of President Trump, Congress in 2017 and 2018 rejected DeVos’ efforts to create federal vouchers to attend private schools.

Despite this setback and the recent 2018 elections that sent a pro-public education majority to the House of Representatives, DeVos’ enthusiasm for school vouchers hasn’t dampened. This was evident last week with the introduction of  something called the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act.

In a USA Today op-ed touting the proposal, DeVos, Senator Ted Cruz, and Representative Bradley Byrne, the bills’ sponsors in Congress, called it “a historic investment in America’s students.”

The majority of Americans who reject vouchers know better. DeVos’ proposal, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, is just the “latest attempt to push an agenda that is academically ineffective, fiscally irresponsible and that funds discrimination at the expense of student opportunity.”

The good news is that Congress – who soundly rejected a similar proposal during the 2017 tax debate – isn’t likely to give this reboot a serious look. Still, the corporate interests who have doggedly pursued school privatization for more than a decade are nothing if not persistent, which is why public education activists aren’t about to let down their guard.

What is an Education Freedom Scholarship?

Quite simply, it’s a federal school voucher.  For years now, proponents, acknowledging that “vouchers” are unpopular, have worked tirelessly to reconfigure the scheme to 1) sidestep constitutional obstacles and 2) reintroduce them to a public that has consistently been in opposition, using friendly-sounding euphemisms to make them more politically appealing.

Whether they’re called “Education Saving Accounts,” “Tuition Tax Credits” or “Opportunity Scholarships,” the result is always the same: directly or indirectly, less money for public schools and more for private schools.

The Education Freedom Scholarship is a tax credit program, similar to what 17 states already have on their books.

Under such a plan, individuals and companies earn tax credits by donating money to nonprofit scholarship funds. Students then can use the funds to attend private schools, including religious schools.

Carl Davis, research director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, calls the DeVos proposal a “supersized” version, because it offers a  dollar-for-dollar credit, meaning that every dollar given takes a dollar off the donor’s tax bill.

“The contributors to these programs wouldn’t have to put up a dime of their own money because the federal government would reimburse them in full,” he adds.

So what DeVos wants is the federal government to reimburse wealthy taxpayers with tax credits in return for providing funding to private schools on the states’ behalf.

“It’s a brazen effort to distort the tax code into a tool for funding private and religious schools with public dollars,” Davis said.

The Cost to Public Schools

In their USA Today column, DeVos and Cruz claim that “this program won’t take a single cent from local public school teachers or public school students.”

That is simply false. Tax credit vouchers will drain public funding from public schools. Under these plans, potential taxes are never paid, which in turn decreases the overall amount in the coffers. This makes less money available for public schools.

“This bill sends a worrisome message about the direction that some private school advocates would like to go. They’re hoping to set the table for a major federal voucher plan the next time the political stars align in their favor.”- Carl Davis, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

“The voucher proposal peddled by Betsy DeVos will divert already scarce funding away from neighborhood public schools – where 90 percent of children go – and give it away to private schools, which are not accountable to taxpayers,” said Eskelsen García.

In a 2017 analysis, ITEP took a look at how these programs had impacted the budgets of the 17 states where they had been put into effect.  Taken together, these states were diverting more than $1 billion per year toward private schools via tax credits.

“Allowing certain taxpayers to opt out of funding an institution as fundamentally important as the nation’s public school system erodes the public’s level of investment in that institution–both literally and figuratively,” the report states.

Furthermore, “expanding these programs at the federal level would lead to a loss of federal and state revenue directed at public schools that would weaken the ability of public schools to serve increasing numbers of students in poverty as well as students with disabilities and English-language learners.”

 The Bill is Likely Going Nowhere But…

Soon after DeVos unveiled her proposal, U.S. Senator Patty Murray immediately declared it “dead on arrival.”

“Secretary DeVos keeps pushing her anti-public school agenda despite a clear lack of support from parents, students, teachers, and even within her own party,” Murray said in a statement. “Congress has repeatedly rejected her privatization efforts and she should expect nothing less here.”

With DeVos’ push to expand vouchers stymied (so far), the shift in momentum away from privatization may be modest but it’s unmistakable.

Educators across the nation have been calling attention to the dangers of school privatization as part of the #RedforEd Movement. In November, Arizona voters rejected Proposition 305, which would have significantly expanded the state’s school voucher program.

Still, by attempting to pry open the federal tax code to enable school voucher expansion, privatization advocates are demonstrating how relentless they are and will continue to be.

“While this bill isn’t likely to be enacted during this Congress, it sends a worrisome message about the direction that some private school advocates would like to go,” Davis warns. “They’re hoping to set the table for a major federal voucher plan the next time the political stars align in their favor.”



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Oakland Teachers Strike For Class Sizes and Student Supports


Fed up with unequal resources that starve their students of the schools they deserve, the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) went on strike on Thursday to demand smaller class sizes and increased access for students to counselors, school nurses, librarians, and school psychologists.

“You can’t feed the minds of our students by starving their schools,” OEA President Keith Brown has said.

On Thursday, educators, parents, and other supporters walked picket lines at all 86 Oakland schools, and thousands rallied at noon in Oakland City Hall, including NEA Vice President Becky Pringle. “Oakland, you are in the fight of your lives to make sure that not one, not some, but every single child can explore their imagination and live their brilliance!” Pringle told the crowd.

You are not alone, she reminded them. “Tens of thousands of teachers and support staff all over this country from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Colorado to Arizona to Los Angeles have risen up,” said Pringle. “They have risen up, and they have said, enough! Enough of taking advantage of our teachers who love our students and don’t have the money to live or take care of their families. Enough of the politicians with their cozy billionaire buddies stripping our schools of their resources and trying to shut them down.”

Video: NEA Vice-President Becky Pringle at Oakland Rally

 

Just this week, West Virginia educators settled a two-day walk out over planned legislation that would have spent the state’s scant resources on private school vouchers and charter schools. Earlier this month, Denver teachers also went on strike, seeking more stability in their system. And, in January, United Teachers of Los Angeles members ended a six-day strike with a historic agreement that includes smaller class sizes, limits on testing, and increased student access to nurses, counselors and librarians. (To learn more about the national Red for Ed movement, visit neatoday.org/redfored.)

In Oakland, educators are focused on what students need to succeed. And it’s much more than the current one counselor for every 600 students, or one nurse per 1,750 students. “This strike is as much about the structure of our school system and services for our students as it about a living wage for educators,” Brown said.

Instead of investing in public school improvements, the Oakland school board has diverted $57 million to charter schools and proposed closing 24 neighborhood schools that serve mostly students of color. But the strike is a little bit about a living wage, too. Oakland teachers currently are the lowest paid in the San Francisco Bay area. According to the union’s estimates, rent for a basic one-bedroom apartment in Oakland would eat 60 percent of a starting teacher’s salary.

