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ESPs Gather in Nation's Capital

The NEA Education Support Professionals Conference will be March 11—13 in Washington, D.C.

By Dave Arnold
I look forward to education support professional (ESP) conferences much like a child awaits Christmas morning. But instead of a shiny new bike or Ipod waiting for me underneath the tree, I encounter old friends from across the country eager to share ideas, stories and updates from their local Associations and schools. ESP conferences are a joyous occasion.

Professional Development

Then there are the workshops. That’s another treat. The 2011 NEA Education Support Professionals Conference will be March 11—13 in Washington, D.C. Like state and regional conferences, it is designed to provide professional development opportunities for participants while helping them gain the skills they need, for example, to build stronger locals. That’s the magic of these conferences.

You gain knowledge from top-notch workshop leaders, keynote speakers, and from fellow educators who you happen to sit with at lunch or dinner. I’ve lost count of how many conferences I have attended since 1993 when I joined the Illinois Education Association (IEA) and NEA. What I do recall and cherish are the people I’ve met and contacts I’ve made. Together, they have often helped to steer me in the right direction regarding how to recruit new members, negotiate contracts, lobby legislators, and what topics I might consider writing about in this column.

With all there is to gain by attending ESP conferences, some of my colleagues still believe that I’m wasting my time at conferences. They don’t get it.

Invaluable Information

One person who does understand the importance of attending conferences is a friend who was a cook at my elementary school in Brownstown, Illinois. She had been an active member since the local was organized in the early 1990s and had served on many contract negotiation teams. A few years ago, she experienced health problems and was soon diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome, a hormone disorder caused by high levels of cortisol in the blood. The back pain and breathing difficulty she experienced caused her to miss work. The majority of the time, she used medical leave. It was uncertain between her and school officials what to do about her employment status. She soon found a solution while sitting in on a session at a state conference dealing with the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF).

She learned that fulltime ESPs in Illinois are members of the IMRF. Fortunately, we have one of our own (Max Bochmann) as chair of the trustees of the IMRF board. It was Max who facilitated the session. My friend learned that she could receive disability benefits from IMRF until she qualified for Social Security retirement benefits. If she had not been at that conference and learned that information from a knowledgeable and trusted colleague like Max, she would have likely tried to keep on working in spite of her disability. The knowledge she gained at that session may have saved her life.


My wife, Nancy, is an ESP. She and I have sat in on sessions facilitated by lawyers from injured worker law offices and recommended by IEA. And lucky for us that we did.

About three years ago, Nancy tripped and fell while in the performance of her duties as a school cook. She suffered a huge laceration to her knee and was bleeding badly. The school nurse did an excellent job of attending to her wound. Her superintendant did not hesitate in calling an ambulance and having her transported to the hospital for X-rays. In addition to stitches, Nancy suffered a large bump and bruise on her ankle. She returned to work the next day, but within a few days her foot swelled. 

From having attended the workers’ compensation session, we knew that they would cover her medical bills. However, the coverage continued only until doctors determined she was not going to get any better. Then it stopped. Again, from what we learned at the ESP conference we knew that Nancy had a permanent partial disability and was entitled to a settlement from workers’ compensation. We also knew that the best way to collect was to hire an attorney and file suit.

Our choice for lawyers was simple. Call the facilitator from the ESP conference. He agreed to represent Nancy and eventually won the case. The settlement wasn’t enormous, but was far more than we could have ever obtained without his help.

Washington Welcomes ESPs

At the ESP conference in Washington, there will be friends to catch up with and workshops to attend. Most of all, there will be a meeting of the minds and a gathering of ESPs -- extra special people.

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Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.


Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.