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Virginia Journal of Education

VEA News & Advocacy

Association Members Learn, Recharge at Instructional Conference

“Proceed until apprehended” is one of NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s favorite expressions, and he used it to highlight a rousing keynote address opening the VEA Instruction and Professional Development Conference in November, giving educators “permission” to flex their creative muscles. “We wait too long for someone to give us permission to do the things we know need to be done,” he told the crowd of some 250 Association members. “Let’s use our good ideas to make a difference.”

He also urged educators in attendance to move out of defensive mode and begin stepping up on behalf of students and schools, telling them, “It’s not enough to play defense. It’s not sufficient to speak out against bad ideas. Even if we make all the bad things go away, we’re not moving forward.”

Instead, Van Roekel would like to see local Associations taking the initiative. “We have to create an offense—let’s put on the table what we believe ought to be done for our students. We ought to determine what should to be done for that child.”

After his keynote, Van Roekel was joined for a panel discussion by Joan Wodiska, a member of the State Board of Education; Alan Seibert, superintendent of Salem schools; and Delegate Steve Landes. They fielded questions from conference attendees on subjects ranging from the policy of giving letter grades to schools, meaningful professional development, teacher career ladders, assessment and accountability.

“That was one of my favorite parts of the conference,” said Sandra Barnstead, a member of the Spotsylvania Education Association and a geometry teacher at Courtland High School. “I enjoyed the diversity of having a school board member, superintendent, union president and legislator.”

During the rest of the two-day conference, members could choose from among breakout sessions on topics including bullying, cultural competence, early literacy, integrating technology into instruction, and VEA training programs MODEL Teacher and iTeach.

Melissa Warren, an instructional technology resource teacher and member of the Bristol Virginia Education Association was impressed with the offerings taught by her colleagues. “Usually, if you come to a conference that’s not specifically about technology, you don’t learn much,” she said, “but the technology sessions here were amazing.”



McDonnell’s Budget Falls Short

As his final year in office wound down, Gov. McDonnell took his last swing at crafting a state budget, releasing his financial plan for Virginia’s next two years just before Christmas.

Sadly, there wasn’t much “merry” about it. During his term, the Commonwealth’s public school educators and students had to overcome sustained underfunding from Richmond, and this budget does little to make up for what we’ve been lacking—let alone take us to where we need to be.

You don’t have to take just my word for it, either. Here’s what Jennifer Parish, superintendent in Poquoson, told the Daily Press in Newport News after looking over McDonnell’s proposals: “We have to make additional cuts based on those numbers. Yes, he’s providing additional funding, but it doesn’t cover the cost increase that K-12 education is experiencing.”

One of those cost increases is funding the state’s Standards of Quality, which set minimum standards for what schools should offer. Already, most school divisions spend their own funds to provide above and beyond what the SOQs require. McDonnell has suggested allocating just over $500 million for the SOQs; trouble is, the Senate Finance Committee estimates that just to re-benchmark those Standards will cost over $600 million.
The outgoing governor also targeted some $900,000 to pay for one of his favorite “reform” projects, the Opportunity Education Institution, a new statewide school division that’s supposed to begin taking over “failing” schools. OEI never made sense, which is why the General Assembly voted to cut funding for it last year.
There are also no McDonnell proposals for the state to ante up for teacher salary increases. Since 2008, the state has done so only once, and then for only 2 percent. How many times do I have to shout from the mountaintops that we can’t recruit and retain the best teachers with this kind of pay? Our teachers are already some $6,500 under the national average as it is. How can we give families the kind of educators they deserve under those circumstances? Gov. McDonnell did propose, however, money for raises or bonuses for state employees, sheriff's deputies and circuit court clerks, among others.
VEA is pleased, though, that Gov. McDonnell did elect to follow the General Assembly’s commitment to phase in state contributions at the rates certified by the Virginia Retirement System’s Board of Directors, something the Commonwealth has consistently failed to do. This will provide additional protection for the well-deserved retirement benefits of our members.

Fortunately, the Senate has historically championed public education funding and we hope that incoming Governor Terry McAuliffe will be able to make needed budget amendments that the General Assembly will accept.
Investing in our students—and in those who work so hard to educate them—is one of the most strategic investments that Virginia can make. The better job we can do for our students, the better it will be for growing the middle class and strengthening the Commonwealth. That requires a significant down payment now.


Smoothing Your Way to Retirement

If you’ve got plans to retire in the next couple years, VEA would like to help you make the transition as smoothly as possible. The Association will hold a series of workshops around the state this spring, offering details about how the Virginia Retirement System works, along with some sound advice. Contact your local UniServ office for details on the meeting in your area.

March 12− Newport News
March 13 − Fairfax
March 19 – Richmond
March 20 – Chesapeake
April 1 – Danville
April 2 − Virginia Beach
April 9 − Roanoke
April 9 − Winchester
April 10− Staunton
April 10− Abingdon/Washington

Stafford Partnership Means Unity (and Warmer Kids)

Almost 200 students in Stafford County got new coats and are having a much warmer winter, thanks to a growing partnership between the Stafford Education Association and the Stafford Professional Firefighters Association.

