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Virginia Journal of Education

VEA News & Advocacy


Rowdy VEA Convention Sends Delegates Home
Ready to Step Up for Schools and Students

Part pep rally, part forensic event, part celebration, and part political rally, this year’s VEA convention in Hampton featured more than 700 educator-delegates, some 25 items of new business, one keynote speaker from Tennessee, more than 10 awards presented—and only one gubernatorial candidate.

Delegates voted, among other measures, to take a public stance that the Virginia Standards of Learning tests are “not developmentally appropriate and…are harming education in Virginia” and that attendance data should be included in SOL test score reporting; to oppose using any single growth measure, by itself, to evaluate students; to pursue a dialogue with state policymakers on a more collaborative method of teacher evaluation; and to make more VEA materials available in Spanish.

VEA President Meg Gruber’s address brought delegates to their feet as she encouraged them to keep up the excellent and essential work they do every day in the Commonwealth’s public schools. “I honor your courage, your passion, your advocacy, and your dedication to our profession,” she said. “We still have many miles to travel to accomplish our mission for our students. I know the race you are running, and I know that our students and their families need every one of you.

“No matter how many tacks are thrown in the road, we will continue to move forward. That’s who we are.”

Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for governor, offered a rousing speech at the “Candidates’ Forum” event, which became a “Candidate Forum.” Republican Ken Cuccinelli became the first nominee in recent memory, from either party, to spurn an invitation to appear at the VEA convention.

McAuliffe drew enthusiastic applause when he promised to be “the most pro-teacher governor in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” adding that educators play a vital role in the turning around of the state’s economy.

“You are my workforce development,” he said. “I can’t accomplish anything as governor unless teachers are allowed to do what they need to do. To grow this economy, we have to have the best educated workforce, because we’ve got to compete with 200 other nations and 49 other states.”

McAuliffe also promised, as governor, to raise teacher salaries, support pre-K programs, and revamp the way the state handles the SOLs.

The next day, the VEA Fund for Children and Public Education announced it was recommending McAuliffe in the gubernatorial contest.

 Former Tennessee Education Association President Earl Wiman, a current member of the NEA’s Executive Committee, gave a crowd-pleasing keynote address, warning that those who would like to impose a business model on public education are misguided.

“Every Pringles potato chip you’ve ever eaten is made in Tennessee by Procter & Gamble,” he said, “and I can tell you that if they get a bad load of potatoes, they send it right back, no questions asked. Public schools don’t discard any students. Have you ever seen a ‘special education’ can of Pringle’s?”

Delegates also elected Carol Bauer of York County to serve a three-year term as a VEA representative on the NEA Board of Directors. She replaces Lee Dorman of Arlington, who is retiring.

For a rundown of the awards that were presented at the convention, or to read more about the entire event, visit our blog at



Why Our Governor Matters

by Meg Gruber

While the prestige and power of the office may pale in comparison, the Governor of Virginia is actually far more important to the everyday working lives of educators here than is the President of the United States.

What happens in your school building can be traced much more easily to Richmond than it can be to Washington, D.C.

To start with, the Governor has a lot of the control over the public school purse strings. The Commonwealth of Virginia provides 42 percent of the money that fuels our public schools. The federal government’s contribution? A mere 6 percent. The rest is up to localities. The Governor’s education priorities are reflected in budget allocations.

The new system of teacher evaluation that’s about to become such a part of many of our members’ lives? That came from Richmond.

Will teachers continue to have much-needed continuing contract rights? That decision will also be made here in our state, with our Governor playing a crucial role.

Will the General Assembly properly fund the Virginia Retirement System, enabling educators to retire with dignity? The Governor we elect has an important say in that, as well.

The Standards of Learning that dictate our curriculum and the Standards of Quality that affect the resources we have available come from the Virginia Department of Education, which is influenced by Governor-made appointments.

Despite the fact that our Governor affects our lives more each day than our President does, Virginians turn out in significantly higher numbers for presidential elections than for gubernatorial ones. According to the State Board of Elections, nearly 4 million Virginians cast votes in the last presidential contest, compared with just under 2 million for Governor.

All this is why I think it’s so very important for VEA members to start thinking about our gubernatorial race this year.

Our young people and our educators both deserve a Governor who understands that great public schools are our avenue to a successful future—one who understand the importance of all the issues I’ve just described.

In this November’s election, I think it’s painfully obvious which candidate fits that description. Only one participated in our recommendation process, completing our questionnaire and coming to be interviewed. That candidate was Terry McAuliffe. His opponent became the first major gubernatorial candidate in memory to completely ignore VEA’s recommendation process.

On public education, McAuliffe stands head and shoulders above his opponent and, for this reason, has earned the recommendation from VEA’s Fund for Children and Public Education.

