NEA Board at 2014 Denver RA

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NEA Board at 2014 Denver Rep. Assembly

 NEA Directors and IEA Officers attending: Jim Grimes, Eric Brown, Joyce Bailey, Alex Wallace, Tom Tully, Vickie Mahrt, and Director-elect David Watts. Director Rainy Kaplan joined the delegation following completion of her students’ state track competitions. Pres. Cinda Klickna, Vice Pres. Kathi Griffin and IEA Sec-Treas. Al Llorens and IEA Executive Director Audrey Soglin also attended the NEA Board meetings. The IEA officers may serve as alternate directors for any absent board members.

 NEA Board Actions in Denver

On June 30th, the NEA Board elected members to its Internal Concerns Committee and the NEA Member Benefits Corporation board. The board also received information on board committee appointments. The board also acted on New Business Items to be presented to the Representative Assembly. The proponents of NBI #1—calling for a Constitutional Convention was debated and the board voted a position of opposition.

The officers, NEA Executive Director John Stocks, General Council Alice O’Brien and various committees reported to the board.

On July 2nd, the board adopted the 2014-16 Modified Strategic Plan and Budget and forwarded it to the RA for final action. The retiring members of the board and state presidents were also recognized.

 Review of 2014 NEA Representative Assembly

Toxic testing, accountability, and the common core dominated the issues faced by delegates at the 2014 NEA Representative Assembly in Denver in early July. But the change in the face of the organization is what most members will see first.

Delegates elected Lily Eskelsen García as NEA’s next president by an overwhelming majority. Although she is neither the first woman nor the first minority to head the organization, she will lead a new team of officers that is all female and all minority—and that is a first for NEA. She takes office September 1st.

As Dennis Van Roekel exits after six years as President, Vice President-elect Becky Pringle and Secretary-Treasurer-elect Princess Moss will join Garcia as officers.

The new group enters as NEA ramps up to a more aggressive approach to combat high stakes testing and the negative influences of so-called education reformers who seem more interested in monetizing public education than in improving student learning.

“People who don’t know what they’re talking about are talking about increasing the use of commercial standardized tests in high-stakes decisions about students and about educators…when all the evidence that can be gathered shows that it is corrupting what it means to teach and what it means to learn,” Eskelsen García told the Representative Assembly.

The former Utah Teacher of the Year challenged the more than 7,000 delegates from across the country—including over 600 from Illinois—to be fearless and take back their professions. “We will not be silent when people who for their own profit and political posture subvert words like ‘reform’ or ‘accountability.’”

Eskelsen García pledged to continue the focus on “Leading the Professions” which was started almost four years ago under Van Roekel’s leadership. And at the Denver meeting this year, more than 1,000 educators participated in “Raise Your Hand” day just prior to the start of Representative Assembly.

This marks the second year that NEA has chosen to shine the spotlight on ways to improve public schools as part of the traditional RA activities. This year’s events included a panel discussion moderated by MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, table discussions around ideas such as national board certification, and TED-style talks highlighting great ways to improve student learning.

Van Roekel emphasized that NEA’s focus on improving schools isn’t only a one-day activity. The NEA is putting its money into innovative ideas to improve public schools thanks to the Great Public Schools fund that was passed at last year’s RA. Every single member of NEA contributes $2 to the fund, and in its first year, the fund dispersed $6 million in grants to more than 50 locals and state affiliates to improve student learning.

The program provides strong evidence that NEA is willing to step up, said Van Roekel said. “When we put our own money into these projects, (people outside the organization) sit up and take notice.”

As the delegates shifted their focus to the hottest educational issues facing schools across America, they generated plenty of ideas. Some 110 new business items were proposed, along with amendments to the NEA constitution and bylaws. Delegates approved 56 NBIs at a cost of more than $800,000.

The jump in spending was uncommon. Delegates approved less than $400,000 in total over the past three RAs. In 2013, roughly $197,000 was approved, and in 2012 and 2011 the totals were under $100,000.

The largest single item in Denver was a proposal to begin a comprehensive campaign to end toxic testing. With more than $160,000 in additional spending, NEA plans to form coalitions, survey members, and promote the idea that students should take only three tests during their schooling career—once in elementary, once in middle, and once in high school.

The high cost of RA itself also received plenty of debate. A proposal to reduce RA to once every three years and another proposal to hold a constitutional convention were not passed, but the backers of the proposals complained loudly that spending more than $21 million to hold a week-long RA each summer was not a sustainable cost for the organization.

The more than $800,000 in new spending generated this year did little to allay the fears of many state and local leaders. As NEA has lost membership from a high of over 3.2 million members to roughly 3 million, the organization has been reducing spending in many areas.

However, the change in focus for NEA to a more aggressive stance to combat bad education reform ideas is probably the most notable shift at this year’s RA. The Assembly also approved a New Business Item calling on U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to step down.

Van Roekel challenged every single delegate to sign “An Open Letter from the NEA and educators of America” calling for an end to toxic testing and the implementation of real accountability systems that results in equity and improved student learning in every school across the country.

