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Virginia Journal of Education

A Steady Hand

Prince William County’s Jim Livingston takes office as VEA President.

By Ashleigh Burnette

There are a million things I’d love for you to know about the Virginia Education Association’s new president, Jim Livingston, who is an amazing educator, leader and friend. I’ll do my best, in these two pages, to frame for you the tireless work that has propelled Jim forward through 32 hard-working, well-spent years in education. Through those years, he’s worn many hats, each of them with a specific focus on making teaching and learning a better experience for educators and students alike.

I entered the classroom in 2002, a career-switcher with absolutely no idea of what I was walking into. Fate dealt me a great hand, though, when the classroom I was assigned turned out to be right next door to a veteran math teacher named Jim Livingston. It didn’t take long to figure out that Jim was held in high regard by many, as both a teacher and an educational leader. His advice on how to handle students, parents, colleagues and the world of education at large became a solid touchstone from which I, and many others, would build our teaching practice. He continuously handled himself as a consummate professional, always leading by example and always willing to lend a hand. How fortunate I was to begin a career following in such tried and true footsteps.

Jim began his teaching career as a substitute teacher in Raleigh County, West Virginia, and then moved into his first full-time position, working as a seventh grade Language Arts teacher at Perry County High School, also in WV. He’s taught students of all ages since then, working in elementary, middle and high schools. Later, Jim moved to Virginia and over a decade of his classroom experience came at Parkside Middle School in Prince William County, where he also served as Math Department Chair for 10 years. But his teaching hasn’t been limited to numbers and equations: From self-contained classes, to art and home economics, and even a short stint as a physical education teacher, Jim has gained a broad range of classroom experience. This time and variety of education environments have left him with a vast depth of understanding about the needs of students and the best practices for teachers across grade levels and subjects.

From the very beginning of his teaching career, Jim’s been focused on promoting professionalism in public education, and fighting for the rights and dignity of teachers and students. As a member of the Raleigh County (WV) Education Association he was involved in organizing a teacher strike, an action aimed at improving working conditions for education professionals. Later, in Perry County, he was faced with the reality that he did not have enough desks or books for his students, and his resolve to lead change deepened. By the time he came to Prince William County, Jim had already established himself as a voice for education and quickly became a leader in the Prince William Education Association. His time with the PWEA was spent working tirelessly on behalf of Prince William County educators, and he served in a variety of local leadership roles, culminating with four years as PWEA president. During his tenure as president, Prince William County Schools employees received a salary increase each year. In addition, PWEA, under Jim's leadership, organized and successfully executed a very public class size reduction campaign, called “Class Size Matters,” which called the entire community’s attention to the significant problem of overcrowding in PWCS classrooms. Wearing blue T-shirts printed by the Association, PWEA members turned out in large numbers for local meetings and generated plenty of publicity. Because of PWEA’s ongoing efforts and visibility, and the work of its members during “Class Size Matters,” the county school system’s strategic plan now includes class size reduction and employee compensation as its top priorities. These actions were just the tip to a very large iceberg of work that was accomplished while Jim was at PWEA’s helm. 

Jim has always felt an urgency to advocate for issues that better the quality of public education and equal opportunity for both students and teachers. Whether in the classroom or the boardroom, he’s known for working with laser-like focus and determination.

My daughter can attest to this, because as a sixth-grader, she found herself in Mr. Livingston’s math class. Years later, she still tells the stories of how when Mr. Livingston adjusted his glasses down on his nose and pierced you with his gaze across the tops of the lenses, you knew you had work to do! I’ve seen him give that same look not just to students, but to educators, administrators and legislators, too, and it always means that it’s time to get down to business. 

As Jim begins his work as president of the Virginia Education Association, I can’t help but think of him looking over the top of his glasses with that piercing gaze, sending the message to all of us that we have work to do—and that he’s prepared to do his part, is focused and ready to begin!

Burnette, a member of the Prince William Education Association, is an assistant principal at Lake Ridge Middle School.




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