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VEA News & Advocacy

Delegates Leave Convention Recharged,
Ready to Advocate for Schools and Students

More than 900 VEA members traveled to Virginia Beach, creating a chorus of celebration and defiance as the Association looks down the road for public education in the Commonwealth. The celebration was for the often-unheralded work being done with young people in public schools across the state; the defiance was for those who seek to undermine our schools and scapegoat our educators.

NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen, a Utah teacher, kicked things off with a fire-up-the-troops keynote speech, urging members to take a “personal, obnoxious pride” in what they do every day.

"This is not easy work," she told the delegation, "and I will not let anyone suck the joy out of being an educator. We have always been proud of our students--it's time to be proud of ourselves, too. There are a million things we have to do every day to meet the needs of our students."

VEA President Dr. Kitty Boitnott also brought the crowd to its feet, issuing a ringing call to action, challenging members to become part of the solution by taking a strong and lasting stand on behalf of students and schools. Some of her remarks appear in her column on the facing page.

Bedford County member Cheryl Sprouse, chair of VEA’s Legislative Committee, asked delegates if they were satisfied with what happened in this year's General Assembly. In response to their resounding "No!" she got the delegation chanting, "Now is the time!" to take action on behalf of students, schools and educators.

 President-elect Meg Gruber of Prince William addressed the delegation, accompanied to the podium by singing, clapping Prince William Education Association delegates. Gruber, who ran unopposed, thanked members for their ongoing support and calling for collaboration in the months and years ahead. “In this difficult environment for public education,” she said, “I cannot do this job alone. We must do it together.”

In other convention happenings, Virginia Beach Education Association President Dominic Melito was elected VEA Vice President, gaining 61 percent of the votes cast to Mecklenburg’s Steve Whitten’s 39 percent. Melito will begin serving a two-year term August 1. Fred “Arnold” Hash of Grayson County was also elected as an Alternate ESP-at-Large member of the VEA Board of Directors after his opponent, Arthur Anderson of Chesapeake, withdrew his candidacy.

In addition, delegates passed several items of new business, including a call for a statewide health insurance plan for public employees in order to cut costs, increased training opportunities for VEA members interested in running for public office, and providing for a more readily-accessible way to distribute important information in school buildings.

VEA fundraisers outdid themselves, raising $84,390 for political action to elect friends of public education. For more fundraising heroics, see the President's Circle at

Become an Activist!

On the heels of a very successful return last summer, VEA will once again hold the Reggie Smith Organizing School (RSOS) at the University of Richmond in July.

If you’d like to be part of the change you know needs to happen in your school and community, register for the School, which has for its theme “Taking Back Our Profession,” by June 22.
Participants will spend much of the time in content “strands,” which include compensation, political action, organizing, building more effective locals, emerging leaders, and more. Another highlight will be keynote speaker Michael Gecan, author of Going Public: An Organizer’s Guide to Citizen Action.
RSOS dates are July 24-26. To register, visit the VEA website at


Time to Make a Choice
By Dr. Kitty Boitnott, VEA President

I’ve come to believe that the VEA is one of the last defenders of public education in Virginia. The forces that would dismantle our public schools in favor of private enterprise are growing, and I fear for our future unless we take a stand and stand strong.

 I read a quote recently that really struck me: “If you want to be part of the solution, get involved. If you don’t, don’t complain.”

 I think it’s a great line, and I realized it’s because I began to complain over 30 years ago that things changed for me. I wasn’t happy about how things were going back in the 1980s. I thought very seriously about leaving teaching—and then I heard Mary Futrell, president of the NEA during that time, talk about her vision for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. I decided to stick around and get involved in a solution. I became national board certified hoping that it would quench my thirst for the respect that was lacking for my profession. It helped some, but the attacks on my profession continue every day.

 This past session of our General Assembly was a new low point for me in our battle on behalf of public education. Because we were legitimately mournful over the tone of the session, we were mocked by a Delegate who referred to our “Black Friday” event as “playing dress-up.” Weeks later, two Senators referred to teachers repeatedly as “lemons” doing a “lemon dance.”
What in the world is going on? How is it that teachers have become scapegoats for society’s ills? And why are our members and other colleagues not rising up in protest—in righteous indignation and anger?