On Friday, which will be the second day of the strike, union and district negotiators are scheduled to meet.

Amanda Menas contributed to this story.



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School Custodian/Darts Champion Helps Raise $175,000 for Children


Participants in a recent Darts for Kids tournament. (Photo courtesy of Bob Hudzik)

As a world champion dart player, Bob Hudzik is known for winning tournaments by hitting the smallest inner bullseye of a dartboard, which counts for 50 points. The outer bull is difficult enough to score but is worth only 25 points.

People say Hudzik likes a challenge.

When his wife Tammy Hudzik saw photos of 6-month-old Hailey Moore in need of a heart transplant cross her Facebook feed again and again, she was deeply touched.

She too enjoys a challenge. Tammy didn’t know how, but was certain that she and her husband could help the Moore family meet Hailey’s increasing medical expenses.

“What do you think about giving back,” she asked Bob, a custodian at Mt. Olive High School in Mt. Olive, Ill.

“I’m all in,” Hudzik recalls telling his wife in 2010. “We can do it, I just want to do it for children.”

Without hesitation, the Hudziks decided to organize a dart tournament by inviting players and teams from their long list of contacts in the dart world. The blind draw dart tournament was christened Darts for Kids.

At the inaugural tournament in 2013, Darts for Kids raised $10,000 through entry fees, a dinner, auction items, bake sale, raffle, T-shirt sales, and donations. The profits from the event were split between two families: the Moores and the family of a child living with cystic fibrosis the Hudziks knew in Mt. Olive. Since then, the yearly event has raised almost $175,000 and assisted over 90 families.

“We’re trying to take the burden of everyday living off the parents,” Hudzik says.

Helping families meet unforeseen medical costs was personal to the Hudziks, who had both suffered the loss of a child. At the tournaments, Bob and Tammy invite children such as Noah Blair, 15, whose life expectancy has been limited since birth.

The tournaments allow participants to see where their money is going, says Hudzik, a former member of the Cosmo Darts Fit Flight team out of Japan.

“You get a real personal connection with everyone at the tournament,” he says. “Most of the kids are terminal or are so far in that you just don’t know.”

The Hudziks will host the 8th annual event in September. Hailey Moore, 8, now has a near-clean bill of health and attends the tournaments in strong support of her godparents, Bob and Tammy.

Always a Problem Solver

As a custodian for more than 30 years at his alma mater (Class of ‘85), Hudzik’s commitment to serving children has allowed for increased connections to students and their families outside of work.

“It (volunteering) opened my eyes to local families who need help,” says Hudzik, a former chief negotiator and former president of the Mt. Olive Educational Support Personnel Staff.

“I worked with Bob for many years when he was president of his local,” says Marcus Albrecht, a UniServ director with the Illinois Education Association (IEA). “He was always a problem solver.”

The support Hudzik has received from IEA and school district colleagues seems to increase every year, Hudzik says.

“Whether certified or non-certified, pay attention to what your peers are doing because they only see one side of you during the work day, especially in bigger districts,” he says. “We’re all just trying to make a difference.”

While no longer an officer with his local, “he is always in the background, eager and willing to provide advice and assistance to current local leaders,” Albrecht says.

Orchestrating the events and working with the people surrounding Darts for Kids has boosted his confidence and negotiating skills, explains Hudzik.

“I was very timid at one point,” he admits.

How to Host a Dart Tournament for Charity

First, “be committed,” Hudzik says.

During the first two years of the organization, the Hudziks funded the entire event. Since, they have created a not-for-profit and established a board to assist in fundraising, advertising, and finding in-kind donations.

Second, says Hudzik: “Have a strong support staff with you.”

You do not need a large team, but finding a group of dedicated people will lead to a successful event, according to Hudzik. He continued: “Don’t try to save the world by yourself. You’re going to need a lot of people in your corner.”

Third, set a goal.

Hudzik says it is important to determine your goal, specialty, and sustainability early on. When the first event ended in September 2010, the Hudziks began their tradition of organizing an annual philanthropic event: a haunted house. But at the same time, their newly-formed “dart family” were anxious to start planning the 2011 dart tournament, which was originally going to be a “one and done.”

Dart family members persisted. In 2013, the event raised $25,000. Darts for Kids organizers now have their sights set on raising $100,000 for the 10th annual tournament.

“Don’t be afraid to fail,” Hudzik says.

One year, when Bob’s sister-in-law passed away weeks prior to a tournament, he worried about staying on schedule.

“You’re going to have hiccups,” Hudzik says. “Things are going to come up. You have to persevere.”



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Black Lives Matter at School Spotlights Racial Justice in Education


(photo: Kristopher Radder-Brattleboro Reformer)

Jesse Hagopian is a teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle and a member of the Seattle Education Association (SEA)/Washington Education Association (WEA). As co-editor of Teaching for Black Lives, he helped organize Black Lives Matter at School (BLM at School), a national coalition of educators organizing for racial justice in education. Coalition leaders have encouraged educators, students, parents, union members, community leaders and others to join their annual “week of action,” this year set for February 4-8.

Hagopian explains the beginnings, objectives, and ever-widening scope of BLM at School.

Tell us how Black Lives Matter at School started as a grassroots movement.

JH: October 19, 2016, marked our formal beginning when thousands of educators arrived at John Muir Elementary School here in Seattle wearing shirts that read, “Black Lives Matter: We Stand Together.” Hundreds of families and students too. Many of the shirts also included the message “#SayHerName,” a campaign to raise awareness about the state of violence and assault against women in the U.S.

What role did educators play during the movement’s early stages?

JH:  Teachers, education support professionals (ESP), and community members came together in solidarity. It was educators at the school, along with a group called Black Men United to Change the Narrative, who expressed an interest in organizing an event to celebrate black students early that school year. An art teacher, Julie Trout, designed a beautiful shirt that said “Black Lives Matter, We Stand Together.” When white nationalists found out about these activities, they sent hate mail to the school. One hateful person made a bomb threat on the school.

How did you and SEA respond to the October 19 event?

JH:  Way before our day of action, several members of SEA’s social justice caucus, which we call social equity educators, met with educators at John Muir about the event. At SEA, we passed a resolution in support of this day of action, but we weren’t sure if people would really follow through and take action on October 19. Then the T-shirt orders started coming in, first by the hundreds and then the thousands. We ended up with somewhere around 3,000 educators in Seattle out of 5,000 who went to their schools wearing shirts that said “Black Lives Matter.” Many educators taught lessons about institutional racism that day. What’s incredible is that educators in Rochester, N.Y., and Philadelphia saw what we had done and organized their own BLM at School actions independent of us. Philly educators were the first to expand the day of action to a whole week of action.

That must have made you very proud.

