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Wisconsin Safety Assistant Gains National Recognition by Putting Children First

Laura Vernon wins education award for excellence

BALTIMORE - March 07, 2008 -

Laura Vernon rarely shies away from helping children.  She solicited donations so high school students from low-income families could attend the prom.  She also volunteered to tutor students during the summer months to help them stay focused.  These examples help explain why Vernon is the 2008 NEA Education Support Professional of the Year. 2008 Education Support Professional of the Year Laura Vernon and NEA President Reg Weaver. Photo by: Charles Votaw

“In my professional practice, as I perform my job every day, I am there for the children,” said Vernon.  “I regularly extend myself beyond the workday if it will help a child.  I know that I cannot have others join me if I am not actively involved in working to better our community.”

Education support professionals account for about 40 percent of educators working in public schools and 483,000 of NEA’s 3.2 million members.  They include school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, school nurses and safety assistants—like Vernon—who help keep public schools in Milwaukee safe.

 “The teaching staff she works with knows that she is dedicated, wise and fair,” said Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.  “They rely on her work and guidance daily.”  

Vernon received NEA’s highest honor for education support professionals during the annual ESP Conference in Baltimore, Md.  This year’s theme is “NEA ESP: Vital Partners in Public Education.”  The two-day event provides training sessions and workshops for professional growth and development. 

NEA President Reg Weaver presented the award to Vernon this evening.  It includes a $10,000 check.  Vernon will give half of the money to a charity of her choice.

“When you understand Laura’s accomplishments, you get a better sense of how integral ESPs are to children receiving a quality education,” said Weaver.  “Her contributions to the children of Milwaukee Public Schools have benefits that extend beyond the classroom.”

Vernon, who has been a Milwaukee Public Schools employee for 33 years, is currently a member of NEA’s Board of Directors and credits the Association with grooming her into the leader she is today.

“It is my responsibility to continue to run the race until I can pass the baton to the next person,” said Vernon.  “I want to touch everyone I can and hopefully motivate them to believe in the work that we do for the children.”

Gardner Rich and Co., Inc., a Chicago brokerage firm, annually contributes the funds for the ESP award.  The firm was founded by Chris Gardner, who is the author of “The Pursuit of Happyness.”  Gardner’s life was depicted in the 2006 film of the same title.  He serves on the board of The NEA Foundation.


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: Brian Washington  (202) 822-7823