“We need an accountability system that is centered on our students and their needs, not test scores,” the open letter reads. “As educators who have dedicated our careers and lives to our students and their success, we will not stand silent while commercial standardized testing is used to reduce our public education system to wreckage.”

But Van Roekel was careful to note that NEA is not against all testing, and he challenged teachers to differentiate between “okay and not okay tests.” And if NEA is successful in convincing politicians and education policy makers to roll back the overemphasis on testing, NEA has to be ready to put forward a new accountability system that puts meeting the needs of students front and center, he said.

“What are we going to put on the table?” asked Van Roekel. He pointed to NEA’s Great Public Schools frameworks as a start. The new system has to actually make a difference in the lives of all students, including poor and minority students.

Getting students ready for school is important, as well as having high standards and good curriculum, a high-quality workforce, and an equitable distribution of resources, Van Roekel said.

As he leaves the term-limited post after six years, Van Roekel was upbeat. “NEA’s leadership will be the national voice in advocating for what our children need to succeed to be college- and career-ready.”

Supreme Court may take aim at Fair Share

The U.S. Supreme Court has put NEA and other public sector unions on notice that Fair Share or “agency fee” may soon become a thing of the past.

Although they didn’t dismiss the concept in public sector unions like the NEA in the Harris v. Quinn decision, according to NEA’s chief legal counsel, the court clearly set out the path for a future case that could demolish the protection.

“Agency fee” is the union’s right to charge every worker within its collective bargaining unit a fee for services, such as bargaining and enforcing a contract. Even if a worker doesn’t want to join the union, a fee is charged.

This right of the union was established more than 35 years ago in the Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Abood said public employees couldn’t be forced to join a union—that might interfere with their right to free association—but they could be forced to pay their fair share of union dues that pay for collective bargaining. Any portion of dues that would’ve gone to general political speech was deducted.

“This is a clarion call for all of us,” O’Brien told the NEA board of directors. “We have a limited window of time to figure out who the agency fee payers are and if they can be converted to regular members.”

O’Brien said there is a chance the Supreme Court could receive a case that would give them ability to eliminate “agency fee” in public sector unions as soon as 2015.

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan dissented from the majority in Harris v. Quinn, and said, “Readers of today’s decision will know that Abood does not rank on the majority’s top-ten list of favorite precedents . . . Yet they will also know that the majority could not . . . Come up with reasons anywhere near sufficient to reverse the decision.”

Samuel Alito, who appeared to go to great lengths to lay down a roadmap for other litigants who may want to challenge Abood, wrote the majority opinion. The most likely case to reach the court is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, O’Brien said.

Officer and Executive Committee elections—

The NEA elected new officers and members of the executive committee. Lily Eskelsen García will take over as president with 94 percent support from delegates. Becky Pringle of Pennsylvania was elected vice president with almost 92 percent. Princess Moss of Virginia was elected secretary/treasurer with over 53 percent. Earl Wiman was re-elected to the executive committee on the first ballot with 73 percent. And in a runoff, George Sheridan of California defeated Shelly Moore of Wisconsin by 67 votes.

Constitutional changes proposed—

Three changes to NEA’s Constitution were proposed in Denver. They will come to a vote in 2015 in Orlando. 1) Repeal of proportionate delegate allocation in merged states; 2) Replace the requirement to have 75 percent classroom teachers on NEA committees with a proposal to have at least one teacher and one ESP on each committee; 3) Change the frequency of RA from every year to every other year starting in 2020.

Stocks fires up RA

In his third address as Executive Director of NEA, John Stocks praised outgoing president Dennis Van Roekel for his strong leadership around a student-centered agenda, and he blasted so-called education reformers for trying to make money off public education. He also noted that more than a decade after No Child Left Behind, equity remains out of balance. “Public education is supposed to be about equal opportunity,” he said. “But today, the education a child receives depends largely upon the income of his or her parents. This is simply unacceptable, and we cannot let that continue.”

Candidates for 2015

Two candidates have filed for the NEA Executive Committee. There will be two open seats on the committee in 2015 as Joyce Powell and Greg Johnson are both termed out. Filing for the positions were NEA Director Eric Brown, a biology teacher in Evanston, Illinois, and Paul Toner, the outgoing President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. The filing period for this office remains open until the spring, but campaigning can officially start one year prior to the election. Toner did run for election to the committee in 2014 in a five-way race, but he finished fourth.

Friend of Education

NEA awarded Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old girl from Pakistan the association’s highest honor, the Friend of Education Award, on July 5 at the Representative Assembly in Denver. Malala was unable to attend, but her efforts to open education to all children were applauded.

Teacher of the Year

By Tim Walker, NEA

Educators are the “decisive element” in the lives of millions of students who face daunting challenges every day, said Sean McComb, the 2014 National Teacher of the Year, in his speech to the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly on Saturday.

“More than ever, children at the bottom need incredible schools and incredible teachers. Our schools are the land of opportunity in this country,” McComb told the 9000 delegates packed into the Denver Convention Center.