JH:  Yes. We began coordinating with them in 2017 to have a national Black Lives Matter at School Week. Word got around. Last year, thousands of teachers in 20 cities across the country participated in the week of action.

How do leaders and activists in different states coordinate events related to BLM at Schools?

JH:  We communicate and organize around monthly national conference calls that anyone who supports the mission and goals of the movement can join. Through elections, we identified a steering committee that helps organize various activities and agendas for other various committees that have been formed. We have a curriculum committee, and a student creative challenge committee that helps kids create art that can inspire people to join this movement. We have a media committee, an outreach committee. It’s being organized predominantly by educators and some parents around the country who are doing this for free and with no budget.

How is NEA involved?

JH:  We got NEA to vote to support BLM at School week, for example. Many different union locals are also passing resolutions and debating these issues out city by city. There’s a tremendous amount of power in bringing together social issues and anti-racist movements with the power of labor. We’re beginning to see the red state teachers’ revolt move into blue states. I think the union’s ability to bring in issues of over-policing of black and brown kids into the message about fighting for funding and teacher pay will help them be successful in winning that strike and transforming public education.

black lives matter at school

Jesse Hagopian (courtesy of Jesse Hagopian)

What’s behind the new item this year that appears on some of your materials:  Fund Counselors Not Cops?

JH:  In 2018, various groups coalesced as a national movement. We identified three demands: End zero-tolerance discipline and replace it with restorative justice; hire more black teachers and offer black history and ethnic studies in the schools. In addition, we broke down the guiding principles of the BLM Global Network into teaching points for each day of the week. This year, we added a fourth demand, which is “fund counselors not cops.”

The demand is a response to the growing movement in this country introduced by a group called, Dignity in Schools. There are numerous examples over the last couple of years of brutality that some police bring into our schools. Recently, the ACLU won a settlement for third graders in Kentucky who were handcuffed by police officers … not around the wrists because their wrists were too small but instead around the biceps. These were special needs kids, Latino and black, who were having some trouble. Instead of getting help, they were further traumatized. We are now in a situation in America where there are 1.6 million children who go to a school that doesn’t have a counselor but that does have a police officer.

NEA: What are you hoping to accomplish regarding this year’s week of action?

JH:  We hope to engage tens of thousands of students across the country in lessons that illuminate the 13 principles of the BLM movement. In addition, we hope to help transform unions so they see how much more powerful our movements can be if we challenge anti-black racism head on, and bring in black struggle and incorporate it into the union struggle. With that in mind, one of the new features this year is that we’re calling on educators, students, parents and community members to hold rallies in their cities on Wednesday, or a day that makes sense for their local, at their school board building or city hall. We are asking for support of our four demands. We hope that this direct action and rally will pressure school districts to make the reforms that are so desperately needed.

National Demands for BLM in School Week of Action

End Zero Tolerance. Focus our Schools on Restorative Justice
The over-policing, out of control suspensions, and expulsions must be brought to an immediate end. To rebuild our structures, we will focus our resources on restorative justice-the organic appointment of community leaders; mediation and processing; and equitable perspectives on rehabilitation. Ending zero tolerance and focusing our schools around restorative justice will honor an autonomous voice and vision for students, staff and faculty.

Hire More Black Teachers in our Schools
Nine U.S. cities demonstrate a rapid decline in the number of Black Teachers: Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington DC. We must increase teacher retention and opportunities for teachers of color.

Black History/Ethnic Studies Mandated K-12
A classroom is incomplete if there is only one history taught to its students. The exclusion of Black History and Ethnic studies curriculum must end. Our students of color deserve to feel empowered in the classroom, by seeing themselves in the curriculum and reading materials. Black History and Ethnic Studies must be included in K-12 classrooms.

Fund Counselors Not Cops

This demand is simple: children need counselors not cops. Schools today spend an enormous amount of their financial resources hiring school resource officers and local police officers. These same schools often lack enough counselors for students to receive the support they need. The reality is our schools need counselors for children. The amount of racial trauma and adverse childhood experiences Black students experience continues to increase. We demand that schools provide counselors who have manageable caseloads that allow them to provide quality service to all students.



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Virginia Educators Vow to Hold Lawmakers Accountable for Funding


Roughly 4,000 Virginians, led by educators, rallied in front of the state capitol in Richmond on Monday to call out legislators for allowing education funding to suffer even as the state prospers.

English teacher Amy Brown said she was at the rally because her students deserve better than a classroom with moldy ceiling tiles and a wall full of roaches.

“We have cubicle partitions that we can’t hang bulletin board paper on because there’s nothing to staple it to—so we just keep taping in roaches,” said Brown, who works at Henderson Middle School in Richmond.

State support for schools has not been restored even to 2009 levels; in fact, education funding was cut 9 percent since the recession ended. That has resulting in ballooning class sizes, a lack of resources from textbooks to computers, and deepening inequity between schools in Virginia’s richer and poorer communities.

The rally is the latest Red for Ed action in a series of events ranging from the teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma, to the recently concluded L.A. teachers strike.

The Virginia Education Association (VEA)—the state’s largest educator union—and the grassroots organization Virginia Educators United coordinated to gather their members and other public school advocates today to deliver the message that the Commonwealth puts far too little of its magnificent wealth into public education.

Virginia Educators United gathered first at Monroe Park, where they were joined by NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT President Randi Weingarten. The group then marched roughly a mile to meet VEA members in front of the capitol steps.

Virginia elementary music teacher and NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss riled the crowd by pointing out that Virginia is the 12th richest state in the nation and ranked by Forbes magazine as #1 for business.

In other words, the state economy is strong. Yet the state ranks 42nd in per-pupil state funding and 34th in teacher pay.

“We’re going to hold legislators accountable,” Moss said, then led the crowd in a chant: “I know, you know, Virginia can do better!”

Shortly after the rally, the House of Delegates announced their intent to draft a budget that includes a pay increase of 5 percent for teachers, matching the request made by Gov. Northam.

Virginia Education Association President Jim Livingston called it both a “step in the right direction” and a “down payment.”

“Virginia Education Association members from across the state rallied at the Capitol today to protest the state’s retreat from its funding responsibilities,” Livingston said. “Our members are energized, they are dedicated—and they are sick and tired of being told they’ll get the support their students need…some time later.”

That’s a change educators here would like to see.

“Policy makers need to hear from us, said Eunice Turkson, a teacher at Fairfield Court Elementary in Richmond. “They sit in their offices and look at students as charts and graphs, but we are in the classroom and we see the reality. They should listen more to teachers and give us what we need.”





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School District Looks to Teachers to Fill Bus Driver Shortage


When a school bus driver calls in sick, someone has to pick up their route in a hurry. Students can’t be left stranded. If a school district is short of backup drivers, other drivers end up running two routes, delaying pick-ups. Crowded buses and student tardiness is the result.

