Education Support Professionals Larger Than Life In Las Vegas

Family, friends and colleagues have been complimenting Scott Kulseth on his eye-catching billboard set against the backdrop of the Las Vegas skyline. Kulseth, a food service manager for the Clark County School District in Nevada, is one of nine members of the Education Support Employees Association (ESEA) whose smiling faces, first names and job titles are being featured on billboards alongside some of the busiest highways and flashiest streets in the Las Vegas Valley.

“People are quite surprised to see my photo on a billboard when they are driving on the highway,” Kulseth says. “The boards show that food service workers and other school support staff are an integral part of schools.”

The roadside displays are designed to thank education support professionals (ESPs) for their commitment to serving at a public school. The billboard message also urges viewers to visit the ESEA website where they can send a “thank you” e-mail to one of the ESPs featured on a billboard.

Sue Schucker, a paraeducator at Ober Elementary School, was pleasantly surprised when she learned that her photo would appear on a billboard.

“I’m honored that they picked me,” she says. “I hope we can get some new members out of this.”

The billboard campaign is part of a larger community outreach plan to showcase the work and dedication of Clark County ESPs. It includes posting Tweets, Facebook messages, and online informational advertising aimed at informing the community about the work and contributions of ESPs that often goes unnoticed.

“We believe our ESP members go unappreciated, so we thought we should engage the community by inviting them to join ESEA in thanking support staff for all they do,” says Claudia Briggs, director of communications for the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA). “Throughout the year, the community mostly hears of the negative things going on in schools, like budget cuts. But it’s very rare that we hear about the hard-working men and women who are not teachers but who make school days possible.”

ESEA is NEA’s largest ESP local with almost 6,000 members. Since last September when the campaign started, ESEA recruited more than 700 new members “who realized the importance of belonging to the union,” says Brian Christensen, ESEA executive director.

“ESPs are the unsung heroes of education,” he says. “We want to inspire them. We want to give them kudos.”

Christensen also wants the public to know that most ESPs in Clark County live, shop, and vote in the same district where they work.

“They help elect school board members,” he says. “ESPs volunteer in the community and give money out of their own pockets to help students with classroom materials and projects.”

Nationally, 77 percent of ESPs live in the same school districts where they work.  Also, according to NEA research, 61 percent of ESPs give $163 per year on average to help students in need.

The highly visible “thank you” messages are displayed on steel-framed digital boards measuring 14-by-48 feet and supported by steel poles more than two stories high. Digital billboards are designed to display several different advertisements (usually 6-8 per board) that alternate after a set time (usually 6-8 seconds).

As thousands of daily commuters drive the long stretches of U.S. Highway 95 and Interstates 215 and 15, they will likely catch a glimpse of Bessie, Bob, Johnnie, Jose, Lori, Tess or Floyd. Along with Sue and Scott, these ESPs represent NEA’s nine K-12 ESP job categories. The billboard campaign runs through August and is sponsored by ESEA in collaboration with NSEA.

“There is always one of our ESPs on display at any given moment,” says Christensen.

“I haven’t seen mine yet, but I’m looking forward to it,” says Floyd Dominguez, a district irrigation installer and repair technician. “I like our union. They are always there for me. They have given me a voice at the bargaining table, and now they have given me a billboard.”