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Virginia Journal of Education

VEA News & Advocacy


VEA Members Bring Issues to Richmond on Lobby Day


It’s not often that an elementary school reading specialist from Orange County gets the uninterrupted ear of the Minority Leader of Virginia’s House of Delegates. But not every day is VEA Lobby Day, either.

Orange County member Kyle Wormuth had about 20 minutes with Delegate David Toscano, and he made the most of it. “As teachers, we often feel that we don’t have the support we need,” he told Toscano, “and politicians make the decisions that could give us that support. We teach because we want to make a difference, and what we want more than anything is the support of you and your colleagues. Let teachers teach.”

Wormuth had an appreciative audience in Toscano, who recently earned a “Solid As a Rock” Award from VEA for his consistent support of public education. “I know teachers need more money and more flexibility to teach kids the skills they need to know,” the delegate told Wormuth. “I’m with you.”

A group of Albemarle Education Association members joined the meeting and stressed the need for better salaries for teachers. “I’ve been teaching for 20 years,” said Diane Espinosa, “and I just hit 50 thousand dollars.”

Her Albemarle High School colleague Therese Murphy spoke up for the finances of beginning teachers, too. “They want to teach, they’re happy to be in the classroom, but then they look at their checkbooks and reality hits,” she said. “We’re losing them.”

Similar conversations were happening throughout the General Assembly Building, as more than 250 Association members from around Virginia traveled to Richmond on a Monday in January to visit their legislators and speak directly with them on classroom issues.

Prince William’s Riley O’Casey invited Delegate Luke Torian to the county’s “Teach for a Day” event, to be held this spring.

Bob and Debbie Umstead of Alleghany County reminded Delegate Terry Austin that local educators had gone several years without raises.

Virginia Beach Education Association President Trenace Riggs urged Delegate Bill DeSteph to support a statewide health insurance plan for educators.

Members were equipped for those conversations by Lobby Day briefings offered by VEA’s Office of Government Relations and Research on both Sunday night and Monday morning. “It was great to see such a delegation of educators in Richmond to engage their elected officials,” said VEA President Meg Gruber. “No one can tell public education’s story like our members can.”


A Message from the VEA President

Let’s Seize the SOL Moment!

This certainly isn’t the first time this has happened, but it sure is sweet when it does: Something our members have been saying for years has now registered with the powers that be, and politicians on both sides of the aisle agree with us. So do editorial pages in newspapers around the state.

We’ve been saying that Virginia’s Standards of Learning system needs work. Today, Governor Terry McAuliffe and both Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly are solidly behind SOL reform. Now, it appears that change is coming, and so our challenge is to help ensure that what comes as a result of reform is what’s best for our students and for our members.

The best way forward, we believe, is for legislators to create the momentum for change and then leave the nuts and bolts of that change to education professionals. Those pushing for reform are looking mostly at the SOL tests, not the standards themselves—and it’s clear that we’ve been testing too much and using too much classroom time in test preparation.

That fact heads VEA’s list of goals for SOL reform: We need to free up instructional time. Our teachers are currently forced to be so focused on testing that some excellent classroom activities, field trips and other resources have been eliminated.

The tests themselves need some serious refining, too. To start with, there are too many of them. Before Virginia students can frame their high school diplomas, they must take 34 standardized tests, just for SOL purposes. Thirty-four! Let’s reduce that burden, while being sure that those subject areas still get adequate instructional time.
The goal of SOL testing could use a little work, too. It would benefit everyone involved if the tests were better at assessing skill development and the ability to analyze and think critically. This could be a big step toward revamping the curriculum because when tests only measure basic knowledge, that’s what students will end up being taught. But basic knowledge isn’t going to be enough for our young people in the economy of the 21st century.

It would also be helpful if localities had some control over the timing of SOL testing.

It all comes down to this: We have teachers across the Commonwealth being forced to teach to a series of tests that are increasingly being seen as ineffective at providing a full picture of student growth. The tail is truly wagging the dog. And the results of those tests are being used inappropriately in the evaluation of schools, students and educators.

That’s a lot that needs fixing.

So let’s take advantage of this time of bipartisan and growing support for constructive change in the SOL testing program! Everything is now in place to take some significant steps forward for everyone. Stay informed as this process gains speed, and work with your local and state Association to be sure we don’t let a rare opportunity slip by.



Candidates for VEA Offices Speak


VEA is set to hold elections at this year’s Delegate Assembly for the positions of President, Vice President, one seat on the NEA Board of Directors, and one Education Support Professional At-Large seat on the VEA Board of Directors.
Jeff Pennington of Floyd County ran unopposed for the office of Vice President, and Gwendolyn Edwards of the Prince William Education Association ran unopposed for the ESP seat on the VEA Board of Directors. Both will begin their terms on August 1, 2014.

Here are campaign statements from the three candidates for President and the two candidates for the NEA Board of Directors:

VEA President

Frank Cardella, Chesterfield County
As full-time released president in one of Virginia’s largest locals, I shepherded the Association through the period of economic stagnation and membership decline felt throughout the VEA, using that time to strengthen relationships with policy leaders over shared concerns with the new evaluation system.  Having personally shared in the effects of state and local cuts on front-line members, this is the right time for me to bring that experience to the state level both in dealing with external partners and opponents as well as frustrated internal constituents. My immediate goals will be to make VEA leadership and management teams more responsive to members and staff, and to work with the Board of Directors to sharpen our operational focus to make the Association more effective at fewer things, with the highest level of transparency and respect for all members regardless of membership category, seniority, or geography.   

