Your EWEA was well represented at the annual NEA Representative Assembly, this year held in sunny Orlando Florida. You elected Elissa Graga, and Jerry Simonelli as EWEA delegates, and Ellen Ogintz, Chris Carpenter, and myself as state delegates. Esmeralda Garcia served as a minority delegate for the state of NJ. EWEA’s voice was very represented on the national floor with six voting delegates from our local! !
So what is the Representative Assembly- affectionately known as the RA? NEA is a bottom up organization, which means every decision is driven by the members, not the officers. The RA is the primary decision making body for the NEA. During the yearly meeting of RA, members vote using parliamentary procedure on Amendments to the NEA Constitution and Bylaws, Resolutions, and NBIs- new business items that direct NEA’s actions for the upcoming year. We also elect NEA officers and directors, get inspired by the Teacher of the Year and ESP of the year speeches, and during campaign season, hear from candidates seeking our endorsements.
The days are long, the seating is tight, the work is challenging, and we love it. Well maybe not the seating, but the work is important and invigorating, and we truly are grateful to be elected to represent YOU in this process.
This year’s RA was groundbreaking in many ways, but probably the biggest was the passing of NBI B, which calls for a drive to identify and end institutional racism. This NBI passed unanimously, in a room of over 7,000 voting delegates. I have never been more proud to be an NEA member than that moment. Knowing NEA’s proud history of fighting for social justice, I’m glad to see that we’re continuing to lead the way. If you’d like to read the full text of the NBI, and Kevin Gilbert (NEA Executive Committee)’s thoughts on it, here’s the link to the write up on NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia’s blog: https://lilysblackboard.org/2015/07/guest-blog-the-nea-will-seize-this-moment-to-demand-an-end-to-institutional-racism/The day after this unanimous bill passed, we began to debate NBI 11, the text of which stated “The NEA RA directs the NEA to support, in ways it finds appropriate and effective, efforts to remove the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy from public schools and public spaces.” I don’t think anyone expected to spend two hours debating this on the floor! Eventually, the NBI passed, with amendments, to state: “The NEA RA directs the NEA to support, in ways it finds appropriate and effective, efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from public schools and public spaces.” I have never witnessed anything like this debate, which was a whirlwind of parliamentary procedure strategies and points of order. The maker of this NBI is a blogger, and his entry about this historic conversation is a compelling read. Check it out here: https://preaprez.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/the-nea-ra-the-vote-on-institutional-racism-happened-yesterday-the-debate-happened-today/Another highlight for me was the passing of NBI 115, stating “The NEA will work within existing infrastructure to engage and leverage our current partnerships with parents and families to support a national opt out/test refusal movement.” We also passed NBIs fighting for pension funding. Many GLBT issues were discussed and passed. Special Education teachers and child study team members had three important NBIs passed. NBI 27 (https://ra.nea.org/new-business-item/new-business-item-27/) deals with workload standards to make sure no one is overburdened, NBI 47 (https://ra.nea.org/new-business-item/new-business-item-47/) is a push for IEP-team-based decisions, and NBI 72 (https://ra.nea.org/new-business-item/new-business-item-72/) reaffirms NEA’s commitment to special education programs, and the students and teachers involved in them.
The NBIs we discussed encompassed many issues, including social justice issues for students and teachers, pension funding, standardized testing, arts and music education, STEM education, ethnic studies courses, and whether or not we support the name of the Washington football team. Here’s a link to everything that was accomplished, in case my highlights aren’t enough for you! https://ra.nea.org/new-business/
As a bottom up organization, NEA’s endorsements are member driven. Governor Christie mentioned, in addition to thinking that the teacher’s union should be “punched in the face”, that the teacher’s union has already announced their endorsement for the 2016 presidential campaign, and we are endorsing Hillary Clinton. That was an endorsement from the AFT. That is NOT us. Our endorsement process is in full swing, and delegates were able to view videos from the candidates who submitted them at the RA. If YOU want to be a part of the endorsement process YOU CAN! You just need to sign up at strongpublicschools.org. There you can view these campaign videos and be a part of the process. In NEA, you have a voice!