I know people are overwhelmed with work and other activities. And let’s face it—there is a tendency to think that the VEA has your back so you don’t need to pay attention to what’s going on. We do have your back, and we do pay attention to what’s happening so you can be freed up to do what you need to do; but there is a limit to what we can do without your active engagement and support.
Let me tell you a secret: the VEA staff didn’t stop HB576, the continuing contract bill. Our members did! You did! That defeat was the result of thousands of people at home who wrote thousands of emails and made hundreds of phone calls to their legislators. Individual action turned into collective action.
We have a decision to make—you have a decision to make—are you going to be part of the solution? Or are you going to wait for someone else to save the day?
Do we not understand or appreciate that we are the last defense between a public school education and the privatization of education for the privileged or the lucky lottery-winning few?
It seems to me that each of us has a choice to make. Can you make that choice?

VEA Honors Educators, Legislators

Retired State Senator William C. Wampler Jr., a longtime advocate for Virginia’s public schools, received the VEA’s highest honor, the Friend of Education Award, during the annual awards dinner held at the convention.

Sen. Wampler earned a seat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee in 1991 and in 1996, he became a member of its Education Subcommittee. In 2004, he was a member of the Senate leadership who worked with Senator John Chichester and Governor Mark Warner to bring an additional $1.5 billion to our schools. In his final years of service, Wampler served as a budget conferee.


Award for Teaching Excellence
Kellie Blair-Hardt of Manassas, a middle school special education teacher, is a leader, sharing her knowledge with others through workshops, presentations, and programs. She received a plaque and a cash award of $500, which she immediately donated back to the VEA Fund.

Education Support Professional of the Year
Richard “Ric” Clark
, a bus driver in Prince William County for 12 years, serves as a mentor to other drivers and was selected by his peers to serve on the Superintendent’s Driver and Attendant Council. He has also served for many years as the primary Association rep for PWEA member-drivers and attendants.

2012 Legislator of the Year
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus has stood by Virginia school employees with their voices and with their votes. Of the 19 members of the General Assembly who had a VEA Report Card score of 100 percent, nine were members of this group.

Legislative Rookie of the Year
Republican Joseph Yost bucked party leadership when the issues involved public education. He voted against public money going to private schools, for due process rights for teachers, and against reductions in our retirement benefits. 

Fitz Turner Commission’s Youth Award for Human Relations and Civil Rights
Najeeba Niyaz Gootee, a senior at Atlee High School in Hanover County, created and led her own three-part service project that introduced photography to underprivileged elementary students, assisted with Special Olympics, volunteered with Hospital Hospitality House, and been involved with Earth Day and Global Youth Service Day events.

VEA Award for Distinguished Service for the Cause of Public Education
For years, Robert Rotz of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) has brought honesty to the debate regarding Virginia’s adherence to our state’s constitution and to the Standards of Quality. In recent years, two JLARC reviews of K-12 education funding done under his direction as project leader resulted in a significant infusion of much-needed dollars for our underfunded schools.

The VEA-Retired Distinguished Service Award
Martha Wood of Albemarle County retired in 1993 after 34 years of teaching, but her contributions to public education have, if anything, grown since. She was instrumental in creating VEA-Retired and held several positions in that organization, including Vice-President, President, Retired Representative on the VEA Board of Directors, and Secretary-Treasurer, her current position. Martha has helped create local VEA-R chapters, lobbied legislators, and has tirelessly promoted VEA-Retired membership across the state.

Association Activism Awards
The Fairfax Education Association earned this for its efforts to get full-day kindergarten in all county schools and its advocacy for employee raises. FEA had parents and teachers meet with school board members and members of the Board of Supervisors, write letters, distribute flyers, testify at meetings, and hold a rally before the Board of Supervisors budget vote. When the votes were cast, FEA and its partners had won on both full-day kindergarten and pay raises.

The Gloucester Education Association was also honored for its efforts to improve the quality of the public education debate in its county. GEA proposed to the school board the development and adoption of a policy on civility that could inform and educate the school and parent community, protecting school employees from uncivil, inappropriate or threatening behaviors. Last fall, the policy was included in the Student Code of Conduct document that all students have their parents review and sign.

Communications & Public Relations Award
The Fairfax Education Association also earned this honor for its “Focused on Reading” project, conducted with the Lions Club of Northern Virginia. FEA and the Lions collected eyeglasses in conjunction with the Read Across America celebration. They educated Fairfax students on the importance of community service, brought many guest readers into the schools, and ultimately collected 713 pairs of eyeglasses to be donated to those in need around the world.



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