This is not unusual for school transportation departments across the nation. It’s the norm. At Parkside Middle School in Manassas, Va., about three of the school’s 31 drivers can be absent on any given day.

“When that happens, we have to ask some drivers to do double-runs,” says Laura Landis, a bus driver, trainer and recruiter for Prince William County Public Schools, where Parkside is located. “Sometimes, trainers will take the day’s run since we are licensed.”

With the need for more drivers to enlist at a moment’s notice, Parkside administrators and transportation service workers got together and decided to try a new approach: develop drivers from within. At a meeting last fall, they agreed to invite teachers to get licensed and start running routes. The bus gig for teachers would be voluntary and pay $18.50 an hour on top of their regular salary.

“Teachers will be assigned routes that allow them ample time to be in their classrooms before first bell,” says Landis, a member of the Prince William Education Association (PWEA).

The response by teachers was better than expected, according to Parkside Principal Mary Jane Boynton.

“The teachers I’ve spoken with see it as a win-win,” says Boynton, a member of PWEA, which includes 3,500 teachers, administrators, and education support professionals (ESP). “They get to build better relationships with their students, earn extra pay, and work closer with their colleagues in the transportation department.”

Temporary Solution

According to PWEA President Riley O’Casey, transportation service members welcomed the news about hiring, in a sense, substitute drivers to help alleviate the driver shortage, particularly when it comes to curtailing double-runs.

“Our regular drivers are not at all threatened by the new drivers,” says O’Casey. “They welcome them.”

However, O’Casey stresses that the new plan should be considered only a “Band-Aid solution.”

“The general idea is that we have a shortage of bus drivers,” she says. “We need to fix the all-around problem, which involves paying regular drivers a living wage and allowing them the respect they deserve.”

O’Casey points out that administrators do not always communicate as well as they could when it comes to informing drivers about having to drive a second route and as well as other last-minute route changes.

Bus driver/trainer Laura Landis instructs teachers (left to right) Kevin Loughery, Ryan Wicka, Shannon Parker, Yonika Powell, and Sharon Harrison on how to inspect the exterior of a bus. (Photo: Randy Litzinger,
Prince William Times)

“There is a lack of communication coming from some officials that could be improved,” she says. “Drivers having to do a double-run do not always get enough notice, which interferes with scheduled restroom breaks.”

O’Casey recalls that some principals in the past did not allow bus drivers to use school restrooms.

“We are one team and our drivers need to be respected the same as everyone else,” she says. “Now that teachers will be driving buses, they will see the level of responsibility that comes with the job.”

A National Dilemma

School districts across the nation are reporting difficulties in recruiting and retaining school bus drivers, citing low pay, difficulty in attaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL), lack of available work hours, and too few benefits, according to the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT).

In a 2016 NAPT survey, 37 percent of respondents indicated that the bus driver shortage in their district is either “severe” or “desperate.” More than 50 percent noted that coping with driver shortages is their number one problem or concern. About 70 percent believe bus driver shortage is a trend that is getting worse.

“The whole nation is experiencing a shortage of school bus drivers,” said Diana Gulotta, an official with Prince William County Schools (PWCS). In an article published by the Prince William Times, Gulotta said “on any given day, we (county) can have up to 100 drivers out.”

Prince William County has a fleet of more than 900 buses serving nearly 100 schools and special needs students. The county employs about 700 drivers driving 4,500 routes that make 35,000 daily bus stops. As of November, the county was short 62 drivers, according to Gulotta.

Nobody Walks

Approximately 75 teachers from Parkside and nearby public schools picked up applications soon after the new driver plan was announced last semester. About a dozen teachers ended up submitting applications.

Currently, about a half dozen Parkside teachers along with several others from neighboring schools are at different stages in their training, which includes several weeks of classroom study covering defensive driving standards, student protocols, first aid care, bus inspection, and radio communications etiquette.

At some point, each teacher will take a test at the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a CDL learner’s permit so they can get behind the wheel of the bus for a probationary period under

the supervision of a trainer. Each trainee is required to drive a route for a designated number of hours with a trainer.

“We are very serious about our training process and student safety,” says Landis, a PWEA member who helps to conduct special Saturday and evening training sessions scheduled specifically for the teachers.

“Our bus trainers have done an excellent job of preparing teachers for the road,” says Boynton. “They developed flexible training schedules and made classes fun.”

Laura Landis (left) answers question from Parkside Middle School teachers Ryan Wicka, Sharon Harrison, and Yonika Powell during a Saturday class to become Parkside bus drivers. (Photo: Randy Litzinger, Prince William Times)

While no teacher has been assigned a route yet, Boynton says PWCS officials as well as those from other districts are keeping a watchful eye on the teacher-drivers.

“We developed the program from scratch,” she says. “From now to the end of the school year we’ll be working out the kinks and listening to feedback from staff, parents, and students.”

Boynton hopes to sign up more teachers during the summer in order to have at least 10 teachers behind the wheel in September for the start of the new school year.

After Parkside administrators and ESPs approved the plan, Boynton presented it to senior staff at the county level.

“They liked the idea and even agreed to pay for the training costs,” she says. “It’s a good example of teamwork … everyone working together to serve students and parents.”

Parkside is located between the City of Manassas and Manassas Park, a precarious area crisscrossed by busy byways. All 1,420 of the school’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders are transported by bus. The school currently operates 31 buses with 31 routes and 31 drivers, and is considered fully staffed, says Boynton.

“On some days we have zero absenteeism among drivers,” she says. “On bad days we have two or three drivers doing double routes.”

Shortages are Everywhere

Driving a school bus is considered by most school districts as part-time work, which prevents drivers from collecting unemployment benefits if they get laid off or receiving the same employment benefits, like health insurance, of full-time workers. In addition, many districts require split morning and afternoon shifts for transportation workers, which precludes many drivers from working a second job for added income.

Although signing bonuses, increased pay and benefits, job fairs, advertising, and streamlining the hiring process have helped to retain and recruit drivers, most schools are experiencing some degree of driver shortages.

According to Associated Press (AP) reports, in Lincoln, Neb., some bus driver positions were unfilled even after a local school district offered $1,000 signing bonuses for new hires and a guaranteed six-hour day for all drivers.

In Iowa, the Southeast Polk Community School District relies on approximately 50 retirees and stay-at-home parents to transport roughly 3,400 students to and from school. According to AP, “there aren’t as many retired farmers, a group that commonly took the job for extra income. Now, even with administrators and bus mechanics filling in, the shortage has also resulted in fewer routes, more children waiting at each stop, and crowded buses.”

In Minnesota, some St. Paul students are arriving late to school because fill-in drivers aren’t familiar with the normal routes.