NJEA is one of the strongest and most vocal states in the NEA. We have an active and engaged membership and that helps our voice to be heard on the national level. So when NJEA lead the charge to defeat Constitutional Amendment 11, we were confident in our future victory. Constitutional Amendment 11 has to do with representation at the national level. The number of delegates each local, and each state, gets to send is based on the number of dues paying members. There are some states that have “merged” memberships, in other words, they are dually enrolled in AFT and NEA, and each organization gets a proportional amount of their total dues. Previously, merged states who paid proportional dues also received proportional numbers of voting delegates. Constitutional Amendment 11 sought to overturn that, which would have dramatically changed the voice of NEA, giving other states much more voting power than they’ve ever had before, without any increase in dues to pay for the added expenses. NJEA fought hard to educate every state as to the consequences of passing this Amendment. Your own Ellen Ogintz was a leader in this effort, holding signs and campaigning while the delegates were entering and leaving the hall, and working with her state contact to spread information. And, of course, we succeeded and the amendment failed with over 90% of the vote.
It’s very difficult for me to write about the tribute to the victims of the shooting in Charleston that had taken place mere days before the RA. The tribute was beautifully done, with members of the NEA board of directors reading the names of the victims and a list of their impacts and contributions. Our own MCEA president, Christine Sampson Clark was one of the readers, and whatever control I had over my tears was gone after her reading. The NEA Today’s write up does the tribute justice. If you click on one link in this article, this is the one: https://neatoday.org/2015/07/03/nea-delegates-honor-Charleston-shooting-victims-and-move-to-confront-racism/A highlight of the RA every year is getting to hear from the Teacher of the Year and the ESP of the year, and this year did not disappoint! This year’s Teacher of the Year is named Shanna Peeples, and she’s a high school English teacher (oh yeah) from Amarillo, Texas, where she works with a lot of refugees from war torn areas. Here’s my favorite part from her speech, “I like the way Dave Zirin talks about data: ‘ Statistics are like a bikini. They show so much, but they hide the most important parts.’ And, as we know, the most important parts of our jobs are students. Each data point is a person, which our critics often forget in their zeal to rate and evaluate. And people are notoriously difficult to standardize. But what we as teachers know, is that our lessons have to affect both the head and the heart. They have to involve students in real work for real outcomes.”
You can read (or watch!) her entire speech here: https://ra.nea.org/speech/national-teacher-year-address/ and learn more about Shanna Peeples here: https://neatoday.org/2015/04/27/meet-shanna-peeples-the-2015-national-teacher-of-the-year/The 2015 ESP of the year, Janet Eberhardt, is a community relations specialist and elementary advisor from San Francisco. Her speech has so many great quotes I could pull out, but I’ll stick with the simplest, and most profound, “Many of us feed the brain, but all of us feed the soul.” Read (or watch!) the rest of that speech here: https://ra.nea.org/speech/2015-esp-of-the-year-speech-at-the-2015-representative-assembly-paraeducator-janet-eberhardt/ and learn more about Janet Eberhardt here: https://www.nea.org/home/63198.htmf Hearing from both of these strong, intelligent, and passionate women was incredibly inspiring. I hope you enjoy their words as much as we did!
If that wasn’t enough for you, and you’re dying to know more, the NEA today has a great summary of this year’s RA. Here’s the link in case your magazine isn’t handy and you just can’t wait any longer: https://neatoday.org/2015/07/09/2015-nea-representative-assembly-wrap-up-unite-inspire-lead/And if you really enjoyed this, consider running as a delegate next year! Get involved! Ask me (or any of us) how!
-Yours in Solidarity
Casandra (Casey) Fox
2nd VP EWEA