 “Coats for Kids” happened because the two organizations have joined hands to bring a unified message to county leaders about better funding for both schools and first responders. SEA’s success during last year’s budget process drew the firefighters’ interest, and the groups realized that they were fighting many of the same battles. As a result, SEA will seek support for first responders from the county’s board of supervisors and the firefighters will make a plea for better public education funding.
One of the first joint efforts between Stafford educators and firefighters was to reach out to the community through “Coats for Kids.” The school system helped supply the names of needy students, which led to experiences like that of SEA member Tammy Burton, a music specialist at Park Ridge Elementary School, who describes what happened at her school that day:

“I was blessed to be given the opportunity to personally deliver two coats that were tagged for Park Ridge. They were going to two sisters whose home was badly damaged in a fire in the fall. I called one sister, a fifth-grader, into my room and told her that I had been working with some firemen who heard about her house and wanted to make sure she was warm this winter. I pulled out the coat, and her face brightened like the sun coming from behind a cloud. She took the coat in one hand and reached out to hug me with the other arm, with a big smile and watery eyes. As she turned to leave, she took a couple steps, then stopped and turned to hug me again. She did that two more times!

“Later, I was able to give a coat to the younger sister, a first-grader. She loved the purple coat, and hugged and thanked me several times. After students were dismissed, her teacher found me and told me that this little girl had been rather glum for several weeks but hadn't stopped smiling since she received the coat. The sweetest thing of all was that this first-grader asked if she should share her coat with her big sister!

“I can't stop telling this story of kindness and appreciation. Each teacher that hears it wants to know how to get involved. I can't wait to get together to plan and brainstorm for next year!”

Educators, Students Win With VEA Grants

Could $500 help you get a pet project off your drawing board and into your classroom? Through the VEA’s Office of Teaching and Learning, members can apply for Mini-Grants of up to that amount to launch an activity that might otherwise never happen.
See below for information on the application process for 2014-15 Mini-Grants.
Here’s a list of educators who received 2013-14 Mini-Grants:

• Janet Eanes of the Newport News Education Association, $417 for “ORFF is for Everyone.” (Orffs are tone bar muscial instruments.)
• Rebecca Murray (along with group members Ann Jebram and Gretchen Westcott) of the Spotsylvania Education Association, $499 for “Virginia’s Readers’ Choice Book Clubs.”
• Jennifer Herrin (along with group member Patricia Nohe) of the Loudoun Education Association, $388 for “Cooking to Explore the American Colonies – An Inquiry Based Lesson.”
• Ardewia Lewis of the Prince William Education Association, $496 for “Understanding Television.”
• Anthony Primo (along with group member Brenda Conway) of the Spotsylvania Education Association, $494 for “Leveraging Literacy with Legos.”
• Rod Stipe (along with group member Tom Heath) of the Bristol Virginia Education Association, $399 for “Monitoring Water Quality.”
• Susan Stubbs of the Chesterfield Education Association, $498 for “Water, Water Everywhere.”
• Linda Kennedy of the Fauquier Education Association, $500 for “Dyed in Silk.” 

Get Yourself a Grant

If the projects above inspire you, here’s what you need to do to apply for a 2014-15 VEA Mini-Grant: Visit VEA’s website at and you’ll find guidelines on how to prepare your proposal and the criteria used to select grant winners.
Deadline for submitting your proposal is June 2, 2014.

Read Across America: Make Way for the Cat!

It’s time to break out your stovepipe Cat in the Hat hat and get ready to do some serious reading! NEA’s 17th annual Read Across America is set for Monday, March 3. The Dr. Seuss-themed national celebration kicks off a full week of reading as educators hold events bringing together young people, families and community leaders to share their love of reading.

Educators know that young people who are motivated to read not only do better in school, they just flat-out enjoy life more!
As President Obama said, in a proclamation for last year’s event, “Let us recommit to empowering every child with a strong start and a passion for the written word.”
For suggestions on events and event planning, Seuss-inspired recipes, posters, media materials, downloadables, book lists, and a look at other RAA celebrations, both past and present, visit the NEA RAA site at
Never forget: “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child.”


Association Adds Headquarters, UniServ Staff

 VEA has brought six new employees on board in recent months, two in positions at headquarters in Richmond and four UniServ Directors:

• Naila Holmes is VEA’s new Assistant Manager in the Office of Field Support, Organizing and Minority Engagement, where her primary responsibilities are assisting in the design, piloting and implementation of organizing projects and staff development programs. She will also help support and manage VEA’s UniServ Directors.
• Scott LeCates, who brings experience as a lobbyist and organizer for the American Federation of Teachers, is the new UniServ Director in the Commonwealth/Valley office. His organizing background also includes study at the  AFL-CIO George Meaney Institute for Labor Studies.

• Dr. Antoinette Rogers, with both K-12 and higher education experience, is the new Specialist in the Office of Teaching and Learning. Her background includes work as a teacher and library media specialist in Richmond Public Schools, advisor to an SVEA chapter, professor in the J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College Teacher Education Center, and a professional development consultant. 

• Drew Sutton has begun UniServ work with the Fairfax Education Association. Prior to joining VEA, he worked with the Denver UniServ Unit of the Colorado Education Association under a grant from the NEA Center for Organizing, focusing on restructuring service delivery to bolster membership growth and retention. 

• Duane L. Thomas, a former elementary, middle and high school teacher, is now the UniServ Director in the Piedmont office. A 2011 graduate of the NEA Intern Program, he has held association staff positions in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Arkansas, and recently completed the NEA’s Center Multi-State Organizing Project Training in Arkansas.  

• Theodore “Ted” Warner is now working as a UniServ Director out of the Ed-U- Serv/Southside office. He is a graduate of VEA’s own Sparks Program and joins VEA staff from Northampton County where he taught special education for eight years and was serving as president of the Northampton County Education Association.




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