National Spotlight Shines on Education Support Professionals
Rhode Island Support Professionals Host U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
By John Rosales
Monday, November 2, 2009 -- Nearly 20 members of the North Kingstown Education Support Professional (NKESP) Association rolled up their sleeves today and sat down for an informal chat with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a packed library of Hamilton Elementary School.
"We're glad you're here to listen, because we want to talk," said NKESP President Sandie Blankenship, a paraprofessional.
Since May, Duncan has been visiting with educators across the country on a tour titled, "Listening and Learning: A Conversation About Education Reform." Of the 15-plus states scheduled for the tour, Rhode Island is the first in which Duncan has met exclusively with school support staff.
"They care passionately about children, even though they don't make tons of money," Duncan said. "ESPs are hugely important."
Making the most of her opportunity on the national stage, Susan Tavares, the district's food service coordinator, questioned Duncan about the shortage of some government food commodities in recent years.
"A lot of what we used to get has disappeared . . . like tomato sauce, cheese, corn," said Tavares, referring to healthy food products that the district once received for free but now has to spend thousands of dollars a year to acquire.
"This is a big, big, deal," said Duncan. "Lots of kids are eating breakfast and lunch at schools."
Duncan even asked Tavares to send him an e-mail detailing the problem, and added that he was meeting with officials from the Department of Agriculture in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the Child Nutrition Act, among other topics.
NKESP is a 200-member wall-to-wall local representing teacher assistants, secretaries, clerks, transportation and food service workers, custodians and maintenance service personnel. The district serves an economically diverse area.
The event was moderated by Larry Purtill, president of NEA Rhode Island, and was attended by NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen. Also in attendance were Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin, and Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse.