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Virginia Journal of Education

VEA News & Advocacy


VEA, Virginia PTA Join Forces to ‘Put Kids First’

We say it a lot, but only because we believe it so strongly that we’ve staked our working lives on it: Children are our most precious resource. They’re our future, and the work we do with them in our public schools every day is absolutely vital.

And our children have been getting shortchanged for too long.

That’s why the VEA and Virginia PTA are joining together to launch Put Kids First, a statewide campaign to bring the needs of our students and schools front and center. One of the major parts of the campaign is a special “Put Kids First” rally at the Capitol in Richmond on Saturday, April 18. Read more about that in VEA President Meg Gruber’s column.

Another major part of the campaign will be your stories. To underscore the importance of our effort, we need you to share stories of how your students are struggling because of Virginia’s failure to Put Kids First. You can do that on our Put Kids First website,, where you can also sign up to receive campaign updates.

Put Kids First will focus on four issues: over-testing, underfunding, class size and early childhood education. Here is some evidence showing why we so desperately need change in Virginia:

• Two-thirds of Virginia 3- and 4-year-olds in low-income households are not enrolled in a preschool program.

• The Commonwealth ranks 39th among the states in per-pupil state funding for public schools.

• Funding disparities continue to plague Virginia, with some school divisions able to spend $10,000 more per student every year than others can.

• Many of our students are now spending as much as one-third of their classroom time preparing for and taking standardized tests.

It’s time Virginia ended the excuses. And it’s time thousands of us stepped up and demanded that our elected leaders put our kids and our schools first.


Learning on Center Stage at VEA Instructional Conference

“I’m a firm believer in no excuses,” Winchester Superintendent Mark Lineburg told attendees at VEA’s annual Instruction and Professional Development Conference in Richmond in November. “Poverty is not an excuse for poor achievement—but neither should politicians make excuses for not helping students in poverty.”

Lineburg went on to paint a pretty grim picture of the impact our growing poverty problem is having on many of our students and educators. 

“The numbers we should be looking at in public education might not be the SOLs, but the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch,” he said, before offering a lineup of factors needed to help in the battle against poverty in schools, including intangibles, such as relationships, teamwork and leadership; more widely available preschool; instructional innovations and better technology access; extended school days and years; more proactive student discipline and bullying prevention; boosting student wellness and nutrition; and increasing student participation in extracurricular activities.

His speech was followed by a panel discussion on education issues featuring Virginia Delegates Jennifer McClellan and Thomas “Tag” Greason, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Staples, and NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss, a former VEA president.

Members also learned from and with each other in workshops on topics including promoting literacy, motivating students using classroom management strategies, integrating technology and the Internet into instruction, dealing with difficult people, achieving national certification, and building family-school-community partnerships.



Time to Join Our Campaign
Here in Virginia, we’ve grown way too familiar with lip service, and not nearly familiar enough with follow-through. Our elected officials and education policymakers dish out large portions of lip service to public education, usually after not following through on grandiose statements about how important our public schools are.

That simply must change. We’ve been pouring our efforts into making that change, and now we have a powerful ally to help us do it.

VEA and the Virginia PTA are joining hands and forces in an all-out campaign called “Put Kids First,” gathering the collective might of educators and families and using it to show policymakers that lip service isn’t going to do any longer. Only follow-through will satisfy us—and, more importantly, only follow-through will satisfy the young people of Virginia we’ve committed our careers to.

VEA and VAPTA will be holding a number of joint events together in the coming weeks, leading to a massive rally on the grounds of the State Capitol in Richmond on Saturday, April 18.

It’s going to take an impressive show of unity and support for our schools to bring an end to years of lip service, which are costing us dearly in at least these four areas:

• Class size
• School funding
• Early childhood education
• Over-testing

Our kids take too many standardized tests; they learn in too-crowded classrooms; not enough of our youngest and most vulnerable receive vitally important preschool services; and all the work we educators do is done with too little financial support.

Virginia is our country’s 10th wealthiest state, yet we rank 39th in state support for our public schools. We actually spend 17 percent less per-pupil than we did in 2009. Our children spend up to a third of their instructional time taking or preparing for mandated tests.

Those are some of the reasons we’ve chosen to rally under the banner of Put Kids First. We do it every day—it’s time our state’s powerbrokers did it, too. One way to motivate our elected officials is to show them we’ve got popular support. And lots of it. Decision-makers need to hear our stories, both about the incredible job our schools are doing—and the incredible challenges we face while doing it.

You’ve been receiving and will continue to get information about the April 18 event in Richmond. Buses and carpools will be coming from all over Virginia. We aim to make our presence known.

