Public Educators Are Fighting for Their Professional Lives
2011 ESP of the Year asks delegates to unite.
July 04, 2011
By John Rosales
Public educators are in a war for their professional survival, said Ernest “Jameel” Williams, the 2011 National Education Association Education Support Professional of the Year.
“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,” Williams said Monday to more than 8,000 delegates attending the NEA 2011 Representative Assembly in Chicago.
“And then they have the nerve to turn around and blame us for all of the negatives occurring in public schools,” he told the crowd of NEA K-12 teachers, school support staff (known within NEA as “education support professionals”), higher education faculty, college students, and other educators.
“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. We don’t need to show division in the ranks.”
A bus driver and paraeducator from Henderson, North Carolina, Williams has taught at L.B. Yancey Elementary School for all 23 years of his education career. At Yancey, he has served as a teacher’s assistant with at-risk youth and in the art and music department.
“Over the years, my job titles and duties have changed,” said Williams, an NEA director and member of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE). “But one thing remains the same – I enjoy what I do.”
NCAE President Sheri Strickland said Williams is a strong leader who was the first non-certified member to be elected local unit president of his local, the Vance County Association of Educators. For five years, Williams also served as the state president of the North Carolina ESP Association.
“Jameel is a champion for the rights of ESPs,” Strickland said. “Under his leadership, ESP membership increased statewide – in fact, the ESP membership increase surpassed the certified membership increase two years in a row.”
In his introduction, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said he could not think of anyone else but Williams as this year’s ESP of the Year.
“He is a man of unrelenting passion for education,” said Van Roekel. “He believes way down deep that every child has the right to learn.”
When people ask him what “ESP” means to him, Williams told delegates that ‘E’ stands for “excellence,” ‘S’ stands for “service,” and ‘P’ stands for “purpose.”
“ESPs demonstrate excellence in our jobs to provide a quality education to our students,” he said. “ESPs volunteer countless of hours to our local, state, and national Associations, and to the communities we live in . . . (we) have a strong sense of purpose to serve students and advocate for professional respect, professional pay, and professional rights.”
Williams was named 2011 ESP of the Year last March at the NEA National ESP Conference in Washington, D.C. He was presented with a $10,000 check from the Gardner Rich Foundation of Chicago of which he will donate $5,000 to a charity of his choice.