Notes from Camp: Sunday, July 6

I drafted this year’s final “Notes from Camp” on the plane back from Denver. The Representative Assembly adjourned Sunday evening at 6:29–an unusually early ending for An RA with an unusually large amount of business. The flight gives me an opportunity to update some of the items I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Overall, it was a pretty good RA for the Ohio delegation.

  • OEA President Becky Higgins’s first year of NEA caucuses were efficient, open, and positive.
  • Some Ohio delegates were disappointed that the delegation never went on record as supporting either of the candidates for NEA Secretary-Treasurer, but that seemed to be the will of the body since no candidate ever got enough votes for the win.
  • Ohio’s delegation contributed the fifth-highest total of all the state delegations ($68,973) to the Fund for Children and Public Education (FCPE), with (perhaps more important) 100% participation by Ohio’s 292 delegates.

Ohio delegates submitted two New Business Items on behalf of the Ohio delegation: NBIs 19 and 58, submitted by Ohio delegates Ray Beiersdorfer and Kevin Carlin respectively.

  • A modified form of NBI 19 passed: “NEA shall use existing resources and publications to educate its members about the environmental and health effects of shale gas fracking.”
  • NBI 58 was referred to a committee to be determined: “NEA will use existing resources to educate its members and the public about how charter schools are funded and what accountability standards to which they are held compared to public schools.”

The RA typically honors a Friend of Education, and this year was no exception. This year’s Friend of Education was Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Afghan education crusader who continues to recover from an assassination attempt ion 2012. Her inability to attend the RA didn’t prevent delegates from honoring her with a sustained standing ovation for her heroism.

There are elections at NEA every year, of course, but this year’s were especially important. Vice President Lily Eskelsen Garcia’s was elected President and Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Pringle was elected Vice President. In an extremely close election, Princess Moss won the position of Secretary-Treasurer. For the next three years–and perhaps as many as six–the executive officers of America’s largest labor union, 80% of whose members are women, will be women.

It’s no surprise, then, that all eyes were on the new President-elect as she took the podium for her acceptance speech. She threw down a challenge to those who mistakenly push the agenda she refers to as “privatization, de-professionalization, and standardization.”

“People who don’t know what they’re talking about are talking about increasing the use of commercial standardized tests in high-stakes decisions about students and about educators . . . when all the evidence that can be gathered shows that it is corrupting what it means to teach and what it means to learn,” García told the delegate assembly. “Everything is possible to people who don’t know anything.”

She reminded delegates of the importance of what they do: “Our work is made of flesh and blood. Our work is the future of everything.”

García recalled Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign mantra, “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” She then added her own version: “For us, one thing is clear, before anything is going to get better: It’s the Testing, Stupid. Better yet, it’s the stupid testing.”

These are difficult times to be an educator or a student in America, and what lies ahead for NEA and America’s schools is uncertain. The 10,000-plus delegates, staff, and guests who gathered at the Colorado Convention Center this past week got a preview of what the struggle ahead looks like.

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Fourth of July – couple of days late!

The days at the NEA Representative Assembly are intense and your nights can be quite full … all of this to say that I will use this last day to catch up on some posts!

Many members are surprised that we meet and work through the holiday. It is tough to be away from the greater Cleveland area and not enjoy hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, but the NEA makes certain to have some holiday festivities – our NEA Choir sang several patriotic selections, delegates were dressed in their finest holiday fashions (quite a sight) and there were lots of balloons and confetti.

It is a tradition for the OEA districts to host an event one night during the week of the RA. This year our NEA Event Committee back home planned a night for the delegates at the Downtown Aquarium. We invited the other districts and their delegates to join us. Six districts joined us for an amazing evening of fish, sharks and other sea creatures. The Denver Aquarium was the venue for our buffet dinner and opportunity to view the city fireworks on the balcony which overlooked Elitch Park. The reviews the next morning were fabulous. Everyone enjoyed the night and Denver’s fireworks show.

NEOEA hit our 100% participation for the FCPE ribbon yesterday at the morning caucus. Each Ohio delegate is encouraged to give $180 to the fund while at the RA. Ohio will often sponsor silent auctions each day and a live auction with some great items on the last morning. Special appreciation to our OEA/NEOEA Directors who are delegates in Denver this week and helped to make sure each of our delegates participated. Just like we push for active fund participation at our own representative assemblies in Ohio – we push here at the national level – even a little harder.