He is prepared to act to strengthen our public schools, expanding opportunities for all of Virginia’s children. He understands that to attract and keep the best education professionals we can find, we must pay them better. He has pledged to restore and fully fund the Standards of Quality.

In his candidate interview with us, McAuliffe showed that he appreciates the critical value of public education. As he told us, “I never view education as an expense. To me, it’s an investment.”

I urge to you to support him with your vote this November. Go to for the latest info on VEA's recommendations for the primary and general elections.


Association Honors Education Advocates


During the annual awards dinner at VEA’s convention, the Association presented awards to the following individuals and organizations:

Friend of Education Award. State Senator Emmett W. Hanger, Jr. has represented large areas of the Shenandoah Valley in both the House of Delegates and Senate for almost three decades and, to some, is an unusual choice for VEA’s highest award because he doesn’t always score high on the Association’s legislative report cards.

“But no legislator is more open,” says VEA President Meg Gruber. “He listens, he asks questions, he thinks issues over, and he tells you exactly where he stands. He personifies the demeanor an effective legislator ought to have.

“Senator Hanger is certainly not with us on every issue, but when we really need him – he has been there,” Gruber says. “He supported public education with two of the toughest votes of his legislative career: When we desperately needed votes to provide $1.5 billion in additional funding for our schools in 2004, and last year when attempts were made to take continuing contract away from Virginia’s teachers, he was there. He had the political courage to stand up for what was right.”

Award for Teaching Excellence. Around King George Middle School, Erlynn Kirsch is famous not only for her creative teaching methods, but also for her complete willingness to share them. “I have witnessed songs, dances, games and drills, and I’ve seen students’ cake pyramids and castles,” says Kathy Heil, King George Education Association’s co-president. “I wish my history classes had been so interesting and interactive.”

Kirsch takes expanding the horizons of her rural students very seriously, coordinating a trip to Greece and Italy last year, leading an earlier trip to China, maintaining an interactive blog/website, discussing class activities on Twitter, and publishing a bi-monthly “World History” newsletter. In addition, she serves as a mentor for new teachers and an instructor at county-wide professional development workshops.

She will receive a plaque and a cash award of $500 and compete, as Virginia’s nominee, for the NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence and its $25,000 prize.

Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year. Gwendolyn Edwards helps make technology effective for educators and students in Prince William County Public Schools. As a technology support specialist, she primarily serves two schools, Rippon Middle and Dale City Elementary, but she is also a county-wide presenter at in-service training and is involved in the purchase and implementation of new technologies.

She has served as chair of the Superintendent’s Administrative Support Advisory Council and the Prince William Education Association ESP Council, as well as a presenter at PWEA’s Education 411 Symposium.

2013 Legislator of the Year. Senator Richard L. Saslaw, (D-35th) has championed the cause of public education in Virginia since he was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1975. This year, the Association saluted him for his key role in making a study of school funding in Virginia by JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission) a reality. The last time JLARC did a study of this kind, in 2002, it led to $1.5 billion in increased funding for public education two years later.

“We need this study badly,” says Gruber. “The Standards of Quality, the state-established minimum foundation in Virginia, set a very low required level of support, and most know that divisions can’t meet the challenges they face with the level of funding provided by the state. We’re grateful to Senator Saslaw for helping make this study happen.”

Legislative Rookie of the Year. Delegate K. Robert Krupicka, Jr. (D-45th) earned this award for his stalwart efforts to support public education as a freshman legislator. Krupicka, who represents parts of Alexandria, Fairfax and Arlington, earned a score of 100 percent on VEA’s Legislative Report Card.

As a former member of the Alexandria City Council and the Virginia Board of Education, he gained an informed perspective on the needs and challenges faced by our public schools.
Fitz Turner Award for Outstanding Contributions in Intergroup Relations. Young African American males in Petersburg face daunting obstacles, but The Male Protégé Program (TMPP) of the Delta Omega Chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity is “changing the statistics by changing lives,” says Annie Mickens, president of the Petersburg Education Association.

Through seminars and a broad range of activities, TMPP seeks to reach out to youth in the city with projects geared to building character, empowering young people, cutting the dropout rate, and promoting service and maturity.

Fitz Turner Commission’s Youth Award for Human Relations and Civil Rights. The Peer Diversity Trainers of Prince William County’s Battlefield High School earned this award for educating their peers on issues related to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status and other topics. The work of the 40-student cadre has led other students at the school to step out and create anti-bias groups.

Special Fitz Turner Award in Recognition of the VEA’s 150th Anniversary. Former Chesapeake mayor William E. Ward, a longtime educator, received this award in recognition of his decades of public service. A professor emeritus at Norfolk State University and a former teacher in Chesapeake Public Schools, Ward is described by NSU President Tony Atwater as “a legendary mayor, a man of integrity and an outstanding servant leader.”

