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ESP 40 Years United Mosaic

Celebrating 40 years of ESP Membership

A Glimpse Into the History of ESP Membership in the NEA
Published: 08/27/2020

40 Years United for Students!

In 1980, our union became a stronger and more powerful voice for students when Education Support Professionals (ESPs) first enjoyed full membership rights in the NEA.

ESPs Over the Years

This year we’re celebrating the huge impact ESPs have made in shaping NEA over the past 40 years, and how the Association supports educators and their students.    There isn’t a more fitting example of ESPs’ everyday heroism than the collective response to the COVID-19 crisis. Across the country ESPs were making and delivering meals to students and their families, advocating for colleagues’ pay and benefits during the shutdown, and volunteering medical expertise at clinics. Compassion, solidarity, and hard work are baked into the ethos of NEA ESP members – and this crisis has highlighted those qualities for all Americans to see. Advocating for great public schools means advocating with, and for everyone who works in our schools. For 40 years there have been big wins for school communities when ESPs shared their voices, fought for students, and opened doors to new opportunities for thousands of educators across the country.
photo of NEA Representative Assembly

Together at last!

The NEA Representative Assembly (RA) votes to extend full membership rights to “Educational Support Personnel.” This vote opened the door for the NEA to begin representing the entire school community, and lead to ESP membership growing from 15,000 to more than 160,000 over the next decade.

Leading in the Association

Alabama and Michigan become the first two states to elect ESP members to the NEA Board of Directors. Trailblazers for ESP causes, Peggy McDanal, a senior accountant from Alabama, and Peggy Brown, a secretary from Michigan, began to advocate for expanding representation. Two years later that work paid off. The 1983 NEA Representative Assembly votes to establish an ESP At-Large position on the NEA Board of Directors. Nancy Marrone from Maine becomes the first ESP member to fill the new Board role.
2019 ESP Conference Photo

Making Connections

The inaugural NEA ESP Conference is held in Washington, D.C., giving ESP members around the country a platform to connect with others, organize around central priorities, and set goals for future growth. (Photo from 2019 NEA ESP Conference)
ESP Day Celebration

Celebrating ESPs

NEA establishes National Education Support Personnel Day to celebrate the contributions of ESPs to the nation’s students and our union.

An Essential Workforce

ESP Membership grows from 184,000 to over 297,000. Resolutions are passed at the 1990 and 1991 RAs that highlight the essential role of ESPs in enhancing the learning environment and education process as well as recognizing ESP contributions as positive role models for students and the NEA.
photo of Peggy Bertollo

National Recognition

The NEA ESP of the Year Awards program is established to recognize the outstanding contribution of an ESP member to their schools, communities, and profession. Peggy Bertollo, a paraeducator from Delaware, becomes the first awardee in 1992. The ESP of the Year serves as an ambassador for Education Support Professionals around the country, promoting the value of ESP members at national and state conferences.

NCESP is Established

The National Council for Educational Support Personnel is established. Karl Bell, a custodian from Southfield, MI, becomes the first president.
Photo of Iona Holloway

ESPs Continue Leading

Iona Holloway, a paraeducator from Louisiana, becomes the first ESP member elected to the NEA Executive Committee.

Professionalizing ESP Careers

The NEA RA passes New Business Item 8 to officially change the term “Educational Support Personnel” to “Education Support Professional” after ESP members led a successful campaign to codify a truth known by all – that ESP jobs are professional and high skilled careers.
First Leaders For Tomorrow Cohort

Leaders for Tomorrow

NEA graduates the first class of ESP Leaders for Tomorrow, a training program specifically designed for ESP members to grow their skills and roles as effective leaders in their associations. The program, now named ESP Leadership Institute, still runs strong today.
Photo of Let'S Move Campaign

Partnership with the First Lady

ESPs partner with first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reduce childhood obesity through endorsement of the My Plate school food guidelines.
ESP Professional Growth Continuum Cover

ESP Professional Growth

The NEA RA adopts a New Business Item to engage members and experts in the design of an ESP professional continuum model. This solidified NEA’s commitment to ESP careers and resulted in the first-ever ESP Professional Growth Continuum developed by ESPs, for ESPs that launched in 2017.
Photo of 2016 ESP Champions of Change

Champions of Change

Five NEA ESP members are awarded the White House Champion of Change recognition: Jeanette Griffin-Kimber (AZ), Cynthia Tercero-Sandoval (AZ), Doreen McGuire-Grigg (CA), Annie McClintock (NY), and Ted Chaudoir (WI)
ESP World Congress

ESPs on the Global Stage

Education International holds the inaugural ESP conference in Brussels, Belgium with more than 60 educators from 36 other countries in attendance. At the conference, the first worldwide ESP Day is created.
RISE Award Bill

Bill Establishes Federal Recognition of ESPs

The Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act (RISE) is signed into federal law. Administered by the U.S. Department of Education, RISE acknowledges the outstanding contributions of ESPs to the nation’s public schools and the students they serve.

Strengthening Communities during a Global Pandemic

NEA celebrates 40 years of ESP gains and achievements, as ESPs continue to protect our communities on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For decades, the Association has been an important platform for ESPs to lead positive change for their students and peers. As members, ESP leaders are uniquely positioned to continue making great strides in the NEA, in their careers, and in school communities for years to come. 

A full history and timeline of ESP members in the Association will be available soon.

ESP Impact

ESPs are integral to our nation’s schools and our association. They are the educators that support students before the first bell rings and all throughout the day, even after they’ve hopped off the bus. They are keeping school communities clean, safe and healthy in the face of a global pandemic. ESP voices are vital to advocating for great public schools for every student.

School Secretary’s Sense of Pride Captures the Spirit of ESP Day

For 40 years, Nila Brown has supported the entire school family – from school staff and principals, to students, families and community members.

Podcast: Standing with ESPs

Karl Goeke & John Scanlan, members of NEA's ESP Career Committee, discuss the key values of partnership and collaboration between teachers, ESPs, and the school community, and how they collectively contribute to everyone's success.

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National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.