Everybody knows Paula. Ask any of the approximately 1,000 attendees of NEA’s Education Support Professional (ESP) Conference in San Francisco about Paula Monroe and most everyone will know the name. Others will know the face.
In her 26 years with the Redlands Unified School District in California, Monroe has compiled an impressive record of local, state and national Association service. She is a staunch ESP advocate and path breaker who started her career as a paraprofessional before changing course to serve the district as a clerk-typist and then a secretary.
Throughout, she has held many elected positions with the California Teachers Association (CTA), and Redlands Education Support Professionals Association including as its president from 1999 to 2007. In 2000, Monroe was elected to the NEA board of directors and most recently completed a second term with NEA’s executive committee.
After decades of speaking at education and labor rallies, addressing the issues of NEA’s 500,000 ESP members and other educators, and facilitating meetings with Association members, business, media and government leaders, Monroe remains as active and popular as ever. At Friday’s conference banquet, Monroe added to her stature by being named the 2014 NEA ESP of the Year.
“The people I really want to acknowledge are the colleagues who crossed the stage with me tonight,” said Monroe, referring to the 31 other state ESPs of the Year who introduced themselves to the audience from the dais. “So many of you are really good friends of mine and I would have been thrilled if any of you had been selected.”
In his introduction, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel praised Monroe for mentoring other ESPs and for her many volunteer activities with organizations such as the Girl Scouts of America and the Adopt-a-Family program.
“She has a passion for helping others, particularly her fellow educators,” said Van Roekel, who presented Monroe with a shining glass trophy award and a $10,000 check. “ESPs have never had a greater champion than Paula Monroe.”
NEA ESP Quality Department Director Roxanne Dove, who has known Monroe for almost 20 years, said she is “a dynamic, high performing leader who is always on the right side of the issues.”
Monroe is a founding member of the National Coalition of Classified Employees, which includes approximately 1 million classified school support employees.
Earlier in her career, Monroe campaigned for years to have ESPs admitted as full CTA members. In 2006, CTA changed its bylaws and included 5,000 ESPs as full members.
“That was a big thing to me,” an emotional Monroe said from the podium.
“Paula understood for ESPs to have a voice in CTA, there had to be a network of committed members who would be willing to work with teachers and CTA leadership as equals,” said CTA President Dean Vogel in his written nomination of Monroe for the award. “This is consistent with her personal values and that of the union.”
Reverence for Monroe is so prevalent among California members that CTA’s board of directors voted last March to name the state ESP of the Year award in her honor. Thus, when Monroe won the award last year, she received the Paula J. Monroe ESP of the Year Award.
“Paula has challenged the actions of agencies, CTA and NEA staff and elected officials for situations that do not convey support or respect for ESP contributions to public education,” said Vogel, who along with more than 75 CTA members witnessed a rare occasion in ESP history: a state ESP of the Year winning the national award on their home ground.
This year’s conference theme is “ESPs: Ensuring Student and School Success.” The conference is designed to help ESPs gain the skills they need to organize stronger locals, build strong internal and external relationships, and enhance their ability to influence student achievement. More than four out of 10 public school employees are school support staff, who NEA categorizes into nine K-12 job groups, plus one for higher education. The ESP of the Year award was approved by the NEA Representative Assembly in 1991. The first award was presented in 1992.