Association Activism Award. The Arlington Education Association earned this for its “Strength Through Engagement” program, which featured a stepped-up personal contact and lobbying program, an improved working relationship with the superintendent and school board, and reaching its membership goal of 1,800 members.

Community Advocacy Awards. The Spotsylvania EA took the gold in this category and the Rockingham County EA the silver. SEA was honored for raising funds for Louisa earthquake relief, holding a “grade-in” at a local mall, and co-sponsoring a candidate forum. RCEA organized a school board candidates’ forum, which got front-page newspaper and television coverage.


Reflections on My First (But Not Last) VEA Convention

byCharles Ronco

When I was asked if I was interested in being considered as a Prince William EA delegate to the VEA convention, I couldn’t avoid thinking of Groucho Marx’s infamous statement, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

I thought there must be better candidates than I, as I was truly a PWEA rookie. I knew nothing of the structure, culture, or role of PWEA, VEA or NEA. I knew almost no one in any of the organizations and I barely knew what a delegate was supposed to do. But I decided to trust the requester’s judgment (she’s a former PWEA president), and agreed to be a candidate.

At the pre-convention caucus, I only recognized a single face in the room – our local president, whom I’d met once. I sat in the back, took notes, read everything I received, and felt my doubts about my place in the organization grow. Everybody appeared to know a lot more than I did, and had something to contribute. I wasn’t sure if PWEA was right for me, but I decided to give it a shot and accept my “baptism by fire.”

When I walked into the delegation room at the convention, I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Little did I know that the tornado had not yet touched down. Despite the blizzard of activity, I quickly sensed there was an underlying order to the proceedings. The vocabulary and specific components were new, but overall I realized that this seemingly convoluted system of parliamentary procedure yielded something elusive: individual freedom of expression. By going through this orderly system of procedures, everyone had a voice. I got goose bumps thinking of using mine.

I’d come with a big bone to pick, dealing with social promotion and the damage it does. Perhaps naively, I had always believed that any political change happened quietly, behind closed doors, and only after talking to specific key players. If I felt strongly about my issue, I believed the only way to bring about change was to get the ear of the right people. Sitting in the delegation, I began to understand that I also had a voice, and that it could be just as loud as anyone else’s.

With a UniServ Director’s help, I began to hone my message, crafting a New Business Item (NBI) to ask for a VEA survey on school districts’ policies on promotion, retention and remediation for students performing significantly below grade level. Before I address social promotion, I figured we needed to know what everyone was doing about it already. We deliberated about how it could be written to have the best chance of being adopted. One at a time, NBIs were deliberated and voted upon and when it was my turn, there was only one thing to do: stand and be heard.

To those about to stand in front of 770 people and give an opinion that might not be well received, I offer this advice: Do not look at yourself on the Jumbo-Tron. Instead, keep your eyes on the chairperson. Once I began describing my opinion, I felt my passion for the issue drive my focus; there was a reason why I was standing there and if I kept that in mind I knew everything would be OK.

After my NBI was voted on (and passed!), I realized that with all the reasons why I should have joined this organization, one stood out: I had a real voice. I was an equal voice in a crowd, and for a moment held the attention of my peers long enough to voice my opinion. I came back to work on Monday with my head held high, knowing that I didn’t just complain about what irked me – I did something about it.

Now that this year’s convention is behind me and I look forward to the Reggie Smith training over the summer, I reflect again on Groucho Marx and another of his quotes: “I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it.”

Charles Ronco is a math teacher at Stonewall Jackson High School.


Stafford EA Members Make Salary Case to Board of Supervisors


“I don’t usually get involved in things like this, especially if they’re controversial,” Tammy Lancaster told the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, her voice breaking, “but I’m so tired of doing without for my own kids. There’s got to be a way to make it work.”

 Lancaster, a Stafford Education Association member and a paraprofessional, was one of a host of SEA speakers at a public hearing this week on Stafford’s budget, the latest collective step taken by members from across the county school system.

Already holding a monthly meet-and-confer session with Superintendent Randy Bridges, SEA has become a powerful presence at county governing body meetings. The local’s activism was vital in getting the school board to pass a budget that included funding improvements and employee raises, and SEA is now busy with the next step—getting that budget approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Backed by a crowd of red-shirted members, SEA educators took turns at the podium during the public hearing, letting Supervisors know that county schools, and those who work in them, have some pressing needs.

“On the county’s own website, it says that a world-class school system is a top priority,” said David Vita, SEA’s vice president. “In world-class education systems, teachers earn both higher pay and higher prestige.”

Vita, the county’s 2011 Teacher of the Year, also defended SEA’s deep involvement in the budget process, which has raised some eyebrows. “We’re just a bunch of educators who, in good faith, got involved in discussions about a pay scale similar to ones that many in this room are paid through,” he said, adding that salaries are part of the reason some former Stafford Teachers of the Year have left the county.

