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NEA Stands Strong at Representative Assembly

Delegates wrestle with tough issues after a rough year.


After a school year that saw redoubled attacks on educators and unprecedented attacks on the collective bargaining rights of public servants in many states, the National Education Association took a strong stand for children, public education, and public service at its Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly in Chicago earlier this summer.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel kicked off the 2011 NEA Representative Assembly (RA) on Saturday, July 2, with a vigorous call for educators everywhere to stand strong in the face of relentless attacks on public education, their profession, and working families across the nation.

In his keynote speech, Van Roekel reminded more than 8,200 delegates that NEA has seen trying times in the past. The Association stood up then and will continue to stand up now.

“Today we are at another crossroads, another moment in history. A moment that compels us to stand up for our values and our worth, to speak out for our students and our profession,” Van Roekel said.

Bookending Van Roekel’s speech, the new RA theme song “NEA Standing Strong” got delegates’ hearts thumping and blood pumping. The song takes its title and lyrics from President Van Roekel’s theme for the RA: Standing Strong for Our Schools, Our Students, and America.

Video: Highlights from the 2011 Representative Assembly

RA delegates then got down to serious business, which included taking three key policy stands. 

The Representative Assembly adopted a Policy Statement on Teacher Evaluation and Accountability. Based on a recommendation of a workgroup of NEA leaders convened in the spring by President Van Roekel and led by Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle, the policy statement outlines an evaluation and accountability system focused on enhancing the practice of teachers, instead of identifying teachers for dismissal.

The statement reflects the importance of maintaining high standards, not lowering them, and calls for robust evaluations based on multiple indicators. It also supports state or local affiliates in the use of standardized tests for evaluating teachers if said tests are proven to be of high quality and provide meaningful measures of student learning and growth.

Delegates also voted to bolster NEA’s crisis fund to strengthen affiliates against the kinds of legislative and policy opposition public education has faced this year in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Tennessee, Idaho, and so many other states.


U.S. Vice President Joe Biden stands with NEA President Dennis Van Roekel after delivering a rousing speech to delegates to the NEA Representative Assembly.

With an eye to defending against similar attacks at the federal level, the RA voted overwhelmingly to recommend the re-election of Barack Obama for a second term in the White House.

President Van Roekel, many delegates, and special guest speaker Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged that the Association and the Administration have had a number of differences, particularly on education policy, but as Biden told the cheering delegates, “We should be listening to you, not lecturing you. We should be embracing you, not pushing you aside. You are not the problem.” Vice President Biden was just one of many guest speakers who rallied the more than 12,600 RA participants.  


2011 Teacher of the Year Michelle Shearer

Michelle Shearer, the 2011 National Teacher of the Year, urged educators to swing open the doors to their classrooms so others can drop by and see the creative work being done by students and teachers.  “I invite people to my classroom all the time so they can see first-hand my students in action,” Shearer said.

“We need parents, business leaders, members of our boards of education, and our elected officials to rally around our students and with us,” said Shearer, a member of the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA). “Bring the public into public education.”


2011 ESP of the Year Jameel Williams

2011 NEA Education Support Professional of the Year Ernest “Jameel” Williams urged educators to stand together in the face of opposition. “Our enemies want to strip us of collective bargaining, deny us a living wage, tie our evaluations and raises to students’ test scores, and cut school budgets,” the North Carolina Association of Educators member said. “We must put aside our personal and petty differences based solely on job titles,” Williams stressed. “We must concentrate on uniting for our professional survival.”

Several of the 14 state senators who defied Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s efforts to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights crossed the state line into Illinois once again—this time to be named Friends of Education, NEA’s highest honor.

And a governor who stood firm in the face of pressure to cut education funding to balance his state’s budget, Kentucky’s Steve Beshear, accepted NEA’s Greatest Education Governor award noting the important investment a state can make in the education of its children. “One thing we have not and will not cut is our classroom support for classroom teachers.”


Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear accepts NEA's Greatest Education Governor award.

During the July 4 business session, the Representative Assembly celebrated America by marking the 40th anniversary of the ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which lowered the legal voting age from 21 to 18. The amendment resulted from a grassroots effort—known as Project 18—led by a dedicated group of NEA student members.

Those members—Rosalyn Hester Baker, Ian MacGowan, Les Francis, Mel Myler, and Charles Gonzales—were honored by NEA Executive Director John I. Wilson.  It was the result of their efforts, Wilson said, that “allowed millions of young people to participate actively in the democratic process.”


NEA Executive Director John Wilson

Incoming NEA Executive Director John Stocks

Wilson, then a student at Western Carolina University where he served as president of the NEA student chapter, said he remembers well his fellow students being drafted into war. He said he and students across the country were energized by the rallying cry, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote!”

Wilson, who will be retiring at the end of September, was himself honored by the Representative Assembly for a career in Association activism that has ranged from his chairmanship of the NEA Student Program to service as a local president, as president and executive director of the NCAE, to terms on the NEA board of directors and executive committee, to 11 years in his current position as NEA’s tenth executive director. 

President Van Roekel told one of his favorite stories about Wilson. It took place on a day when bad things seemed to be coming at the Association from every direction. He went into Wilson’s office and asked him how he managed to handle it all so well.

“I was a special education teacher!” Wilson replied.


Left to right: NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle, Vice President Lily Eskelsen, and President Dennis Van Roekel.

Wilson will be replaced by NEA Deputy Executive Director John Stocks. A former Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) executive and Idaho state senator, Stocks was a leading organizing force behind the opposition to the efforts in Wisconsin to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights earlier this year. Stocks assumes his new duties September 1.


Executive Committee member Princess Moss

Incoming Executive Committee member Earl Wiman

And no Representative Assembly is complete without the selection of leaders. President Van Roekel and Vice President Lily Eskelsen were both elected to a second three-year term. Executive Committee member Princess Moss of Virginia was also re-elected.

And delegates elected former Tennessee Education Association President Earl Wiman to serve on the Executive Committee. Wiman will replace Len Paolillo of Massachusetts.

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Video: NEA Annual Meeting and RA Highlights Day 5


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