The early morning Ohio Caucus, held in our hotel ballroom, is filled with work and activities. It is here that the delegates take positions, after recommendations from the steering committee and debate, on new business items; as well as resolutions and legislative issues. Delegates are treated to a continental breakfast and it can sometimes be a casual atmosphere with many activities happening (gathering district information, making donations, purchasing chances for drawings) on the outskirts of the ballroom. This year’s caucuses have been filled with many close votes on candidates and issues. It has been more important than ever for the delegates to be present, attentive, and credentialed – in order to vote. You need to be in your seat for your vote to count.

By the way, this is the 152nd NEA Representative Assembly. What a tradition of strength and solidarity. Proud to be NEA!

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Notes from Camp: Saturday, July 5

More on Substance

Recent columns have mentioned two main types of business that comes before the RA. With today’s session things begin to become more complicated as other types of business come to the fore. Here’s a quick primer about some of the types of items that come up at the RA.

Constitution and Bylaws Amendments: These are amendments to the basic governing documents of NEA.

  • Amendments to the NEA Constitution must be submitted the year before they will be voted on. Amendments proposed for next year must be submitted by the end of the secenth session, which is the morning session tomorrow.
  • Amendments to the NEA Bylaws must be submitted 120 days before the Annual Meeting at which they are to be considered.

One of the recurring themes in these amendments is proportional representation. Delegates will vote today on an amendment to remove the Constitutional requirement that classroom teachers constitute 75% of the members of virtually all committees and on a Bylaws amendment requiring that state delegations to the NEA RA be allocated proportionally among various categories of members. OEA’s delegates have voted to support the first and oppose the second.

Another Constitutional amendment to change the frequency of the RA from annual to triannual has been withdrawn. Voting on Constitution and Bylaws issues takes place today.

Elections: President Dennis Van Roekel is term-limited as President, and delegates elected Vice President Lily Eskelsen Garcia as President yesterday with 94% of the vote. Delegates elected Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Pringle as Vice President with 92% of the vote and Princess Moss as Secretary-Treasurer with 53% of the vote.

Two positions on the NEA Executive Committee are to be elected this year. There were five candidates; each delegate gets two votes. At NEA, pluralities don’t win; candidates must get a majority. Incumbent Earl Wiman was re-elected, and delegates will choose today between the next two vote-getters, George Sheridan and Shelly Moore. The Ohio caucus voted this morning to endorse Moore.

A group calling itself the EON/BAMN caucus (Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary) ran candidates for President, VP, and XC, receiving 6%, 8%, and 7% of the votes respectively. EON/BAMN candidates advocate more general liberal positions and confrontation rather than compromise, a tension which characterizes much of the debate at the Representative Assembly.

New Business Items: In yesterday’s “Notes from Camp” I noted what seem to be some themes in the New Business Items that have been submitted here. We have more NBIs than we’ve seen in a long time: by the noon deadline yesterday, a whopping 107 NBIs had been submitted in addition to the three lettered NBIs that were submitted earlier on behalf of the Board of Directors. DVR is working hard to keep the delegates on task so that the RA has a chance of ending at a reasonable time tomorrow.

Legislative Amendments, Resolutions, and Policy Statements: These are policy documents which come up for renewal each year. In each case, the RA considers amendments, which can be submitted by various committees or by delegates.

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Notes from Camp: Friday, July 4

A lot of the readers of these blogs are “folks back home”–family members sharing their loved ones’ experiences, retired delegates who don’t come to the RA any more, or colleagues who elected delegates and wonder just what they’re doing.

The question that many of those readers ask me is: what is it about? Just what are all these issues that so occupy this group?

Today I’m going to drop the details and focus on the broad strokes. Although today’s RA Today listed 77 NBIs, we know that there will be plenty more before the RA concludes on Sunday evening. Still, based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s possible to see the broad outlines of the delegates’ concerns.