A school district in Ypsilanti, Mich., had to cancel a day of school last year because there weren’t enough substitute drivers to cover for sick drivers.

In Hawaii last year, a driver shortage in Maui forced state officials suspend bus rides for some students and limit rides for others. The district offered free monthly bus passes on local public transportation.



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UTLA Strike Ends With Historic Agreement


Photo: Joe Brusky

Students and educators are back in their classrooms January 23, as the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) ratified a Tentative Agreement (TA), ending a six-day strike. More than 30,000 members hit the picket lines on January 14 to fight for their students and the resources that the nearly 600,000 kids in Los Angeles public schools need to be successful.

“This is a historic victory for public education educators, students and parents. Class-size reduction, limits on testing, and access to nurses, counselors and librarians will change our students’ lives forever. We won this victory through our unity, our action, and our shared sacrifice,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of UTLA, in a press statement.

The strike came after years of frustration. “Educators and parents reached a boiling point … about conditions in classrooms,” said Caputo-Pearl.

Some of the problems on the table were class sizes of 45 or more students, 40 percent of schools with a nurse only one day a week, inadequate funding for key programs such as early childhood education and special education.

The agreement is a paradigm shift and delivers on the defining demands of UTLA’s contract campaign. Wins include:

  • A six percent pay raise with no contingencies;
  • A nurse in every school five days a week;
  • Lower class sizes, including an immediate reduction of seven students in secondary math and English classes;
  • Counselor-student ratios of 1:500;
  • Commitment to reduce testing by 50 percent;
  • A teacher librarian in every secondary school five days a week;
  • Investment in community schools;
  • A pathway to cap charters via a resolution calling on the state to establish a charter school cap and create a Governor’s committee on charter schools; and
  • Hard caps on special education caseloads and release time for testing

Read the full TA here: utla.net/news/tentative-agreement-2019

“I’m so proud of our members, classroom teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, psychologists,” Caputo-Pearl said during a news conference on Tuesday.

“When we fight, we win,” said @teacherinroom6 through her Instagram account. “Did we get everything we were fighting for? No. But we did get enough to keep public education headed on a path towards a healthy and concrete future. Privatization did not win today and for that we can breathe a collective sigh of relief.”

Organizing for the Common Good

UTLA’s strategy to win was based on bargaining for the common good, which brings demands in collective bargaining that benefit the entire community, not just union members. Among the wins are plans to increase green space and the end of “random searches,” which send many students of color into the school-to-prison pipeline. Additionally, the school district will provide a dedicated hotline and attorney for immigrant families and will collaborate with UTLA for other services.

Photo: Joe Brusky

Issues like these is what prompted parents and community organizations to stand with UTLA. For example, on January 18, nearly 2,000 parents and students created a chain that stretched nearly a mile. They wore red, and stood with educators.

The role of UTLA and its members was paramount, too. Picket line captains, chapter chairs, and UTLA leaders — and others — united thousands of educators, parents, community organizations, and other union members to rally in support of students and public education. Actors, musicians, and politicians also came out in support of UTLA.

On day one of the strike, 30,000 UTLA members signed in on picket lines across Los Angeles; more than 900 school sites participated; more than 10,000 parents, students and community members joined on the picket lines; and more than 50,000 people march to LAUSD headquarter to demand action.

By day three, more than 12,000 parents and community members came out to support UTLA, including Diane Ravitch and musician/actor Steven Van Zandt.

Crowds remained strong on day five of the strike, with more than 60,000 supporters on the steps of city hall, and day six brought out 1,000 firefighters from across the U.S. and Canada, whom were in Los Angeles for the International Association of Fire Fighters.

#RedForEd is a Movement

The Los Angeles teachers’ strike was just the latest in the national #RedForEd movement that began with walkouts and work actions last year in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Washington state.

“Although the bargaining issues vary greatly from place to place, there are some issues they all share,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García: “The concern that public education has been chronically underfunded in state and local budgets for decades, resulting in overcrowded classrooms, too few counselors and nurses, tattered textbooks held together by duct tape, broken computers and outdated materials, and buildings that have fallen into disrepair”

She added, “What we are witnessing is not a moment but a movement of and by educators who are fighting for the public schools our students deserve. We’re raising our voices together for our students, for our schools and for ourselves as educators. That’s why educators in Los Angeles and all over this country are #RedForEd.”

While 21 months of strained negotiations led Los Angeles educators to strike for the first time in 30 years, the “strike has helped not only move to this agreement, but has helped raise the issue of public education nationally and internationally,” Caputo-Pearl said during yesterday’s news conference. “The creativity and innovation and passion and love and emotion of our members was out on the street, in the communities and in the parks for everyone to see.”

Are Oakland and Denver Next?

#RedforEd is also thriving 400 miles north in Oakland, where educators are preparing for a possible strike. Like their colleagues in Los Angeles, they want smaller classes and more support — such as more counselors, librarians, and nurses — for their students, and a living wage.

Oakland educators have been working without a contract since July 2017.  The district has a serious teacher turnover and class size problem, which the Oakland Education Association (OEA) says isn’t being addressed in the district’s proposals.

“Teachers are fed up with the poor working conditions and salaries, and with the learning conditions that our students are having to endure,” OEA President Keith Brown said. “We are fighting to end Oakland’s teacher turnover crisis and to bring stability for our students.”

If mediation and fact-finding doesn’t move the needle on negotiations, Oakland educators, like their colleagues in Los Angeles, are #Strikeready and could take action later this month.

Members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) approved to strike on January 22, after more than a year of negotiations with Denver Public Schools (DPS) have failed to produce fair, predictable, and competitive pay.

DCTA has been negotiating with the district for 14 months to bring change to a compensation system that is directly linked to Denver’s teacher turnover crisis — 31 percent of Denver teachers have only been in their school for three years or less. The revolving door is a crisis for kids and families who count on DPS to consistently provide a caring, qualified and experienced teaching staff at every school.

“Denver teachers want to be in their classrooms with their students, not out on strike. But we have reached the tipping point in our negotiations with DPS where we must stand up for our profession and for our students and do what is best to keep dedicated, experienced teachers in this district,” said Henry Roman, president of DCTA.





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ESP National Award Seeks Congressional Approval


A bill introduced during the first week of the new Congress directs the Secretary of Education to establish an award that acknowledges the role education support professionals (ESP) play in promoting student achievement, ensuring student safety, and helping to establish a healthy school climate in grades preK-12.

Although the RISE (Recognizing Inspiring School Employees) Award Program bill (H.R. 276) arrives on Capitol Hill amid intense gridlock, strong support from the bill’s sponsor, Democrat Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada, and 21 co-sponsors gives many ESPs hope they will finally receive a type of national recognition on par with teachers.

