Educators Stand Up for Unity, Social Justice
80 Utah delegates among 7,000 at the 2016 NEA Representative Assembly
NEA Staff writer Tim Walker contributed to this article
More than 7,000 educators and education support professionals from all 50 states, including about 80 from Utah, gathered in Washington D.C., for the National Education Association’s 95th Representative Assembly (RA). The RA is the top decision-making body for the nearly 3 million-member NEA, and sets Association policy for the coming year.
“It was an honor to be a Utah delegate,” said Salt Lake Education Association member Lisa DeFrance. “Our seats on the floor were unbelievable. I can’t believe my luck and good fortune as a first year delegate. I feel proud to be a NEA, UEA and SLEA member.”
“My best experience at the RA was seeing such a large body of delegates, with differing ideas, respect each other’s opinions during debates and moving motions,” said Davis Education Association member Anna Larsen.
The RA kicked off on the morning of July 4 in typical energetic fashion as music and cheers engulfed the Washington D.C. Convention Center. The mood soon changed, however, when NEA President Lily Eskelsen García took the stage to deliver her keynote address and to announce that, before the RA’s work began, something very important had to be done first.
“We will not begin without honoring those who lost their lives for no other reason than that they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender,” Eskelsen García informed the delegates. “Today, we mourn with Orlando.” Forty-nine educators then filed to the front of the stage with the images of the 49 people who were killed in the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando on June 12.
“There’s a real world out there, and it’s not a safe place. It’s dangerous, and the work we’ll do in this safe place is important, because it has the chance to change the world out there. That dangerous world needs us,” Eskelsen García said in her keynote address. “We’re living under a toxic, choking environment where entire groups of people are demonized, targeted and terrorized.”
The RA responded by calling on the Association to join a national effort to prevent acts of violence targeted at LGBTQ individuals and to protect their civil rights. This New Business Item calls on a multi-pronged approach in the courts and legislatures.
The delegates also took action on the school-to-prison pipeline, approving a new policy statement to serve as a call to action to help create awareness of the issue by educating NEA members and the public about the striking racial disparities among those most affected by it. “We are making a long-term investment. An investment that will command persistence and struggle and commitment and a whole lot of work from every single one of us,” said NEA Vice President Becky Pringle.
On July 5, delegates were visited by presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. In her address to the RA, Clinton spotlighted her priorities for public education, vowing to elevate the teaching profession, de-emphasize standardized testing, and harness community resources to help create great public schools for every student regardless of ZIP code. And it’s time to stop the war on teachers, Clinton told the delegates.
“I’m with you. If I’m fortunate enough to be elected president, educators will have a partner in the White House – and you’ll always have a seat at the table,” she announced to resounding cheers from the delegates, who following the speech voted to overwhelmingly recommend Clinton for the general election.
“Hillary Clinton was super. The issues she commented on proved to me that she is very aware of issues dealing with education,” said Davis Education Association member Heidi Jensen. “Hearing Hillary Clinton, the probable first female president of the United States, address the RA was something I’ll never forget,” added Jordan Education Association member Karla Moosman.
NEA members were instrumental in the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act that ended the era of No Child Left Behind. For shepherding through a better law and for listening to the voices of educators, NEA presented its 2016 Friend of Education Award to Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who both accepted the honor in person.
The RA also spotlighted the 2016 NEA Social Justice Activist of the Year, the California-based Union City Educators, who have brought Pilipino heritage into the schools through ethnic studies curriculum, student and community engagement, and activism.
Delegates heard from NEA Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year Doreen McGuire-Grigg, who spoke of the herculean efforts of ESPs throughout the nation. She advocated for the inclusion of ESPs, and underscored the value they bring to other educators and students.
“We are more than partners, we are problem solvers. We are an untapped resource and we are here to support the whole student, the whole school and the whole community. We are the secret weapons,” McGuire-Grigg said.
In her speech, 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes urged delegates to never underestimate the power they have to transform the lives of their students.
“Students should see their teachers as someone who cares about their academic success and their personal growth,” Hayes said. “Someone who cares about their families and their communities. Someone who takes the time to learn their stories and understand their journeys. We are the people who ignite passions in students.”
How do we ensure that educators will always serve this critical role? asked NEA Executive Director John Stocks. After all, more than two million new educators will be entering the workforce over the next five years alone. In his address to the RA, Stocks warned the delegates that the new generation of educators may not necessarily understand how vital their association can and will be to them and their students.
“We must become relevant to them, to help them meet the changing needs of their students…to help them be successful educators, and to tap into their idealism,” Stocks said. “And we must act with urgency.”
At every RA, delegates are charged with electing new NEA leaders. In addition to voting for new Board of Director members, delegates also re-elected Maury Koffman of Michigan and Kevin F. Gilbert of Mississippi to serve another three-year term each on the NEA Executive Committee.
2016 NEA Representative Assembly Highlights:
NEA President: United Educators a Powerful Antidote to Fear and Divisiveness
July 4, 2016
In her keynote address to the 2016 NEA Representative Assembly, (RA) NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia warned that the nation, despite the tremendous progress of the past 8 years, could surrender to fear and demagoguery this election year – unless educators work for justice and stand up and be counted…more
NEA Executive Director: We Must Give Voice to the New Generation of Educators
July 6, 2016
Momentous and lasting changes are underway in the nation’s public schools. The student population is more racially and culturally diverse, and digital technology is reshaping teaching and learning. But another significant transformation is in progress, NEA Executive Director John Stocks told the NEA Representative Assembly…more
‘I’m With You,’ Hillary Clinton Tells NEA RA Delegates
July 5, 2016
In a rousing and passionate address to the National Education Association Representative Assembly on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton said the nation needs to give our schools more “TLC “- teaching, learning, and community, the three pillars of her vision to strengthen public education. But any national campaign to create great schools for every student, she added, will only succeed with the strong voices of educators…more
Be Your Students’ Hero, Teacher of the Year Tells RA Delegates
July 7, 2016
In a stirring and emotional speech to the NEA Representative Assembly (RA) on Thursday, 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes urged her colleagues to never underestimate their potential to transform the lives of their students. If her teachers had given up on her, Hayes told the delegates in the Washington D.C. Convention Center, she would not be standing before them as teacher of the year…more
NEA Takes a Stand on the School-to-Prison Pipeline
July 6, 2016
The delegates to the 2016 Representative Assembly voted today on a new NEA Policy Statement on school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline. NEA Vice President Rebecca S. Pringle and NEA Executive Committee Member Kevin F. Gilbert gave a compelling presentation to the RA delegation, encouraging the body to vote yes on the policy statement…more