NEW ORLEANS – On the second day of the 89th Representative Assembly – Independence Day – patriotic delegates form the National Education Association turned the convention hall red, white, and blue, honored the legacy of President Lyndon B. Johnson, and pledged to further his vision of quality public schools for all children.
The July 4th tribute for President Johnson focused on his Great Society – created by his signing into law a number of reforms, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act 45 years ago. As Johnson put pen to paper in 1965, the delegates put pen to paper for a giant petition demanding educators’ voices be heard in the impending reauthorization of ESEA.
That petition will be carried to the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
Election results were announced, with NEA Executive Committee members Christy Levings and Paula Monroe elected to another term.
NEA’s 2010 Education Support Professional of the Year, Helen Cottongim, delivered an inspiring speech. Cottongim, a bus driver and student transportation safety coordinator in Kentucky, helped establish the Kentucky Education Support Professional Association in 1980. Her commitment to her fellow ESPs and her students since then made her a fierce advocate for NEA, and she encouraged everyone to join her in this role.
“If you’re not already an Association addict who cares about kids and public school, you must become one,” Cottongim said.
In addition to the activism celebrated during the RA, delegates also spend time in each host city participating in community service projects. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel thanked Karen Seeling McInnis — a delegate from Lakeville, Minn., who has organized volunteers at the RA for the past 15 years.
This year, more than 300 NEA members volunteered with the annual Outreach to Teach event, sprucing up Belle Chasse High School in Plaquemines Parish, which sustained heavy damaged from Hurricane Katrina. Delegates have also helped stock the New Orleans Food Bank, served meals to the homeless, and “raised the roof” in Slidell, Louisiana, for Habitat to Humanity.
NEA’s HIN Disaster Relief Fund donated $37,000 to North Bay Elementary School in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Students have been learning in portable trailers since Katrina came ashore in 2005 and will be moving into their new building this fall.
Delegates also met the RA’s international guests, visiting from countries such as South Africa, Chile, the Netherlands, Australia, and Singapore. In paying tribute to the hard work of these and other activists around the world, President Van Roekel emphasized that international solidarity and advocacy not only protects public education but also, in some cases, educators’ lives.
Photo: Calvin Knight/NEA