Paula Monroe is unequivocally an Education Support Professional (ESP), a high school secretary in Redlands, Calif. It is a title she immediately says upon meeting new people or speaking to an audience. A designation she dons proudly and one that has allowed her to nationally advocate for ESPs, raising their profile along the way. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed, which is why she is the 2014 NEA ESP of the Year. Monroe was honored at the NEA Representative Assembly (RA) on Saturday.
Monroe held numerous leadership roles in her local association, later becoming the president of the California Education Support Professionals. She was on the executive board of the National Council for Education Support Professionals, and in 2000 she was elected as NEA Board of Directors and then as a member of NEA’s Executive Committee in 2007.
A formidable activist for an inclusive organization, Monroe has been credited with being a driving force behind the vote in June 2006 to change the bylaws of the California Teachers Association to include support professionals as full, active members. The change allowed 5,000 ESPs to become full members of the state Association.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel introduced Monroe to the RA delegates by praising her hard work and dedication to her students and fellow members. “I can’t think of a better person to represent the cause of ESPs—or all educators—than our Education Support Professional of the Year, Paula Monroe,” said Van Roekel. “She understands that in order to fight for student success, we, as educators, must fight together.”
In her acceptance speech, Monroe said that winning the award “is probably the greatest honor of my life” and urged all educators to continue to stand together in the face of unprecedented challenges.
“Educators, we must rethink our roles,” Monroe said. “ESP’s and teachers creating new relationships with one another, and working collaboratively on behalf of our students and their families…We need to come together as one community of educators, sharing the great responsibility and honor of educating America’s students.”
Monroe condemned the mean-spirited and divisive attacks that have been leveled at educators over the past few years. They’ve been harmful to the profession, but the real damage is felt by students, families and communities, Monroe said.
“While they are attacking, threatening, and suing us, who is focusing on the real problems? While they’re trying to silence our voices, what are we doing to address the massive inequities of our country? “ Monroe asked. “We need to focus on the real solutions to the entrenched social and economic problems that threaten to cripple our nation and destroy our children and students – violent crime and gun violence, long term unemployment, drug and substance abuse, racism, sexism, classism, and poverty.”
ESPs make critical contributions to the academic success of students every day. But, as Monroe pointed out, that is only half the story.
“We must also attend to their social, emotional, and physical needs. ESPs meet the needs of the whole student every day, ensuring their health, safety, engagement and support.”
This commitment is unwavering, even in the face of relentless attacks in the media, attempts to strip educators’ rights, and struggles for a living wage.
“We still come to school every day and educate America’s children,” Monroe told the delegates. “We meet every adversity with courage. No matter how bad our circumstance may be, no matter how insurmountable the problem we face, we ESPs always reach deep inside and persevere. We do it because our students are our first priority. “