Meg Gruber, Prince William County
My name is Meg Gruber and I am the current president of the VEA. Previously I was vice president, NEA director, VEA Board member and local president of Prince William County all the while working as an earth science teacher. Thus far during my term, we won major victories working together–protecting continuing contract, protecting VRS, and most recently electing a full slate of pro-education candidates from governor to lieutenant governor to attorney general to three hard fought special elections. We successfully revised our training and outreach to members and will continue to improve our program to meet the needs of new and experienced teachers alike. I hope you will continue putting your trust in me for a second term as we continue this process–making VEA a stronger voice for students and public education in Virginia.

Sarah Patton, Covington
I want to become VEA President to strengthen our great Association. I know we can grow membership and respect while leading in educational matters. I will capitalize on the uniqueness of mers and staff to make the VEA a force that achieves great public schools in every community. I have the strength to listen, organize, unite people, foster a climate of inclusive respect, honor diversity, operate ethically, include all voices, and recognize that we are equally valuable members of the same team. My local and state leadership experiences have prepared me for my current position of NEA Senior Director. I have served on state committees and facilitated/trained for VEA projects. Teaching in K-12, in small and large locals, and as an adjunct professor, makes me ready to advocate for all members. I care passionately for the success of the VEA because I care passionately for every member and our students.

NEA Board of Directors

James Fedderman, Accomack County
Teachers teach; children learn. These simple concepts are difficult to achieve, even with the dedicated efforts of our educators. As NEA Director, I’ll support methods that increase the efficiency of educational professionals and improve the educational environment for students, teachers, and support professionals. I’ll equally address salary, instructional accountability, excessive testing, and improper use/misuse of test data to suggest teacher ability to teach and student ability to learn.

Every child and teacher deserves an advocate. Virginia needs new policies to ensure our schools are providing every child and teacher with needed support.

Problems in our schools are not confined to a certain school or region. Solutions can only be found if educators and school districts from bay to mountains work together. With your support, as NEA Director, I can stimulate our statewide team to improve efficiency, environment, academic performance, and advocacy for the best education and welfare of our children, teachers, and ESPs.

Steve Whitten, Mecklenburg County
The VEA deserves a NEA Director that has proven leadership experience on all levels of our Association, and I offer you that leadership experience as a candidate for NEA Director.

As a 33-year member of the VEA, I have experience on all levels of our association. I’ve worked diligently to serve our membership as an Association representative, local president, district president, chair of a UniServ unit, local and district chair of the VEA Fund for Children and Public Education, member of the VEA Fund for Children and Public Education Executive Committee, and as your NEA director for one term. I have also been elected by the VEA Board to serve on the Executive and Budget committees of the VEA.

When I announced my candidacy at the NEA Convention, I offered three words - Respect, Integrity, and Professionalism- that will guide me. 

I look forward to serving you and working with you as your NEA Director.


Standards of Quality Funding: Go Fish?


Each year, the Virginia Department of Education publishes a report on how well cities and counties are meeting their responsibilities based on state-authored funding formulas for public schools.

There's no need for a spoiler alert here because the outcome is always the same. Every locality is not only meeting its obligations, but exceeding them . . . by a long shot. Forty-two cities and counties last year spent more than double what the Standards of Quality formulas require. The wee town of West Point in King William County, with just 3,000 residents, tripled its mandatory share for schools.

All together, communities spent $3 billion more than they had to to pass muster with the state.

Extra effort should not be confused with excess. It's in state leaders' best interest to lowball estimates for what's needed to operate schools and educate students, and they do, to keep their share of the budget artificially low. County supervisors and city council members, who live in the real world and hear from parents when schools fall short, are forced to pick up the slack, putting pressure on property taxes.

 --from an editorial in the Roanoke Times


Changes to VEA Governing Documents To Be Considered


Delegates to the VEA Delegate Assembly, held in Roanoke March 27-29, will vote on four proposed changes to the Association’s bylaws. All four changes have to do with the VEA Elections Committee and the VEA Campaign Practices Committee, in effect combining them into one group and spelling out the group’s duties.

To learn more, and to be sure your delegates know how you’d like them to vote on these proposals, the changes are on the VEA website here:


NEA Steps Up in Education Reform


The National Education Association has announced a series of initiatives to support public schools and educators, including a fund that will pump some $60 million over the next 10 years into helping school employees themselves create solutions for school problems. The Great Public School Fund (GPS Fund) aims to support, encourage and tap the expertise of the next generation of teacher leaders.

“With more than 3 million members working in schools and communities across the nation, NEA is a leading voice for student success and great public schools,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “It is time for us to accelerate the transformation of public education. Nobody knows better than educators what their students need to succeed in the classroom. Through the new GPS Fund we are providing the resources to put these plans in action and help ensure opportunity, equity, and success for every public school student in America.”

Van Roekel points to three strands defining change in NEA’s planning for the future:

• Investments, using the GPS Fund to invest in educator ideas that will drive student success and bring the joy of teaching and learning back into the classroom.

 Leadership in the profession, preparing the next generation of educator leaders to define and improve their own practice.

• Partnerships with parents, the community and organizations that share the belief that public education is important to the economic prosperity and the democratic values of our country.

The NEA GPS Fund was created by the 2013 Representative Assembly to allow state and local affiliates to apply for funds to help them improve the quality of public education and to assist in developing and implementing a proactive agenda. Already, NEA has already awarded more than $1 million to 13 projects across the country, dealing with areas including school safety, bullying prevention, helping English Language Learners, and technology integration.


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