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Advocating for Kentucky Public Education from the Helm

For me, it all started in 1992, with a flyer and the promise of a free bowl of chili. On a fall day, as I made my way through the Combs Building on the Eastern Kentucky University campus, these words beckoned me: ‘Are you an Education Major? Come Join Us!’

I said yes—I’m in. The flyer was an invitation to the local Kentucky Education Association Student Program (KEA-SP) chapter’s Back-to-School picnic. That event was my introduction to KEA-SP and to a platform that helped me discover my voice and potential to lead in education. I can still remember the amazing rush that came from meeting other students who thought like me, had similar goals, were in many of my classes, and who were able to support me through my freshman year at Eastern Kentucky University.

It didn’t take me long to find my path and climb. Junior year, I became the KEA-SP state president and served as a member of the NEA Student Program advisory committee. I was also president of the Madison County Education Association. Looking back, those were defining moments that helped to chart my education career, and fueled my passion for teaching and anchored my belief in the power of union membership and Association work. The roots of relationships I formed as a KEA-SP member and leader still thrive.

Today, as president of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), I still tap into a national Student Program network made up of people who helped nurture and encourage me as a college student. They are among the reasons I love our Association. These professional relationships, and a strong sense of community, have been sustaining.

As a new, fourth-grade teacher in 1997, I experienced so much and learned even more. I could usually find support among my colleagues when I faced tough days in the classroom. I took comfort in knowing that KEA-NEA was my “go to” hub for professional needs. That’s why I urge student members and young teachers to be fully engaged in their Associations. My teaching years, like my time in the KEA-SP, were filled with opportunities for advocacy and activism in support of children and learning. Like teaching, it was work that I loved. And in many ways, the years spent in KEA-SP groomed me for my journey and leadership rise.

In 2013, I ran for president of the KEA and won. It was the culmination of a long held professional goal. Today, I lead our 42,000 members, including pre-service teachers working to earn their Kentucky teaching certificates.

I miss the classroom and my students, but as KEA president, I am able to impact the lives of many, many more students in my state and across the nation.

Stephanie Winkler has been president of KEA since june 2013. Before leading KEA, Winkler was a fourth- and fifth-grade science teacher at Mayfield Elementary School in Madison County, KY.

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