In an environment known for its icy cold climate, Alaskan Sherry Shaw knows how to keep warm. She stays busy, inspired by her work as a special education paraeducator and coach at Tanaina Elementary School in Wasilla, and member of NEA-Alaska and the Matanuska-Susitna Classified Employees’ Association (MSCEA).
Her advocacy on behalf of students and colleagues includes extensive volunteer work with the Special Olympics and other community organizations. Shaw can expect to add a few more items to her calendar in the upcoming year after being named the 2018 National Education Association (NEA) Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year during Saturday’s ESP of the Year Award Banquet at the NEA ESP Conference in Orlando, Fla.
“I work in special ed and I just love my students! I dedicate every moment I’m there showing them love and what they can do without limits. I’m at a loss for words right now, thank you so much!” said Shaw, to the rousing applause of more than 800 school support staff, administrators, and other educators from across the country who are participating in the 27th annual conference.
At the banquet, NEA Vice President Becky Pringle presented Shaw with a commemorative trophy, bouquet of red roses, and $10,000 check. Shaw also received a coveted ESP of the Year Hall of Fame plaque.
“Now, some people will tell you it’s not what you do but how you do it that counts,” said Pringle. “Sherry not only does 12 things at once, but she does them all phenomenally well.”
For 13 years, Shaw has worked closely with teachers to prepare classroom materials, modify curriculum, work one-on-one and in small groups with special education students, as well aid in the students’ socialization and behavior management.
The annual award is NEA’s highest for an ESP.
“NEA congratulates Sherry and thanks her for the dedication and passion she has for her students and her job,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “She understands that in order to nurture student success, educators must work hand-in-hand. Sherry’s drive and dedication to making sure her students start and finish the school day on a positive note serves as a reminder of just how important education support professionals are as members of the education team, helping students succeed and achieve.”
More than 2 million school support staff work in the nation’s public school systems, with more than 75 percent living, shopping and voting in the school communities in which they work.
The conference theme, Education Support Professionals Uniting Our Members and the Nation for Strong Communities, Empowered Educators, and Successful Students, set the tone for the dozens of workshops and discussions which focused on NEA’s goals and priorities including supporting the whole student, engaging early career educators, racial justice in education, effective teacher-paraeducator teamwork, and ensuring that the voices of educators are heard by legislators on Capitol Hill, and in city halls and statehouses across the nation.
“First in the building every day and typically last to leave, she is focused on creating the best experiences for all students as well as adults,” Tanaina Elementary School Principal Cheri Mattson stated in her recommendation letter to the ESP of the Year Selection Committee. “If it needs to be done, she is doing it, knowing it will help the students or adults gain confidence and success in the end.”
In addition to a career as a special education paraeducator, over the years Shaw has coached volleyball, basketball, cross country running, track and field, and cross-country skiing.
“My goal is to ensure students have a positive, fun experience,” she stated in her letter to the selection committee. “But not that they should just learn the fundamentals of the sport, but also the fundamentals of life, such as integrity, sportsmanship, working together as a team and how to be successful and achieve their full potential.”
Within the 900-member MSCEA, Shaw is a building representative at Tanaina while also representing MSCEA at other schools during discussions about workplace issues.
“I enjoy sharing how our union is working hard for us and answering questions they may have,” she states. “I encourage all paraprofessionals to take a more active role in our local chapter.”
As a local leader, Shaw has helped to promote ESP Appreciation Week in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District by raising funds for gift packages to ESPs in the district.
In Wasilla, Shaw helped to establish and manage a program to help families affected by drug abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness by providing food, clothing, hygiene products, and advice on how to access resources from the state.
School support professionals make up more than one-third of all public school employees. Within NEA, ESPs are categorized in nine career families:
• Clerical services
• Custodial and maintenance services
• Skilled trades
• Technical services
• Security services
• Transportation services
• Food services
• Health and student services.
“I have seen her in the hallways, on the field, and in the classroom doing what she does best … being an amazing educator,” stated MSCEA President Karen Salisbury. “She works with students, parents, staff, and community members with such uniqueness that each person feels special.”