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NEA News

Be Like Bobby: Revitalize Your Local

How Bobby Jenkins—vice president of the Fauquier County Education Association (Virginia)—is making sure the voices of ESPs are heard.
Bobby Jenkins
Bobby Jenkins

Bobby Jenkins wakes up at 4 a.m. and remains energized throughout his busy work day. He starts by inspecting his bus at the Fauquier County Public Schools bus barn.

Between bus runs through the Virginia countryside and late into the evening, Jenkins will address member concerns in his role as a building representative, vice president of the Fauquier Education Association (FEA), and member of the education support professional (ESP) caucus of the Virginia Education Association (VEA). Jenkins, 61, is also a regional vice president within VEA.

NEA: You joined the Fauquier school system in 2010 at a time when the concerns of transportation service workers over wages, schedules, and job security were pretty much ignored by county administrators.

BJ: Prior officials did not take time to speak with drivers and aides, I was told. I came on board as a substitute bus driver before becoming a regular driver in 2011. I was hearing horror stories from bus drivers and aides. That summer, for example, we lost more than 25 drivers to neighboring counties because they were fed up with being ignored.

NEA: You helped to turn things around by initially attending transportation advisory committee (TAC) meetings, then becoming chair of the committee.

BJ: The TAC meetings were unorganized, unstructured, and ill-attended. I remember Superintendent David Jeck once commented: “This will be my last meeting due to a lack of organization, unless changes are made.” I had experi- ence with this sort of thing and soon became the committee chair. And Superintendent Jeck soon joined FEA.

NEA: What did you do first as committee chair?

BJ: I suggested we start TAC meetings with a report from our transportation director followed by comments from lead drivers (those having the most tenure), and then Dr. Jeck’s responses to their concerns. Before, meetings were not successful because drivers were not given the opportunity to speak freely. Eventually, I started meeting monthly with Robin Gardner, the FEA UniServ director, and Dr. Jeck in his office. Eventually, David Graham, executive director of administration and planning, joined us.

NEA: You also initiated meeting with drivers monthly at a local restaurant in Warrenton instead of a school.

BJ: At first, we’d have four or five drivers and aides attend. Eventually, between 12 and 16 started attending. The increased attendance led me, as TAC chair and an FEA representative, to invite David Graham to these meetings. It’s important that he hear firsthand from members about workplace situations, student safety concerns, and other job-related issues. A few members arrive around 8:45 a.m. to speak casually about their concerns before the meeting comes to order at 9:30. We usually meet the first Wednesday of the month. Those first informal 45 minutes are more comfortable for some members [because they can] state their concerns anonymously. I write down the details and then convey them to Mr. Graham. He either answers the questions on the spot or returns the following month with a response for discussion.

NEA: Have these meetings helped ease tensions?

BJ: I believe so. Some members have told me they now feel like they have a voice and their concerns are being ad- dressed. We currently have 60 transportation ESPs involved in FEA out of 130 who are eligible. FEA’s total membership is 460. My goal by the end of this year is to have 110 signed up. In addition to Dr. Jeck, we are proud to include as FEA members Mr. Graham and other district officials.

NEA: How does it help to have the superintendent and several assistant superintendents as FEA members?

BJ: It elevates the school district to have senior leader officials who understand our perspective and are willing to advocate for FEA causes. For example, Dr. Jeck granted professional leave to educators who wanted to attend a

#RedForEd rally in Richmond (in January) at the statehouse. FEA chartered a bus. He joined us when we lobbied legisla- tors for increased school funding and even spoke at the rally expressing great support for teachers, ESPs, our students, and schools. This type of commitment, I believe, allows employees and administrators to interact and communicate as equals, [which benefits] students.

NEA: How did you get members of the superintendent’s team to join the union?

BJ: Each one was approached in their office, one on one.

Some were easier to convince than others.

NEA: What are you most proud of so far in your education career?

BJ: Helping to give ESPs a voice.

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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.