“There are almost 3 million ESPs working in our nation’s public schools and colleges who make a difference every day in the lives of their students,” says Sherry Shaw, 2018 NEA ESP of the Year. “They need to be recognized for their above-and-beyond acts of heroism.”

One of every three public school employees is an ESP with more than 75 percent ensuring student and school safety. According to NEA research, almost 50 percent of ESPs have an associate’s, bachelor’s, or more advanced college degree. In addition, more than 60 percent have taken college courses, while others (51 percent) have taken job-related classes, or have earned education-related certificates and licenses.

“ESPs choose public education as their career,” says Dan Kivett, a security officer at Citrus Valley High School in Redlands, Calif., and president of the Redlands Education Support Professionals Association (RESPA). “They have to train and attend school in order to maintain a high skill and knowledge level just like those in other professions.”

Above and Beyond the Call

Kivett says many ESPs are also student mentors, athletic coaches, community volunteers and organizers. According to NEA, 35 percent of ESPs volunteer to read books to students while 70 percent assist children in their communities with clothing, food and other necessities.

“And all of this is done without much recognition,” says Kivett, a member of the NEA board of directors with 19 years of public education experience. “They are the gears that keep school operations moving.”

More than 65 percent of ESPs donate money out of their own pockets to help students purchase classroom materials, field trip tickets, and materials for science and other class projects. The average ESP donation: $217 per year.

“The RISE award would draw some attention to the level of our professional training, mentoring, volunteerism, and how much we love our kids,” says Shaw, a special education paraeducator, coach and mentor at Tanaina Elementary School in Wasilla, Alaska. “Some parents know that ESPs go the extra mile for their kids, but not all administrators acknowledge it for some reason.”

Of NEA’s 3 million members, almost 500,000 are ESPs represented in the following nine career categories:

  • Child nutrition services
  • Clerical services
  • Custodial and maintenance services
  • Health and student services
  • Paraeducators
  • Security services
  • Skilled trades
  • Technical services
  • Transportation services

“We don’t necessarily need an award for the work we do, but it would be nice to be recognized for all of the extra effort we put forth on behalf of students,” says Mary Ann Rivera, a paraeducator at Lyons Township High School in Western Springs, Ill.

When Rivera goes shopping, it is a given she will buy gloves, socks, hats and other items for students in need. It is also normal operating procedure in her school district for ESPs to organize dozens of care packages for students from low-income families.

“Thanks goodness for discount stores,” says Rivera, an NEA board member.

“ESPs work just as hard as all educators, side by side with teachers,” she adds. “In classrooms, paraeducators are an extra set of eyes, trained to help students learn their lessons well. We are not volunteers as in decades past. This is our career.”

Rise and Shine

In Kentucky, Lakilia Bedeau is director of the Tornado Alley Youth Services Center at Paducah Tilghman High School. She says Congress can acknowledge the hard work and dedication of ESPs by approving the bill.

“The award is long overdue,” says Bedeau, an executive committee member of the National Council for ESPs (NCESP), which advocates for ESPs from within NEA assuring that specific ESP issues and interests are integrated in NEA programs.

Like youth services staff across the nation, Bedeau helps students with everything from medical and other referrals for social, physical and mental health services to intervening during family crisis situations and providing hygiene products, school supplies and other daily necessities.

More than 65 percent of ESPs donate money out of their own pockets to help students purchase classroom materials, field trip tickets, and materials for science and other class projects. The average ESP donation: $217 per year.

“Like the majority of ESPs, my team is on the front-line assisting students with everyday needs,” says Bedeau, who has worked in education for 10 years.

By working one-on-one with students, Bedeau says a level of trust and confidence can develop which helps keep students interested enough in school so as not to drop-out.

“We empower students by removing non-academic barriers, encouraging them to explore career opportunities and reach their full potential,” she says. “We build critical relationships that ensure students are safe and successful regardless of their socio-economic status.”

Rivera says it takes time to gain the trust of students.

“When they first meet you, they might hate you,” says Rivera, an NCESP executive committee member. “But it’s not personal. You encourage them to do well by showing and telling them that they are valued and smart, and by the end of the year they love you.”

After more than 30 years of working for public schools as a paraeducator and school bus driver, Ernest Jameel Williams is encouraged by the proposed bill despite the divisive state of national politics and past failures by Congress to pass legislation that would acknowledge ESPs as their colleagues are with the National Teacher of the Year Award.

“People have worked hard over the years advocating for an award like this,” says Williams, the 2011 NEA ESP of the Year. “Congress should once and for all pass this bill that acknowledges the hard work, dedication, skills, and expertise of ESPs.”

Williams, who is a Reach Associate at Zeb Vance Elementary School in Kittrell, N.C., says ESPs not only help to teach students but “we are in the trenches when an emotional crisis occurs involving a student or their family.”

Different Award, Same Name

In May of 2018, Sherry Shaw and four other ESPs received a national award in a ceremony at the U.S. House of Representatives. The ESP award was created by the National Coalition of Classified Education Support Employee Unions and currently goes by the same name proposed in H.R. 276: Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE).

That may change if the current bill is passed in Congress, according to NCCESEU officials.

The NCCESEU is a coalition of state and national unions that together represent a million school support employees including clerical and administrative staff, custodians, food service workers, health and student services workers, paraeducators, technology services employees, transportation workers, and security and skilled trades staff.

Along with NEA, coalition members include the California School Employees Association, Minnesota School Employees Association, SEIU 284 (Service Employees International Union), and Public School Employees of Washington/SEIU 1948.

Sign up at the NEA Legislative Action Center to support the RISE Award Program bill.



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L.A. Teachers Ready to Strike


Photo: Joe Brusky

Anyone who may have been under the impression that the #RedforEd movement was just a “2018 story” better brace themselves. Thirty-three thousand teachers in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) – the second largest district in the country –  are on the verge of striking to halt years of budget cuts. ballooning class size, and the expansion of unaccountable charter schools. Six hours north in the Bay Area, Oakland educators are also gearing up for a possible walk-out.

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and LAUSD have been mired in negotiations since April 2017, and teachers have been working without a contract for almost one year.  Educators made a good faith effort in mediation to reach an agreement, but district officials did not do the same, failing to offer any substantial proposals to reinvest in the city’s schools. In August, UTLA voted overwhelmingly (98% of the membership voted yes) to authorize a strike if talks continued to stall.

Unless a last-minute bargaining round produces substantial progress,  UTLA will go on strike on Monday, January 14, the first walkout since 1989.

The district has tried to present the impasse as a squabble over numbers and teacher salaries, a characterization UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl says is absolutely false and a disservice to students.

“This is a standoff over the future of public education,” Caputo-Pearl explains. “We will not agree on salary only or salary and a few other things.  What we are fighting for is a program of investment in our neighborhood public schools that will create a thriving school district and the education our students deserve.”

