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NEA News

New Jersey’s Kimberly Scott-Hayden Named 2021 NEA ESP of the Year

“My passion is helping other support staff recognize their talents and contributions. We need to tell our stories about how we impact our students.”
kimberly scott-hayden esp of the year
2021 NEA ESP of the Year Kimberly Scott-Hayden
Published: 03/29/2021

Key Takeaways

  1. On March 26, at a virtual ceremony, NEA awarded Scott-Hayden with its highest honor for education support professionals – NEA ESP of the Year.
  2. Even while she was furloughed during the pandemic, Scott-Hayden used her considerable connections, demeanor, and problem-solving skills to make sure every student was fed.
  3. As ESP of the Year, Scott-Hayden will serve as an ambassador for ESPs across the country, promoting the value of ESP members at local, state and national events.

Educational support professionals (ESPs) should really be known as essential school professionals. We’ve seen how their work—during the pandemic and always—is the heart and soul of our school communities. No one better exemplifies that dedication, service, and community spirit than 2021 ESP of the Year Kimberly Scott-Hayden.

“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.” 

 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.

Giving to Union Members

Education is a family tradition for Scott-Hayden, whose parents both worked in East Orange Public Schools in New Jersey, as does her husband. 

Scott-Hayden is also a proud graduate of the school district, so for her, coming to work in East Orange schools was like coming home. Her first day on the job was Dec. 18, 1995—her birthday. 

“That was my birthday present to myself,” Scott-Hayden recalls. And heeding her parents’ advice, she joined her union right away.

Today, Scott-Hayden serves as an inventory control clerk, assists the supervisor of security services, and is the president of the East Orange Maintenance Association. 

Under Scott-Hayden’s leadership, the association and has grown its membership from nearly 40to over 400. Her unit now represents maintenance workers, security guards, teaching assistants, and paraprofessionals. She also has served as an officer with the Essex County Education Association, served on the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) Delegate Assembly and the NJEA executive committee, and is currently an NEA Director.

She has written grants totaling over $100,000 and helped to implement a series of professional development programs for ESPs (focused on communication, cultural competency and trauma-informed practices) in East Orange, NJ using the ESP Professional Growth Continuum that led to a significant increase in ESP membership; Awarded NEA’s Great Public Schools Fund Grant ($135,000) to continue expansion of these programs

“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 New Jersey Education Association 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.”

Giving to Social Justice

Scott-Hayden is also proud of her work as part of the NJEA Amistad Stakeholder Group—a coalition of educators, parents, school and district administrators, education advocates and the New Jersey Department of Education, which seeks to ensure that the state’s “Amistad mandate” is fully implemented. Named after the storied slave ship, the 2018 mandate requires educators to teach the history of Africans and African Americans in the U.S. and their role in building this nation. 

“As chair of the NJEA Human and Civil Rights Committee, … I brought the information about Amistad to my district when it first became law,” Scott-Hayden says. “We are 90 percent African American in our district, and our staff is very diverse, but we have not done what we needed to do to educate our students about the role Africans and African Americans have played in American history. 

Giving to Students and the School Community

One of Scott-Hayden’s goals is for ESPs to never say they are “just” ESPs.

“We can—and do—have a great impact on students, both through our job responsibilities and through the simplest acts of caring about them,” Scott-Hayden says. “My passion is helping other support staff recognize their talents and contributions. We need to tell our stories about how we impact our students.”

Scott-Hayden’s work touches every student in the district. She is responsible for handling all assets for the district that are $200 or above. She ensures supplies are properly inventoried and tagged, she works with four colleagues to ensure that shipping and receiving, mail, and in-district supplies for students are delivered, barcoded, logged in, and distributed appropriately.

In addition, she is the district liaison for school resource officers (SRO). She works closely with SROs to cover staffing in needed buildings and handle other issues in the district, which has 22 buildings and more than 10,000 students.

Giving During the Pandemic

When the COVID-19 struck, Scott-Hayden’s considerable connections and problem-solving skills were essential in scheduling food service distribution, which provided students with daily meals at grab-and-go site. This also included maintaining adequate coverage seven days a week, 24 hours a day for the district’s fire and security coverage.

“I’m a person who believes that there’s always a solution, we just need to work together to figure it out,” Scott-Hayden says. “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.”

Scott-Hayden’s contributions to her school community, East Orange, Essex County, NJEA, and NEA are impressive—and she is not done yet. As the 2021 National ESP of the Year, she has a powerful platform to uplift and inspire educational support professionals and educate others about the value of the work they do.

“I feel humbled by this award,” Scott-Hayden says. “I don’t do this work for recognition. I’m one of the behind-the-scenes people. I’m focused on how we will help our students and our members.”

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.