Washington—She starts her day at school at 7 a.m., and for Kimberly Scott-Hayden, no two days are alike, especially during a global pandemic. The list of her accomplishments and acts of service and kindness is quite impressive, but it does not do justice to the energy she brings to the work she does every day. Even among outstanding education support professionals (ESPs), she stands out for her contributions toward her school, community and profession.
On March 26, at a virtual ceremony, NEA awarded Scott-Hayden with its highest honor for education support professionals – NEA ESP of the Year. In this capacity, she will serve as an ambassador for ESPs across the country, promoting the value of ESP members at local, state and national events.
“Kimberly Scott-Hayden, our NEA ESP of the Year, is brave, heroic, unselfish, and, like many of her fellow educators in the midst of this pandemic, and has continued to do everything for our students, our communities, and our nation,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “A proud union member and social justice activist, when school buildings closed – and classes continued virtually or in-person – she did not hesitate or falter.
Even while Kimberly was furloughed, she continued to feed and nurture our students, turning school buildings into sites that offered nutritious meals to students. She even donated a kidney to her ailing husband. Channeling Martin Luther King, Jr.’s guiding principle, ‘what have you done for others?’ she responded with deeds and actions. This nation – our entire nation – owes our beloved ESPs and Kimberly Scott-Hayden in particular a huge debt of gratitude.”
“I don’t do this work for recognition,” said Scott-Hayden. “I’m one of the behind-the-scenes people. I’m focused on how we will help our students and our members. We can – and do – have a great impact on students just through the simplest acts of caring about them and our colleagues. My passion is helping other support staff recognize their talents and contributions. We need to tell our stories about how we impact our students. And having the recognition of the 2021 NEA ESP of the Year will allow me the platform to do just that.”
Scott-Hayden is a proud graduate of East Orange Public Schools (EOPS), where she graduated from Clifford J. Scott High School in 1988. After her parents repeatedly encouraged her to apply to work in the district, she started her first day on the job on Dec. 18, 1995 – her birthday. Today, she serves as an inventory control clerk, assists the supervisor of security services, and is the president of the East Orange Maintenance Association – working in the district was like returning home.
Education is something of a tradition for Scott-Hayden. Her mother, Amy Scott, was a beloved kindergarten teacher in East Orange; her father, Lester Scott, was a district maintenance worker and painter. Her involvement in her district also led to meeting her husband, Eric Hayden, a retired police officer who works as a security guard in the district. Family is so important to her, and her nature is so giving, that she donated a kidney to her husband of 21 years in September. Scott-Hayden, who has three children, is also raising three of her seven grandchildren.
Her daily work centers not only on serving students and schools in her community as a proud union member and elected leader but also as the chair of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) Human and Civil Rights Committee and an active member of the NJEA Amistad Stakeholder Group, which is intended to teach the history of Africans and African Americans in the United States and in their role in building this nation.
When the pandemic struck, Scott-Hayden’s considerable connections, demeanor, and problem-solving skills were essential in providing an effective food services distribution so that students were fed daily at grab-and-go sites throughout the district, which has 22 buildings and more than 10,000 students. This also included maintaining adequate staffing operation, seven days a week, 24 hours a day for the district’s fire and security. Although much of her work was furloughed, she made sure the students were still fed, the district was secure, and buildings were safe. She also dipped into her own pocket to purchase PPE, sanitizing supplies, and gloves.
“I’m in full ‘let’s see what we can do’ mode from the time I walk in the door in the morning until I leave around 5 p.m.,” Scott-Hayden said. “I’m doing inventory, scheduling security staff, dealing with security issues, bar coding laptops, delivering supplies, making an emergency run to the county superintendent’s office, or working to get something to Trenton. I’m constantly problem-solving.”
Scott-Hayden has also been instrumental in the growth of her local union, in large part by leading the development of trainings for local members. Working with an initial group of 32, they began with this question: How can I grow professionally to become more culturally aware and effective in communicating with students and colleagues? Scott-Hayden and the team found that discussing culturally sensitive issues can be difficult. Still, they asked participants how they collaborate with members from culturally diverse groups, how they evaluate their ability to recognize reactions in individuals different from themselves, and how they address the consequences of inequities based on identity or group membership.
Once educators saw the passion of Scott-Hayden and the team, the New Jersey program quickly expanded across East Orange. During the 2018-2019 school year, the team was awarded one of NEA’s Great Public Schools Fund Grants to provide three years of training. She says she could not have predicted the spike in membership after the grant was issued, which reached 370 members to now include teacher assistants, paraprofessionals, and security guards along with the original maintenance workers.
NJEA, recognizing her commitment to students, school, community, and her union as well as extraordinary boundless energy, bestowed upon her the 2021 NJEA ESP of the Year.
“Kim is going to be a fantastic NEA National ESP of the Year. Her career-long commitment to her work, her colleagues and her union will reflect well on ESPs across America,” said NJEA President Marie Blistan. “She is a tireless advocate for equity and social justice and will use her new platform to share and advance her vision of more just and equitable schools for every student.”
“A lot of people tell me I’m straightforward,” Scott-Hayden shared. “If I don’t know something, I’m not going to tell you I do. I’m a person who believes that there’s always a solution, we just need to work together to figure it out. I work with everyone from the superintendent on. You have to be able to communicate well. People know what I say is what I’m going to do. And I stay calm in a crisis. I will work with you to find the right person to solve a problem.”
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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. Learn more at www.nea.org. ESPs are categorized into nine career families: paraeducators; clerical services; custodial services; skilled trades; technical services; security services; transportation services; food services; and health and student services