Despite LAUSD’s repeated denials, the money to reinvigorate the city’s schools is in fact there – in the form of $1.8 billion (yes, billion) in unrestricted reserves. The state of California  requires only a 1% reserve, yet the district holds 26.5%, predicated on a fiscal disaster that never occurs but is nevertheless used to justify continued draconian cuts.

UTLA is demanding that these reserves be used to reduce class size (LAUSD has among the largest class sizes in the state), hire more counselors, librarians and nurses (40% of schools have a nurse only one day a week), and fund key programs such as early childhood education and special education.

Educators are also calling for a halt to the expansion of charter schools (there are currently 200 in Los Angeles) that are siphoning off $600 million every year from public school.  In addition, they demand an end to the continued toxic over-testing of students (the district spends $8.6 million on tests not required by state or federal government).

“We don’t want our schools to be starved out skeletons, we want them to be vibrant hubs of learning for our kids,” says teacher Julie Van Winkle.

A ‘Portfolio’ for Privatization

The appointment last May of Austin Beutner as district superintendent only strengthened UTLA’s resolve.

la teacher strike

(Photo: UTLA)

A billionaire former investment banker and CEO and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Beutner has zero experience in school or district leadership. He is, however, eager to bring to LAUSD what like-minded billionaires and school privatization champions brought to New Orleans and other cities: the “portfolio model.”

Under this competition-based strategy, LAUSD would be decentralized and carved up into 32 smaller, individual “portfolios” that would be “diversified” with more options – charter and private schools mostly – for parents and students.

In other words, the “portfolio model” is just school privatization running amok.

“Getting rid of central oversight and accountability would allow the unchecked spread of the worst of the charter sector abuses: not serving all students, financial scandals, misuse of public funds, and conflict-of-interest charges,” UTLA wrote in a statement last November.

Halting this threat and protecting the city’s public schools, says Caputo-Pearl, is why Los Angeles educators “won’t be brought off with a pay raise.”

“We will not agree on salary only…. What we are fighting for is a program of investment in our neighborhood public schools that will create a thriving school district and the education our students deserve.” – UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

During negotiations, coalition-building has been a key tenet of UTLA’s campaign. Community organizations and parents have joined UTLA at the bargaining table. On December 15th, more than 50,000 parents, educators, students and community members took to the streets in a massive march in downtown Los Angeles to demand a reinvestment in the city’s schools.

A week earlier, hundreds gathered at the  Social and Public Art Resource Center in Venice at a two-day ArtBuild event to create protest art for the march and possible strike.

For elementary school teacher Maria Miranda, engaging the community city-wide has helped demonstrate to the public that the chronic underfunding of schools wasn’t isolated in one particular area.

“When we come together with the community, we show that our challenges are the same. In my school, we don’t have nurses every day or librarians. But it’s not just in my neighborhood. This is a problem for schools across the city,” Miranda said.

#StrikeReady

#RedforEd is also thriving 400 miles north in Oakland, where educators have been working without a contract since July 2017.  The district has a serious teacher turnover and class size problem, which the Oakland Education Association (OEA) says isn’t being addressed in the district’s proposals.

“Teachers are fed up with the poor working conditions and salaries, and with the learning conditions that our students are having to endure,” OEA President Keith Brown said. “We are fighting to end Oakland’s teacher turnover crisis and to bring stability for our students.”

On January 12, Oakland educators will be joined East Bay parents and students for the March and Rally to Fund Public Education Now. One week later, on January 18-20, OEA will be hosting its own community ArtBuild.

If mediation and fact-finding doesn’t move the needle on negotiations, Oakland educators, like their colleagues in Los Angeles, are #Strikeready and could take action next month.

A strike is always a last resort, says Caputo-Pearl, but it’s time is now turn the tables and stand up to an austerity and privatization agenda that has debased the teaching profession and starved public education.

“We have watched underfunding and the actions of privatizers undermine our schools for too long. No more. Our students and families are worth the investment, and the civic institution of public education in Los Angeles is worth saving.”





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Delaware ESPs Ready to Collaborate With State Lawmakers, Open Doors


As legislators with the Delaware General Assembly begin the new legislative season this month in Dover, Amanda Gerardi and Tameka Mays are watching and waiting.

The new co-chairs of the Delaware State Education Association’s (DSEA) Education Support Professional (ESP) Task Force are also meeting in January with DSEA staff and other ESPs to discuss training programs, pay scales, workplace and policy issues affecting ESPs statewide.

“They are going to look at education policies and make recommendations to the DSEA executive board on how to move forward with state legislators,” says Mike Hoffman, a DSEA UniServ director and former paraeducator. “As part of their research, task force members will have the opportunity to meet personally with legislators about specific ESP policies and other education issues.”

A Defining Moment
The task force was established just last spring by a new business item voted in at the DSEA Representative Assembly. As such, a temporary group of ESPs and DSEA officials quickly went to work collaborating with state legislators on education policy shifts, including passage of a bill which created the Delaware Education Support Professional of the Year award, which is the same as the state’s long-standing teacher of the year award. The makeshift group at the time also worked on statewide legislation laws involving student loan forgiveness and maternity leave.

The business item was sponsored by Tammy Eitner, a former paraeducator who is now a kindergarten teacher at North Laurel Elementary School in Laurel. She got the idea for establishing the task force after attending the NEA ESP national conference in 2017.

“I learned that ESP members from Washington state had a similar work group and had been instrumental in passing a bill that opened many doors for ESPs,” says Eitner, who started her teaching position last September. “I wanted to mimic their success in Delaware.”

New Start in the New Year
At a December ESP meeting, it was decided that a more permanent work group would be established in 2019 with Gerardi and Mays at the helm. Their objective: Pinpoint priorities such as defining accurate ESP job descriptions, establishing a career job ladder and higher education opportunities for ESPs, and designating professional developments days for trainings that correlate with specific ESP job duties.

“Now that we have this work group, we intend to highlight ESP problems and identify solutions for implementation in school districts across the state,” says Gerardi, a financial secretary based at the Delaware Early Childhood Center in Harrington. “We’ll do the research and collaborate with DSEA and other stakeholders.”

In Delaware, 70 percent of education funding comes from state coffers. The remaining 30 percent is contributed at the district level.

“This is one reason we need to lobby state legislators,” says Gerardi, a member of the Lake Forest Education Association. “They need to be aware of ESP contributions toward student achievement and safety, and compensate us accordingly.”

A Systematic Approach to Policy Change
The task force will be comprised of ESPs from at least five job categories, including Gerardi and Mays, a special education paraeducator at George Read Middle School in New Castle. Child nutrition specialists, secretaries, transportation workers, paraeducators, and custodians will comprise the DSEA task force and possible subgroups or committees.

