Hello and thank you for your kind introduction. I also want to thank the entire New Jersey delegation, led by NJEA President Marie Blistan, for your amazing support over many years and especially during the whirlwind of the last few months. My NJEA and NEA families have given me the opportunity to work with fearless advocates from across the nation, who rise and stand tall for our students and public education.
I am deeply honored to be the 2021 NEA Education Support Professional of the Year, representing ESPs across America.
As an ESP, I have learned my value to my school community. That is why I never let anyone make me or my colleagues feel like "just” a custodian, “just” a secretary or “just” an inventory control clerk. These aren’t just jobs we do; they are our careers. Not everybody can do this work.
And here’s the bottom line: we are all educators.
Whether or not, we come into direct contact with students, we are part of the public education system that helps to build their success.
My husband is an ESP in the same district where I work. He has dedicated 33 years of his life to public-education. My mom was a teacher in my district for over 40 years and my father was in the district’s maintenance department for well over 20 years. They started me on my path with the East Orange School District, where I am also a proud graduate. They showed me what it means to give back to my school community, how to accomplish my goals, and how to set standards for myself.
My mother’s generous spirit and my father’s can-do attitude showed me the way. When I came back to work in my hometown district, I immediately started getting involved in my union and my community; this was my home, my heart and soul was in these school walls and hallways. I have so many fond memories. Those memories gave me every reason to put my stamp on the school and the district that helped to shape me. Giving back and giving to others: That’s the only way I know how to live.
Since 2017, my local—East Orange Maintenance Association—have worked with our district’s administration to lead our own professional development. This is a first—for NJEA and for NEA. All 400 ESPs in our district have had access to professional development on topics that are relevant to our work—from cultural competency and communication to trauma-informed practices.
Today, our professional growth is in full swing. We’ve been using the NEA ESP Professional Growth Continuum to highlight standards and areas where members have said they needed more support. With professional development that spark has been lit from within, and my members are empowered. They’re diving deeper, learning more, working independently and asking how to get more training.
We must—and we should—play a significant part in the educational process for our students and ourselves.
As the chair of NJEA’s Human and Civil Rights Committee, and a leader in our statewide Equity Alliance, I have the privilege of helping to harness the power of our 200,000 members. Together, we continue to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. As a union activist, I’ve learned that none of us can do much to change the world alone. But when we work collectively, remain aware of our purpose, and walk with intentionality, we can build a better world for the students we love.
We are professionals in a helping profession, so I never second guess helping anyone—for me it is natural. I hope that my labor of love for my students and public education has touched you and inspired your heart to believe that every ESP is an Essential Support Professional and is valuable. Life has blessed me in so many ways. I want to pay that forward by helping others unlock their potential and discover the joy of a life of advocacy, caring and love.
This all still feels surreal, but your love, support and trust is very real to me. So, know this: I strive every day to represent you and make you proud.
Together we can continue to do incredible things to ensure the best public schools across the nation, for every student regardless of race or zip code.
Together we will do this, NEA.
And together we continue to be the powerful beacon of light that guides every student to their dreams.
Thank you, to each of you for everything you do in our schools and communities. We are NEA!
- Celeste Busser