Former Utah Teacher of the Year elected president of nation’s largest union
From food service worker to Utah’s top teacher, Eskelsen García takes reins of NEA
Lily Eskelsen García, an elementary school teacher from North Salt Lake, has been elected president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union representing nearly 3 million educators, making her the nation’s highest-ranking Latina labor leader. Nearly 8,000 NEA delegates voted for her to lead the organization during its 152nd Annual Meeting and 93rd Representative Assembly, held June 26–July 6 in Denver.
The daughter of an immigrant, Eskelsen García started her career in education as a lunch lady and then a kindergarten aide. Seeing the gift she had with children, Eskelsen García was encouraged by the teacher to go to college and become a teacher herself. She worked her way through the University of Utah on scholarships, student loans, and as a starving folk singer, graduating magna cum laude in elementary education and later earning her master’s degree in instructional technology.
During her 20-year career, Eskelsen García was an elementary teacher who also worked with homeless children at a shelter in Salt Lake City’s suburbs. Those personal experiences in the classroom, school and community, she said, are the very reasons why NEA must continue to lead the country in advocating for students, public education and the empowerment of their educators.
“We must measure what matters and put students’ needs at the center of the system once again. We can no longer allow politicians who have never stepped into a classroom define what it means to teach and learn,” said Eskelsen García. “At a time when nearly 50 percent of public school children live in low-income families, our country must refocus its priorities on the needs of the whole child and bridge the gaps that have only grown over the last decade.”
Eskelsen García brings an extensive and expansive résumé to NEA’s top leadership position. After teaching only nine years, Eskelsen García was named Utah Teacher of the Year for her work as an elementary teacher and later elected president of the Utah Education Association. Her trajectory led to NEA, where she served on NEA’s executive committee before being elected to two three-year terms as NEA secretary-treasurer and then vice president. Eseklsen García was named by President Obama to serve as a commissioner on the White House Commission on Education Excellence for Hispanics. She used her previous leadership position to speak up for students who don’t have a voice—like DREAMers seeking a path to U.S. citizenship—and has been a vocal opponent of policies driven by the standardized testing mania.
“Make no mistake about it: there are people who want to dismantle and privatize public education while de-professionalizing our very noble teaching profession,” added Eskselen García, who has confronted the activities of anti-public education, anti-union groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which deregulate, defund and privatize public education to increase profits. “We will not stand by and allow the corporate take-over of our public schools to continue. We know what is at stake, and it is why we are educators. It is why we are fearless and why we will not be silent.”
Eskelsen García’s election as president marks the first time in recent history that NEA is led by an all-minority, all-female leadership. She takes office on Sept. 1, 2014.
“Lily’s going to be the most dynamic spokesperson I think we’ve ever had, and she will make people take notice,” said outgoing NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who leaves the term-limited post after six years. “She will continue to push for equity in education and carry on the organization’s commitment to student-centered union leadership and social justice. Lily has passion that brought her into the profession and the obstacles that she swept out of her way so that she could become a teacher will always be there when she speaks for the organization.”
For more information, about the 2014 NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly, go to www.nea.org/annualmeeting.