  • They were angered but not surprised by the Vergara decision attacking fair dismissal rights in California, because like all educators, they know that we have enemies and that those enemies have a lot of money to spend on lawsuits aimed at educators. But they were enraged when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan–appointed by a President they believe should know better–said that the decision constituted a “mandate to fix these problems.” For years, the RA heard calls for Duncan’s resignation, and proposals to formally request that resignation never passed. Today, NBI 23, calling for Duncan’s resignation, passed with Ohio’s support. (Text can be found here.)
  • Call it what you like–“toxic testing,” “kill and drill,” or some other pejorative–educators have had it with the abuse and overreach of standardized testing. Whether they focus on the damage to students, to teachers, or to scholarship itself, just about everybody here opposes the way in which testing has taken over teaching and learning.
  • A third issue is the increasing trend toward education privatization–whether in the form of education providers like charter schools or testing providers like Pearson. Many speakers have claimed that the profit motive, and not actual concerns about school quality, is the major impetus for both accountability and school choice programs.

Tomorrow will be soon enough for a progress report, but sometimes it’s good to look at the big picture, so I wanted to highlight the emerging themes of this year’s RA. The three I’ve noted are dominating the discussions and influencing the elections. More on that tomorrow.

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Initial Observations from President Conkey

Observations from NEOEA’s President in Denver at the NEA RA … it has taken me a couple of days to catch up with all the happenings. The altitude has not helped. It seems that everyone is affected differently – me … so very lethargic in the afternoon. After some adjustment, I am pumped and ready to go.

Denver is a great city. Lots of sunshine all day and very cool evenings which allow for strolls down the 16th Street Mall. This is a strip about 20 blocks long, lined with stores and restaurants. They also have a free bus that takes passengers up and down the mall. What a great way to support the local businesses. The city is also rehabbing the area around Union Station and the new ballpark where the Rockies played last night. The area is referred to as LoDo (Lower Downtown) and huge condominiums are being built in anticipation of the new residents. It is a much newer city than the ones we are used to on the east coast, so there are many tall new buildings and a great public transportation system. I took the light rail to Littleton the other day. I like to jump on public transportation when out of town; way to get a feel for the locals.

It has been an OEA tradition for some time that each district sponsors an event. Tonight NEOEA delegates, along with other invited districts, will travel to the Denver Downtown Aquarium. We will enjoy a dinner buffet, have the opportunity to visit the big and little fish and then view the city fireworks on the balcony. We are all looking forward to the event and are thrilled to have four other districts join us tonight for the festivities. Special thanks to our committee back home for planning the excursion.

Another tradition other districts have had over the years is seat covers for the delegates. NEOEA has engaged in numerous discussions over the years regarding the logistics of SEAT COVERS … I know, right – how could there be so much conversation around a cover?! You have no idea. 2014 has seen the debut of NEOEA seat covers. The response has been very positive. It is good to see the sea of blue in the OEA delegation. Makes me proud!

Tomorrow is NEOEA wind shirt day and the “class picture” event. Stay tuned.

Happy Fourth of July to our members back home! Enjoy the day with family and friends.

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Notes from Camp: Thursday, July 3

The Representative Assembly is about the size of a small city, so like most cities it has its own newspaper: RA Today. When delegates met for the first of our 7:00 a.m. caucuses this morning, they found today’s RA Today waiting for them. Today’s issue included the first group of NBIs (New Business Items), and the proposal Ohio approved yesterday at the request of delegate Ray Beiersdorfer appeared there as NBI 19.

Ohio’s Steering Committee had spent a jolly morning discussing some sixteen of those NBIs, and delegates took positions to accept or overrule their recommendations.

Having declined an opportunity to endorse a candidate for NEA Secretary-Treasurer at the June caucus, delegates considered an endorsement motion again. For fifteen minutes delegates took turns debating the merits of Greg Johnson and Princess Moss. Once again delegates voted, and once again a motion to endorse failed.

Although the remaining RA sessions will begin at 10:00, the first one begins at 10:30, giving delegates a bit more time to navigate from caucuses to the Convention Center. Ohio is fortunate this year to be housed just a few blocks from the Convention Center, so many of us eschewed the settle buses and walked to the convention.

After NEA President Dennis Van Roekel (henceforth called DVR here) called delegates to order and introduced various people on stage, he delivered his last keynote speech to the RA.

