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Leading the Way - The Power of NEA Members

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel grew up in a family surrounded by dynamic women. His parents challenged their children to broaden their horizons and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

Now teamed with NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen and Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle, Van Roekel feels right at home. “Lily and Becky challenge those around them to think smarter, work harder, and do better. They are inspiring leaders and effective advocates for public school students and educators because of the wealth of knowledge, skills, and talents that they bring to the table.”

A few months ago, NEA Vice-President Lily Eskelsen received a troubling email from one of her best friends in Utah and a longtime educator. A meeting with the principal, she wrote, had persuaded her that she no longer wanted to teach. Why? Because the principal and faculty would now focus only on the “bubble kids.”

“Bubble kids” are students who almost passed the AYP test last year. In other words, no need to worry about the high-scoring kids. Don’t waste time with the lowest-scoring kids. No—all your time will now be spent drilling bubble kids for the test. Get them above the cut score, and mission accomplished.

“To me, this is ‘teach to the middle, teach to the test,’” says Eskelsen. “It breaks my heart to see the road we are traveling down.”

Change may come from lawmakers in Washington, but Eskelsen urges educators everywhere—the true engines of education innovation—not to sell themselves short.

“Despite all the laws and lectures and scripted programs designed to squeeze the creativity out of teachers,” she says, “they’ve still got it inside.”

Eskelsen has been on the road speaking to NEA members, the media, academics, politicians, and the public providing a strong and inspiring voice for all educators. Eskelsen also interacts with members via her blog, Lily’s Blackboard and champions the NEA Academy, NEA’s Web site devoted to providing professional tools for teachers and education support professionals so that they can lead the fight in their own schools.

“Teachers, lunch ladies, school secretaries, retirees: They’re the ones who know what they are talking about. I miss being that important.”

NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle has also seen firsthand the innovation and creativity of educators. Pringle, who is in charge of developing NEA’s strategic plan

and budget, has been learning from members on the ground to help her determine how the Association’s resources can best be used to realize goals set out by the Great Public Schools for Every Student by 2020 initiative—no small challenge in this economic climate.

“It’s already 2010, so we must feel the urgency in our purpose,” says Pringle.

But it’s not just about money.

“It’s how we allocate our time, how we articulate our principles and our priorities,” she explains. “It’s about creating a public school system that gives students and our teachers the support and resources to be successful. It’s about fighting for generous salaries and fairer funding mechanisms.”

Pringle wants NEA’s strategic plan to tell a story so that members understand that creating great public schools requires collaboration, diverse perspectives, and the power of teams.

“NEA is committed to leading this effort, but we must unite all our members to be successful.”

Get to know your Association officers and Executive Committee members.

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