The humility, drive, and dignity that Judy Near is famous for in Colorado’s Canon City School District was evident Friday night at the NEA Education Support Professionals (ESP) Conference in Memphis, Tennessee, where Near was named the National Education Association’s 2012 ESP of the Year. As Near approached the dais at the Marriott Downtown Hotel Ballroom to receive her award, a $10,000 check, and flowers from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, the crowd of almost 1,000 attendees rose to their feet and cheered with abandon the newest recipient of NEA’s highest honor for an ESP. It was the first of three standing ovations.
“I did not get here alone,” said Near, a health technician and attendance clerk at Skyline Elementary School in Canon City. “There are so many people who should be standing up here with me.”
Near, who began her ESP career in 1985 as a substitute health technician, first thanked Colorado Education Association (CEA) President Beverly Ingle, “my friend and mentor.”
She went on to acknowledge the hard work done by members of the Canon City Education Support Personnel Association (CCESPA) and “all my Colorado BFFs.”
At Skyline, Near has worked fulltime since 1991 with the school nurse dispensing medications, providing first-aid, monitoring students with ongoing health concerns, and maintaining student health histories and attendance reports. In her nomination of Near for the award, Ingle said Near has shown great leadership at Skyline and with CCESPA, which Near and three other ESPs organized in 2000.
“I do not think of Judy as only an ESP leader,” Ingle said in her nomination essay. “I think of her as a selfless, respected, compassionate leader for us all. But I know that at Judy’s core, she holds tightly the interests of ESP members.”
In her remarks, Near urged her colleagues in the audience to “stand proud and speak loud” for member rights and the work performed by ESPs.
“No one does it better,” she said.
Ingle recalled how Near “led everyone through a spirited organizing campaign in 2000 that resulted in strong membership and recognition of CCESPA as the bargaining agent in a state without a statewide public employee bargaining law.” Near served as CCESPA’s president from 2001-2005 and 2007-2009. She currently serves as secretary for the local Association and is on the boards of CEA and NEA.
A graduate of Canon City High School, Near often travels across the state making presentations and helping other ESP locals get organized. Two years ago in Jefferson County, for example, Near worked with ESPs to affiliate their 1,500-member local with CEA.
“In the relatively short time that Judy has been an Association member, she has accomplished more than many leaders do in a lifetime,” says Ingle.
As ESP of the Year, Near will promote the values and concerns of NEA’s approximately 498,000 ESP members. In this capacity, she will travel to national, state and regional conferences in an ambassadorial role. More than four out of 10 public school employees are school support staff. NEA categorizes these non-classified workers into nine K-12 job categories, plus one for higher education.
This year’s conference theme was “ESP: It’s More Than a Job, It’s a Career!” The conference is designed to provide professional development opportunities for participants to help them gain the skills they need to build stronger locals, strong internal and external relationships, organize members, and enhance NEA ESP members’ ability to positively influence student achievement. The conference takes place over two full days of professional development seminars, as well as many pre-conference workshops.