SEA member Tammy Torino told the Board that valuing public schools “starts with valuing these people in red,” gesturing to the packed audience.

SEA Past President Jeannette Martin, who’s taught in Stafford schools for 32 years, said that some of her colleagues are retiring earlier than they had planned to. “They no longer feel valued,” she said. “There face more demands, less pay and a lack of respect. Why would someone retire while they still have a passion for teaching? They’re tired of being treated that way.”


Chesterfield Member Honored For ‘Telling It Like It Is’


Renee Serrao, a member of the Chesterfield Education Association and a government teacher at Cosby High School, has been named the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s 2012 “Correspondent of the Year,” for a letter to the editor she wrote in defense of teachers last March. Here are excerpts of her winning letter:

You take teachers to task for VEA criticism of Gov. Bob McDonnell's budget, repeating his claim that he will be spending much more on education. Most of the additional funding goes to cover the $600 million borrowed from the Virginia Retirement System to balance last year's budget — teachers don't see this repayment as additional funding for the classroom.

In addition, you wonder why teachers would object to a move away from continuing contracts, which provide some measure of job security for experienced teachers hoping to avoid the whims of administrators looking for less expensive replacements. A continuing contract does not represent tenure-for-life; it simply requires school boards to show cause for dismissal. Giving administrators more power to arbitrarily fire teachers is not the kind of education reform that Virginia needs

For years, the implied social contract with public school teachers has been, "We can't pay you very much, but you'll have some job security and the benefits are good." With recent attacks on pension funding and continuing contracts, it seems all we will have to offer to prospective teachers is, "We can't pay you very much."

“In addition to publishing my letter and making it Correspondent of the Day, several days later the paper published a follow-up editorial supporting teachers in general,” says Serrao. “It can make a difference when teachers speak out.”

She was honored at a luncheon given by the newspaper and received a trophy, a boxed set of books, and the pleasure of sharing the spotlight with two of her students who had earlier been named Correspondents of the Day.


VEA Report Underscores Need to Address Poverty

While there are a range of factors that contribute to how well young people do in school, we can no longer avoid facts like this: According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, almost half of the variations in average reading and math scores in our nation are linked to poverty rates.

Policymakers tend to de-emphasize this, because addressing poverty is excruciatingly difficult.

Here’s another fact: Virginia public school students who are not economically disadvantaged score higher on tests than those who are, according to a new VEA report, “Educational Achievement and Poverty.” The state defines economically disadvantaged students as those who are on free or reduced lunch programs; Medicaid; Temporary Aid for Needy Families; or those who are homeless or migrants.

Some examples: On statewide third-grade reading tests in 2010-11, 90 percent of students who are not disadvantaged passed, compared with 74 percent of the disadvantaged students. On eighth-grade math tests, the pass rate for disadvantaged students was 73 percent, while non-disadvantaged students passed at a rate of 88 percent.

There’s a lot more in the report, including scores broken down by locality. To see it, go to

VEA Seeks Trainers For PD Workshops

VEA has recently added new and exciting content to our lineup of professional development workshops, including iTeach and MODEL Teacher, and we’re looking for some top-notch trainers lead them. If you think you could be one of those new trainers, please contact Donna Hamilton at to receive a copy of the Call for Trainers Application, which has a deadline of May 31st. 
The application and descriptions of the specific workshops can also be downloaded from the VEA’s website ( under the “Calendar” heading.  Member-trainers will be asked to attend a three-day Training of Trainers to be held July 23-25 at the University of Richmond, in conjunction with the Reggie Smith Organizing School. 

Trainers receive an honorarium for each workshop delivered and VEA covers their travel costs. 

Association Helps Fund Permanent Education, Civil Rights Exhibit

Many are familiar with iconic events in the American civil rights movement like the sit-ins at lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina and the bus boycott of Montgomery, Alabama.

But too many don’t realize that before all that happened, a history-changing event took place in Prince Edward County, here in Virginia. It was the 1951 Moton Student Strike, now commemorated in a new exhibit at the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville.
The exhibit, called “The Moton School Story: Children of Courage,” opened in late April and was substantially funded by VEA and NEA donations. VEA President Meg Gruber attended the opening of the exhibit and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel was a featured speaker at the dedication dinner.

“It is difficult to put into words just how well this exhibit reveals the Virginia of 1951,” says Gruber, “when Barbara Johns and other courageous students challenged the powers that ultimately shut down the public schools rather than integrate them. Suffice it to say that it’s hard to imagine anyone going through the exhibit and not being moved by the experience.”

Gruber added, “Edmund Burke said, ‘Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it.’  Spreading the word and visiting the museum are important so that we remember what happened in Virginia and work to ensure that it never happens again to any students for any reason.”

To learn about the exhibit and the Moton Museum, visit



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