DVR reflected on the 35 NEA Representative Assemblies he has attended as a delegate and officer and on the changes in the educational landscape over those years. He laid out his ideas for an agenda for the future: 1) expand early childhood education to improve school readiness, 2) redirect resources away from testing companies and toward  improved conditions of learning and teaching,  3) create high standards for all learners and 4) take ownership of and responsibility for a quality teacher workforce.

Candidates in the elections to be held tomorrow made their campaign speeches, and after a recess the RA began consideration of New Business Items. The RA passed three NBIs submitted by the Board of Directors (these are lettered) and considered NBIs 1 through 5. (Full information on NBIs is available at nea.org/grants/33354.htm.)

Following that work session, delegates honored the Outstanding America Governor of the Year, Duval Patrick of Massachusetts, who appeared by video due to weather-related concerns in Massachusetts.

The RA actually adjourned prior to the scheduled 6:00 adjournment time!

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July! We’ll wear some patriotic clothes, celebrate Independence Day at the Convention Center, and NEOEA and several other OEA districts will celebrate at the Denver Downtown Aquarium.

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Notes from Camp: Wednesday, July 2

After hundreds of arrivals, check-ins, and greetings, the business of NEA’s delegates began in earnest today.

NEA’s standing rules required each caucus to hold one meeting before today. Many states held their first caucuses yesterday in Denver; Ohio is one of a handful of states that hold their first caucus at home, so we met in early June and didn’t need to caucus yesterday. But all the states had caucuses today, and Ohio’s delegates gathered dutifully at 7:30 a.m. in the Marriott’s Colorado ballroom. This actually amounts to “sleeping in”: starting tomorrow, caucuses begin at 7:00.

To make all this happen, many hardy souls are active long before the caucus begins. When President-elect Kim Richards and I arrived at 6:30 this morning, several caucus committees were already working in the ballroom to make sure that information, literature, seating, etc., were all set up properly for a successful meeting.

One important group didn’t meet this morning, but they’ll be about their business at 6:00 tomorrow morning: that’s the Steering Committee, a ten-person group that attempts to preview the hundred or so proposals that are expected to come before the RA and recommend positions for the caucus to take on those items. In fact, much of the caucus’s meeting time will be taken up in hearing those recommendations and then deciding whether to support or oppose the proposals. The Steering Committee won’t begin those 6:00 meetings until tomorrow, so they didn’t have any recommendations for the caucus to hear.

That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t business. Ray Beiersdorfer, a first-time delegate from YSU-OEA, proposed that the delegation introduce a one-sentence NBI (New Business Item): “NEA shall use existing resources and publications to educate its members about the environmental and health dangers of shale gas fracking.” The Ohio delegation voted to do so, and now Ray will go through the process of formally submitting his proposal, and when we see it again it will have an NBI number. Delegates have until noon Friday to submit NBIs, but the sooner the better–NBIs are considered in the order in which they’re received, and delegates tend to get testy later in the four days.

It’s impossible to tell what the dominating theme of the RA will be: NEA is intensely democratic, and delegates are quite capable of setting their own agenda. But a few issues are already clear.

  • This will be Dennis Van Roekel’s last RA as President, and delegates will elect his successor. Vice President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia is running for the office and spoke to Ohio delegates today. The election is contested, but we haven’t heard the opposing voices yet.
  • The position of Secretary-Treasurer will be open, and two candidates from NEA’s Executive Committee are vying for the opening: Princess Moss of Virginia and Greg Johnson of Oklahoma. As of today, Ohio’s delegates have not endorsed either. Both candidates visited the caucus in June, and both showed up again today.
  • What Eskelsen-Garcia decried as “standardization, de-professionalization, and privatization” will probably be a major focus: the atmosphere is not cheery, and the speeches of most candidates we’ve heard have reflected educators’ anger and frustration.
  • Delegates and other interested citizens are being encouraged to electronically sign an open letter “from NEA and the Educators of America” by going to nea.org/StopToxicTests. The first NBIs to be considered tomorrow, submitted by the NEA Board of Directors, are titled “NEA Campaign against Toxic Testing” and “Redefining Public School Accountability.”

This blog is read both by delegates and by friends back home! There’s plenty of information on NEA’s website at nea.org/grants/1357.htm, and the GPS Network will be livestreaming the RA at GPSnetwork.org/RA2014. Dennis Van Roekel’s keynote address is the first streaming video event, scheduled for 12:30 on Thursday.

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