We need you to be there to show how much we all care about public education and our students. And we need your colleagues, friends, families and neighbors to be there, too. We all have a huge stake in this.

If we don’t stand up and demand that Virginia “Put Kids First,” who’s going to do it?

Start spreading the word—VEA and VAPTA are getting together to put our kids front and center. It’s long past time to Put Kids First! We’ll see you in Richmond on April 18!


Seuss On the Loose Again for ‘Read Across America’

Oh, the Places You’ll Go—and your students, school and community, too! It’s NEA’s 18th annual Read Across America, and that means it’s once again time to break out the Cat in the Hat outfits and break open the books.
The big day is set for Monday, March 2, when the Dr. Seuss-themed national festival opens a full week of reading, featuring events that bring together students, their families, their educators and their communities to promote the love of reading.

For suggestions on how you can pull together a successful event, or for media materials, book lists, downloadables, Seuss-inspired recipes, and a look at past and present RAA celebrations, visit NEA’s Read Across America website at


Transitioning Into Retirement

If you’re looking to step out of the schoolhouse doors into retirement in the next several years, VEA stands ready to help you do so smoothly. The Association will hold a series of workshops across Virginia this spring, helping you make plans, offering details about the workings of the Virginia Retirement System, and dishing out some sound advice.

The locations and dates of the workshops are below; visit VEA’s website at or contact your local UniServ office for further details.

March 12      Fairfax
March 18      Richmond
March 19      Chesapeake
March 25      Newport News
April 2          Virginia Beach
April 8          Winchester
April 9          Staunton
April 13        Emporia
April 14        Loudoun
April 15        Arlington
April 21        Chesterfield
April 29        Abingdon
April 30       Roanoke


VEA Delegates to Gather in Hampton

VEA’s annual Delegate Assembly will be gaveled to order the evening of Thursday, March 26, and will be held this year at the Hampton Roads Convention Center in Hampton, pictured above. Members elected as delegates to the DA will discuss and debate education issues, conduct the business of the Association, elect a new representative to the NEA Board of Directors, and witness the presentation of a number of awards to deserving educators and supporters of public education.

Several changes to the Association’s constitution, by-laws and charter will also be considered. To learn more, and to let your delegates know how you’d like them to vote, check the VEA website at

The event wraps up on Saturday, March 28.


Fauquier Bus Drivers Get a Seat at the Table

When school bus drivers in Fauquier County returned to work last fall, they found a new payment system in place. No longer were their salaries based on the hours they spent preparing and driving their buses and students—now they were to be paid based only on the time the GPS system in the bus was active.

“That meant the vehicle and safety checks we did before and after running our routes became unpaid time,” says Bobby Jenkins, a driver and Fauquier Education Association member, “but those checks are required by law.”
Issues with communication, maintenance, retirement benefits and building access also troubled the county’s 200 or so drivers.

Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Steven Staples, recently told a VEA audience, “If you’re not at the table, there’s a good chance you’re on the menu.” Taking that philosophy to heart, Jenkins and his fellow FEA member drivers decided it was time to get a seat at the table.

FEA’s UniServ Director, Robin Gardner, went right to the top, inviting Dr. David Jeck, the county’s superintendent, to a meeting. To the surprise of some, he readily accepted.

“Not many superintendents would have been so willing to sit down and hear feedback from bus drivers,” says FEA President Liz Goodson. “He really cares about the school system’s employees.”

Jenkins, FEA bus drivers and Jeck have now forged a cooperative relationship, including an ongoing monthly meeting, which also includes Janelle Downs, Fauquier’s Director of Human Resources. In fact, this kind of ongoing arrangement between a group of education support professionals and a school system’s highest administrators is almost unheard of around the state. “After the first meeting, Bobby came up and introduced himself,” says Jeck. “I found out that he’d had a lot of dealings with the superintendent when he worked in Fairfax, and I saw we could work well together.”

Of that first meeting, Jeck says, “I knew some of the issues, but a lot of them I didn’t. It was eye-opening. I felt like I should get personally involved.”

FEA’s activism and Jeck’s response may have saved a big piece of the county’s bus driver fleet. In other counties where the GPS system was used to calculate pay, as many as a third of bus drivers left for other school systems or different lines of work.

In the transition to the GPS system, the county inadvertently withheld too much “hold-back” pay from drivers’ paychecks, money used to pay drivers during the summer to provide income year-round. After Jeck’s meeting with Jenkins and other drivers, the school system refunded one-third of that money to drivers in December.
Jenkins and Jeck also worked together to provide all drivers with a school email address to improve communication. “We’re making some real progress,” says Jenkins.

“Bobby and I both understand that not everyone is going to be happy all the time,” says Jeck. “But we’re working to fix one thing at a time, and now we have very open communication.”




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