“The Colonial School District where I work has been doing some incredible things around ESP professional development and relationship-building with students, teachers, and parents,” says Mays, a member of the Colonial Paraprofessional Association. “I’m hoping that the improvements and positive school climate within our local district can start to happen across our state where it doesn’t already exist.”

Of DSEA’s 12,000 members, approximately 3,700 are ESPs. According to Julie DeHaas, DSEA ESP state coordinator, the task force will also focus on raising awareness and support among local and state policymakers about the critical roles that ESPs play in student achievement, school operations, and community partnerships.

“The task force is a way for ESPs to voice their opinion on issues that impact them every day,” says DeHaas, who is the group’s liaison with NEA, DSEA and other state affiliates. “The group will also empower ESPs to stand up for their rights so that they can better serve students.”

With January and February meetings already set for locations in Dover and New Castle, DeHaas hopes to see more ESPs involved as the group prepares for the full legislative season ahead.

“It will be up to task force members to decide what the goals should be for 2019,” she says, “however, I am hoping they can form some productive committees that take on ESP issues and execute solutions in support of ESPs personally and professionally.”

While highlighting ESP issues at the statehouse is not unusual for DSEA lobbyists, according to Hoffman, “it is nice that we (DSEA) now have this formal commitment to the task force. And in Dover, legislators see DSEA as a partner.”

Grassroots Organizing
In the coming months, Mays and Gerardi say they look forward to meeting policymakers in their offices at the statehouse.

“I love going to school board meetings and talking with board members about our issues and concerns,” says Gerardi, who is a building representative at the childhood center. “So, I’m just as delighted to sit and speak with state officials.”

After 15 years in education, Mays wants to lobby for, among other things, training aimed at teachers and administrators so they can learn more about how to employ the skills, talents, and expertise of ESPs.

“We also want to design a pathway for ESPs who want to continue their education, including those who want to become teachers,” she says. “There are grants and other ways for ESPs to attend higher education classes, particularly if they want to pursue a teaching or other degree of their choice.”

As task force members unveil their platform and objectives, Gerardi says one goal is to establish a vehicle for ESP voices to be heard from the streets to the statehouse on a permanent basis.

“We want this work group to be an ongoing entity which not only highlights ESP issues but nurtures local leaders and advocates,” she says.



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Community Support Helps Schools Recover from Disaster


Jones Middle School students march in their town’s Christmas Parade with donated instruments.

From east coast to west coast, the U.S. has endured several devastating natural disasters in 2018. It’s been a hard year for many people, and if the seemingly endless negative news cycle has you feeling grinchy this holiday season, read on. Though they suffered enormous loss, disaster-hit communities are still feeling hopeful.

When Hurricane Florence swamped Jones Middle School in eastern North Carolina, it wiped out everything, including all of the band equipment and music library, which had taken years to collect and curate. But even though the massive storm destroyed their instruments, it didn’t stop the music.

The middle schoolers found a new home in the neighboring high school, and band teacher Alexander Williams was determined to keep his music program alive.

The students drummed on buckets, clapped rhythms with their hands, and struck notes on the few xylophones that could be salvaged.

“We made it work and the kids hung in there and kept good attitudes,” Williams said, though he admits he was stressed about how to keep them engaged without the musical instruments he’d relied on for his 30-year teaching career.

Then, a holiday miracle. All of the band equipment was replaced, each and every instrument, along with the music the students had been rehearsing.

After hearing about the school’s loss, the North Carolina Foundation for Public School Children sent a call out to the community, and the community answered. People dusted off their trumpets and trombones and donated them. Others pooled their money together to buy new clarinets and cymbals, flutes and French horns, whatever was needed.

And just when they thought they’d have to skip it this year, the Jones Middle School band marched in the Christmas parade, proudly wearing school band t-shirts and jeans because they haven’t replaced the band’s uniforms yet.

“When the instruments came in the kids were so excited they wanted to start playing right away, but we hadn’t even put them together yet,” Williams says.

‘People Actually Do Care’

He was thrilled to have new instruments for the students and that they were able to play in the annual Christmas parade, but the best part, Williams says, was the generosity of the community.

“People actually do care. We hear so much bad news, we don’t hear about the good stuff often enough,” he says. “We are very grateful that so many people who don’t even know us still wanted to help us be successful. I’m hoping our students will remember this and pay it, and play it, forward.”

Williams said that though their community will be rebuilding for many years to come, “at least they had something to come back to.”

“In Northern California, there are no schools, no homes, no structures at all to come back to,” he says. “We’ve suffered a loss, but there are others who need our help.”

Hope in Paradise

In Paradise, California, all but one of its nine schools burned to ashes after the massive Camp Fire raged for more than two weeks across northern California. Like in North Carolina, the community stepped up to help. On Giving Tuesday when a California business man and restaurant owner hand delivered $1000.00 checks to each and every student and staff member in the Paradise district — most of them homeless, with the clothes on their backs.

“I felt terrible for them,” Bob Wilson said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘How can I help?’”

What the students need most is a sense of normalcy after the trauma of the fire that incinerated their town. Recognizing that need, educators are finding ways to provide it. They’re holding classes at their kitchen tables, in hotels where many students are now living, in libraries in neighboring towns, even in shopping malls.

Virginia Partain has taught English at Paradise High School for more than 20 years. Now she’s holding classes in a former LensCrafters at the mall in nearby Chico.

“We just want to bring a sense of healing back to our community,” Partain, who fled the campfire taking nothing but her cats and her students’ college essays because, as she told CBS News, “there’s some part of us where we’re always the teacher and they had to get their essays done to get into college.”

Third-grade teacher Robin is sharing one room at a school in Oroville with four other teachers but they’re remaining optimistic.

“We’re going to color, have PE, talk to each other…” she said. “It’s not about the academics for us. It’s about loving each other and building the kids up…The kids need to see we all made it. We are safe. We’re just going to move on.”

To find out how you can help visit the California Teachers Association Disaster Relief Fund for information.

NEA-Alaska Launches Online Fundraiser for Schools Hit By Earthquake

A few weeks after the Camp Fire disaster, Alaska was rocked by an earthquake, and once again the community stepped up to help.

NEA-Alaska in coordination with the Anchorage Education Association (AEA), the Mat-Su Education Association (MSEA), and Mat-Su Classified Employees Association (CEA) launched an online fundraiser to help defer some of the costs associated with replacing classroom materials that were damaged or destroyed in the November 30th earthquake. Fundraising information is available atwww.neaalaska.org/earthquake.

“I want to thank every single teacher, classroom aide, and public school employee, for helping to keep our students safe during this traumatic event,” said Tim Parker, NEA-Alaska President. “The outpouring of support from parents, community groups, and educators is remarkable.”



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