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Call to transform public education with frontline educators at the helm

88th annual NEA Representative Assembly concludes

SAN DIEGO - July 06, 2009 -

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, presiding over his first Representative Assembly as president, called on members to embrace the challenges facing schools today and to lead the nation in transforming public education for the 21st century.  Nearly 10,000 delegates responded by voting for action on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), working closely with the Obama administration to turn around the nation’s high-poverty schools, and reforming health care.

“The real work to transform public education for the 21st century begins the minute you step out of this hall,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “I can’t think of a higher priority for our nation’s educators than realizing our great audacious vision—a great public school for every student.”

Prior to the start of the RA, Van Roekel and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan engaged in a frank and honest discussion with more than 7,000 delegates about the challenges facing schools today. Duncan listened and answered more than a dozen questions from leaders and rank-and-file members.

In return, President Barack Obama, appearing via video, delivered a message to the gathered delegates, thanking them for “sharing your thoughts, concerns and experiences” with Duncan and his administration. “While we may not agree on everything, we all share the deepest respect for the work you do and the sacrifices you make.”

Delegates approved an action plan to advocate for a new ESEA, one that acknowledges that the American dream starts in the nation’s public schools. The business item directs NEA to urge Congress and the Obama administration to move beyond the current test, label punish approach and embrace the spirit of the original law under President Johnson’s War on Poverty, which focused on equitable programs and funding for the education of poor children in America.

A second business item directs NEA to inform President Barack Obama’s proposal to turn around 5,000 low-performing schools with $5 billion in federal funds. The federal law No Child Left Behind sanctions schools that have failed to make adequate yearly progress in raising student achievement for five or more consecutive years. Restructuring is the last stage of school improvement under the federal law.

“We believe it is our moral obligation to give all children the very best education possible,” said Van Roekel. “Turning around troubled now is necessary to deliver on the promise of great public schools in the future, and working with stakeholders and frontline educators is fundamental to improve public education and help all students succeed.”

On the critical issue of health care, NEA delegates voted to “zealously advocate for national health care reform,” stressing the urgency of quality, comprehensive, affordable health care for all that includes a public health care plan options and does not tax employer- or government-provided benefits for actively employed and retired residents.

"NEA must join with its allies in the fight to secure health care for every American,” said Van Roekel. “We must fight for the policies that will bring economic security to our members and the families of our students.”

In other notable actions, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico received the America's Greatest Education Governor Award from NEA. The award recognized Gov. Richardson for his advocacy work on early childhood education, putting physical education back into elementary schools and taking junk foods out.

Delegates also heard from the 2009 Education Support Professional of the Year, Kathie Axtell, and National Teacher of the Year, Anthony Mullen.  Axtell is a para-educator since 1980 who works with special needs students in Olympia, Wash., assisting them with day-to-day assignments and providing professional development to her colleagues. Mullen is a special education teacher at the ARCH School, an alternative education branch of Greenwich High School in Greenwich, Conn.,

Two educators from Oklahoma and New Jersey will join the Association’s Executive Committee, the nine-member governing body that oversees the 3.2 million-member Association.  Johnson, a classroom teacher for 24 years, and Powell, president of the New Jersey Education Association, will begin their three-year terms on September 1, 2009. 

And on the final day of the Representative Assembly, NEA presented Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond with the 2009 Friend of Education Award in recognition for her body of work as one of the nation’s most influential policy writer and researcher. In her remarks, among other things, Darling-Hammond echoed the Association’s proposal to tie ESEA funding to equitable access to education resources. Moreover, she emphasized the need to transform public education by taking to large scale the many successes of public schools around the country. The annual award recognizes an individual or organization whose leadership, acts and support have significantly benefited education, education employees, or students on a national scale.

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing
3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Miguel A. Gonzalez  (619) 525-6376,