‘We Will Not Be Silent!’

At the 2014 NEA Representative Assembly (RA), held in July in Denver, Colo., nearly 7,000 delegates bid a warm farewell to outgoing NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and elected an historic trio of women— Lily Eskelsen García, president; Rebecca  “Becky” Pringle, vice president; and Princess Moss, secretary-treasurer—to lead them through the next three years. When the three take office Sept. 1 to lead NEA’s efforts to advocate for the interests of students and empower the educators who help to build their success, they will make NEA the first major union led The team will face a host of issues affecting the nation’s public schools: budget crises, inequity, corporate take-overs, attacks on educator rights, and more. And RA delegates spent their time determining ways to maintain the Association’s momentum and driving solutions to the challenges ahead.

NEA is determined to neutralize the influence of corporate reformers, and move equity front and center in the national conversation about public education. In his final keynote speech to RA delegates, Van Roekel called on educators to build on the association’s “student-centered strategy.”

“Educators have to become the champions of equity to define solutions that drive excellence and success for all students,” Van Roekel said. “There will be pushback. There will be struggle. And yes, there will be progress. There must be progress!”

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel with 2014 ESP of the Year Paula Monroe. Photo: Calvin Knight

Delegates responded July 3 with an overwhelmingly successful vote to take action against the “test, blame and punish” system that has dominated the last decade under No Child Left Behind. They approved the use of NEA resources to launch a national campaign to end the high stakes use of standardized tests, to sharply reduce the amount of student and instructional time consumed RA delegates also reaffirmed their commitment to continue working with states that adopted the Common Core State Standards to ensure the standards are properly implemented and that educators are properly trained and empowered to lead in that process.

The urgency to take more assertive measures on these critical issues was echoed “As others deliberate and debate, we have chosen to act…We are proud to be part of that solution, part of that investment,” McComb said. “We are proud to be a profession that takes up that call.”

Monroe passionately denounced the hordes of politicians and pushers of corporate education “reform” for their single-minded obsession with scapegoating educators.

“While they are attacking, threatening, and suing us, who is focusing on the real problems?” 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,” she said, adding, “We need to come together as one community of educators, sharing the great responsibility and honor of educating America’s students.”

ice President elect Rebecca Pringle, left, President elect Lily Eskelsen Garcia and Secretary-Treasurer elect Princess Moss celebrate after the election results were announced during the NEA Representative Assembly on July 4.

Delegates also honored Massachusetts’ Deval Patrick with the 2014 Greatest Governor award. Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old Pakistani girl who has become a world activist for children and education, was named the 2014 Friend to Education.

Aside from electing Eskelsen García, Pringle and Moss, delegates also elected two NEA Executive Committee members. Tennessee Educator Earl Wiman was re-elected to a second three-year term, and George Sheridan, a veteran educator from California, was newly elected to a three-year term.

On July 6, the fourth and final day, delegates heard from the new leadership team, and Eskelsen García issued a warning to those who “do not know what they are talking about,” when it comes to making public education stronger.

“We must measure what matters and put students’ needs at the center of the system once again,” she said. We can no longer allow politicians who have never stepped into a classroom define what it means to teach and learn.  At a time when nearly 50 percent of public school children live in low-income families,” Eskelsen García continued, “our country must refocus its priorities on the needs of the whole child and bridge the gaps that have only grown over the last decade. We know what is at stake, and it is why we are educators. It is why we are fearless and why we will not be silent.”