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VEA News & Advocacy


New VEA President Meg Gruber: From Non-Member to Activist, Leader


An introduction to new VEA President Meg Gruber, an earth science teacher in Prince William County, from longtime colleague Jane Stevens, who is now retired:

"You're to blame for this," were the first words I heard when I walked into the party celebrating Meg Gruber’s election as VEA president in June. 

"Guilty," I replied. But in truth, I didn’t feel guilty at all. I’m very proud of Meg and of being the one who helped bring her into the Association. 

Twenty-seven years ago, when I team-taught with Meg at Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge, I never imagined she would become VEA President. We had much in common, and hit it off immediately. I was the LD resource teacher, but I think I ended up learning more earth science than any of the kids.

I had been active in the Association when I taught in North Carolina, so when I was asked to help with the spring membership drive at G-F, I agreed—and asked Meg to join. She declined, telling me that VEA always endorsed Democrats and she was a Republican. I pointed out two local Republican officials, Jim Dillard and Harry Parrish, whom we had endorsed. I also suggested that if she joined and got involved she could have a voice in our endorsements. Again, she politely declined. 

The next year, Meg changed her mind, joined the Prince William Education Association and saw firsthand some of membership’s benefits when she filed a grievance. I served as her advocate throughout that process, and the grievance was settled in her favor without reaching the school board. 

That spring, I asked Meg is she’d like to run for an open position as a building representative. She agreed to do it, took over the position and soon plunged wholeheartedly into activism. I remember at Meg's first VEA convention she got so fired up she took to the microphone and spoke. Maybe that's when she got what I call the Association "bug."

Several years later I became the PWEA president. By then, Meg was the head building rep at G-F, and a great support to me. There were several controversial issues before us during that first year, and I could always count on her to pitch in, no matter what needed to be done. In fact, she soon became the "go-to" person for support at G-F for all the school’s members, and that reputation soon spread to other schools in the county. Her hard work helped our membership grow. 

I recommended her appointment to VEA’s Professional Rights and Responsibilities Commission, where she continued to work hard and gain valuable knowledge and experience. In Prince William, she served on the meet and confer, political action, membership, and other committees.

When I decided not to run for a second term, I tried to get Meg to run for president. She said she wasn't ready, but agreed to run for vice-president. She served two terms, and again was a wonderful support to the president and the entire Association. I think the "bug" was firmly implanted in her system by then, and she was more than ready to take on the PWEA presidency. She hit the ground running in that position, continuing to increase our membership, and constantly working for member rights.

I remember someone at a meeting saying, prophetically, “Someday Meg will be VEA President.”  Meg got to know more about the rest of Virginia and the country through her involvement and diligent work in the VEA and NEA, leading to her successful campaign for and tenure as one of Virginia’s members on the NEA Board of Directors. Next came the campaign for VEA vice president, which she undertook with grace and more hard work—and was again ready to hit the ground running when she became president.

I know she’ll continue to work hard, and serve VEA members and all of public education in the state exceptionally well. I will continue to be proud of her, and ready to help whenever I can.

You never know: The next person you ask to join VEA could someday become the Association’s president. 

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A MESSAGE FROM VEA PRESIDENT


A RENEWED CALL TO ORGANIZE

I am honored to be your new president, and grateful for the introduction on the opposite page from my good friend, Jane Stevens. I look at the VEA presidency as a labor of love—love for our profession, the students and communities we serve, and especially all our members.

These are challenging times for all of us in public education, but VEA has always stood strong during tough times. In fact, we were born during a crisis! 

In 2013, we will be celebrating our 150th anniversary. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, a small group of Virginia educators called for a conference in Petersburg. Their aims, as expressed in their “Call to Organize,” were foremost practical; they wanted access to school books and a means to share information, such as a written journal. To realize these aims, the organizers wrote, “It may be deemed expedient to organize a permanent State Educational Association.” The organization became, after several name changes, the Virginia Education Association.

We’ve never backed away from our calling – to provide quality public education for all students.  We’ll need our collective strength more than ever now– the current attacks on public education are not designed to improve it, but indict it, condemn it and ultimately deem it a failure so as to pave the way for privatization at the expense of our children, their future and our profession.
              
Our Governor and some members of the General Assembly are still working to rescind our right to due process and a fair dismissal procedure. Continuing contract does not mean Virginia teachers have “tenure” or a “job for life.” After remediation and due process run their course, poor teachers can be, should be and are dismissed from our profession.  
We’re not now, and have never been, opposed to constructive, positive change—we wholeheartedly support that. Our job is to help ensure that proposed changes truly help schools, students and educators.

As our predecessors did in 1863, we must organize to do what we do best: advocate for public education. We must educate and re-educate politicians and the public on what we do and how critical public education is for our students, our Commonwealth and our nation. We must awaken our colleagues to the reality of the attacks we’re facing and have them join us in determining the fate of our public schools. My goal as President and ours as members must be to convince educators to unite in VEA so we can continue to ensure a quality education for every student in every public school.
We must also convince our colleagues, families and friends that elections do matter! We must vote for and work for those who truly support public schools regardless of party affiliation.

The VEA is the only voice we have as professionals and the most important advocate for public education in Virginia. Tough times are an opportunity—a “call to organize,” to build a bigger and stronger Association.  Our students are counting on us.
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Organizing School Participants Ready to Work for Change

Former VEA staff member Reggie Smith was known for telling educators, "If you always do what you've always done, you're going to get what you've always gotten." At the event named for him, VEA's Reggie Smith Organizing School (RSOS), keynote speaker Michael Gecan told some 200 members from around the state that Smith, who died in 1985, was right on target.

"The people who oppose us count on us to be passive," said Gecan, a community organizer for 35 years and author of Going Public. "We've got to take some risks, even be willing to fail. We're involved in the good struggle."

The key to making the change that you imagine, Gecan said, is effective organizing. That starts with individual meetings. "When a new teacher comes to your school," he said, "who meets them, sits down with them, gets to know them? Organizing doesn't happen without individual contact. People need to feel connected."

Then you can move on to teaching and training leaders and preparing for collective action that demonstrates both your commitment and the justice of your cause.

RSOS, held at the University of Richmond in July, featured three days of training on subjects including strengthening local associations, media relations, supporting emerging leaders, political action, workplace issues, coalition-building, organizing, and building better teaching and learning communities.

"Now I have a better understanding of how politics and the economy work and affect public education," says Erin Edwards, vice president of the Pulaski County Education Association. "Hopefully I can go back to my local and work to make needed change."

 

VEA Helps Members Gear Up for Legislature

All the political factors that determine life in Virginia’s classrooms—elections, funding, legislators and lobbying—will be on the agenda during a series of pre-legislative workshops VEA is holding around the state in the next two months.

The dates and locations of the workshops are listed below. Check with your UniServ office for details. Reservations for the October meetings need to be made quickly.

October 1  Hampton
October 2  Norfolk
October 18  Northern Virginia
October 22  Abingdon
October 23  Roanoke/Salem
October 24  Staunton
November 1  Danville
November 26  Brunswick
November 27  Richmond


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