McComb, an English teacher at Patapsco High School & Center for the Arts in Baltimore County, was awarded the prestigious title in April by the Council of Chief State School Officers. At Patapsco, McComb focuses on creating critical readers, strong writers, and judicious thinkers.  As coordinator of Patapsco’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, he takes a leadership role in honing student work habits and academic skills. This program helped Patapsco, for the first time in its 50-year history, receive recognition as a top high school from The Washington Post and U.S. News and World Report.

“I know Sean will make a wonderful ambassador,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “He has profound insights about our profession and the power of the teacher-student relationship.”

McComb was selected to be Teacher of the Year not only for his tireless work in creating new learning opportunities for his students but also by inspiring them, a role he underscored in his speech.

“I’m proud to be a teacher, a hope developer. Across this country, children look to their teachers… to give students a belief in themselves; to give them the skills to have ability to make it reality,” McComb said. “That is what called me, like so many teachers, into this field, to be that decisive element in the classroom.”

McComb cautioned that teachers could only fulfill this role if the school culture fosters an environment that offers educators collaborative and leadership opportunities.

“Let’s all work to create systems that encourage collaboration, opening classroom doors to colleagues, and allotting the time and support to learn from one another.  The expert who helps us grow our practice doesn’t need to be the consultant from across the country—it might just be the colleague one classroom over,” McComb said.

Teacher leadership, McComb pointed out, isn’t about educators immersing themselves in the weeds of every administrative decision. It’s about “teams of teachers analyzing school needs, researching and proposing solutions and leading the faculty and staff through the change process.”

If schools actually follow through and build professional learning communities among their educators, teachers can better engage, motivate and challenge students.

After that, McComb predicted, “the almighty data point will follow.”

Despite the obstacles thrown before them, McComb pointed out that educators have never wavered in their commitment to create real and long-lasting opportunities for their students.

“We have chosen to act…we are proud to be part of that solution, part of that investment,” McComb told the delegates. “We are proud to be a profession that takes up that call. Thank you for being the decisive element.”

He closed by asking if the nation has the will to truly invest in public education, reject attempts to scapegoat the teaching profession, and to rethink how much they value education. It is, McComb said, the “biggest question facing our nation today.”

 

ESP of the Year

By Brenda Álvarez, NEA

Paula Monroe is unequivocally an Education Support Professional (ESP) as a high school secretary in Redlands, Calif. It is a title she immediately says upon meeting new people or speaking to an audience. A designation she dons proudly and one that has allowed her to nationally advocate for ESPs, raising their profile along the way.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed, which is why she is the 2014 NEA ESP of the Year. Monroe was honored at the NEA Representative Assembly (RA) on Saturday.

Monroe held numerous leadership roles in her local association, later becoming the president of the California Education Support Professionals. She was on the executive board of the National Council for Education Support Professionals, and in 2000 she was elected as NEA Board of Directors and then as a member of NEA’s Executive Committee in 2007.

A formidable activist for an inclusive organization, Monroe has been credited with being a driving force behind the vote in June 2006 to change the bylaws of the California Teachers Association to include support professionals as full, active members.  The change allowed 5,000 ESPs to become full members of the state Association.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel introduced Monroe to the RA delegates by praising her hard work and dedication to her students and fellow members. “I can’t think of a better person to represent the cause of ESPs—or all educators—than our Education Support Professional of the Year, Paula Monroe,” said Van Roekel. “She understands that in order to fight for student success, we, as educators, must fight together.”

In her acceptance speech, Monroe said that winning the award “is probably the greatest honor of my life” and urged all educators to continue to stand together in the face of unprecedented challenges.

“Educators, we must rethink our roles,” Monroe said. “ESP’s and teachers creating new relationships with one another, and working collaboratively on behalf of our students and their families…We need to come together as one community of educators, sharing the great responsibility and honor of educating America’s students.”

Monroe condemned the mean-spirited and divisive attacks that have been leveled at educators over the past few years. They’ve been harmful to the profession, but the real damage is felt by students, families and communities, Monroe said.

“While they are attacking, threatening, and suing us, who is focusing on the real problems?   While they’re trying to silence our voices, what are we doing to address the massive inequities of our country? “ Monroe asked. “We need to focus on the real solutions to the entrenched social and economic problems that threaten to cripple our nation and destroy our children and students – violent crime and gun violence, long term unemployment, drug and substance abuse, racism, sexism, classism, and poverty.”

ESPs make critical contributions to the academic success of students every day. But, as Monroe pointed out, that is only half the story.

“We must also attend to their social, emotional, and physical needs.  ESPs meet the needs of the whole student every day, ensuring their health, safety, engagement and support.”

This commitment is unwavering, even in the face of relentless attacks in the media, attempts to strip educators’ rights, and struggles for a living wage.

“We still come to school every day and educate America’s children,” Monroe told the delegates. “We meet every adversity with courage.  No matter how bad our circumstance may be, no matter how insurmountable the problem we face, we ESPs always reach deep inside and persevere. We do it because our students are our first priority. “

 

RA Articles contributed by Tim Parker, NEA Director for Alaska.

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