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Let's Celebrate Our Wins, Grow Our Strength

Fellow VEA Members,

I want to welcome you back to another school year! I hope this summer you had an opportunity to relax and recharge.

As we begin another year, it’s important to reflect, as we do in our practice, to determine where we’ve been and to chart and adjust the course for the future.

I am very proud of the progress VEA made in the past year assisting members and advocating—from the local school board level to the halls of the General Assembly and the U.S. Congress—for policies and laws to build strong public schools. We have much to celebrate and share not only with each other but with not-yet members!

Here’s a snapshot of all the great things we accomplished this past year:

• We broke the attendance record at our Instruction and Professional Development Conference and inaugurated our first conference specifically geared to the needs of Education Support Professionals (ESPs). More than 375 professionals attended the fall IPD and ESP events, gaining in knowledge and professional skills and certifying the VEA as the state’s premier provider of professional learning. We also broke the attendance records at our Local Officers Retreat in July, and we kicked off the first year of a three-year intensive curriculum plan at the Reggie Smith Organizing School.


• VEA organized an acclaimed Teachers of Color Summit to study ways to increase the proportion of teachers of color in our ranks. The event helped position the Association as a voice on this critical issue and strengthened our partnerships with the higher education and policy communities. A publication summarizing and amplifying the Summit’s findings will be published later this month. Work on racial justice issues is now coordinated by the new VEA Office of Human and Civil Rights, which won the support of a $20,000 grant from the NEA.

• When members of the General Assembly last January were poised to eliminate funding for raises for teachers and SOQ-funded positions in the state budget, we did not hold back. Instead, we raised hell! Several hundred members rallied in the Capitol on Lobby Day, and we followed our protest with continuous lobbying to support you and your colleagues across the state. And we won! Without VEA’s pressure, there would have been no state money for a 2-percent raise this year.

• Speaking of VEA pressure: Did you know that eighteen months ago, the Virginia Department of Education was set to release Student Growth Percentiles of tens of thousands of students with their teachers’ names included into the public domain, where the data could be published in the newspapers and, very likely, gossiped about in your local coffee shop? VEA went to court to prevent the release and, last month, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in our favor, saying that such data is part of the teacher’s personnel record and, thus, not for public release. Another huge win for all educators and for our profession in the 2016-17 school year.

• 2017 also marks the 50th anniversary of the merger of the all-black Virginia Teachers Association with the VEA in 1967. To commemorate the anniversary and educate our members, we devoted an issue of the Virginia Journal of Education to the merger and created an eight-panel multimedia exhibit we’re displaying at large events. Finally, just last month, I was privileged to help lead the dedication of a historical marker commemorating the birthplace of the VTA at the Jackson Street United Methodist Church in Lynchburg. Standing shoulder to shoulder with VEA former presidents Mary Hatwood Futrell, Cheri James, and Princess Moss brought home to me in a profound way how noble, just, and important our work as Association members and leaders is. In our current time of national unrest, especially, we stand up for what is right for students and for our public schools. We are the hope for those whose hope is in short supply.

Only the VEA was responsible for these achievements, and it’s only the VEA that legislators, policy makers, and the public recognize as the voice for Public Education. Be certain, it is only the VEA that is standing up for you and for our schools!

While we have much to celebrate, we also have many opportunities ahead. I choose opportunities as opposed to challenges, because I believe from every challenge comes an opportunity.

We know we need to grow our Association, to increase our membership and, in so doing, increase our ability to reclaim our profession and live up to our vision of a great public school for every student.

To accomplish that goal, we must recognize and own a simple truth. Survey after survey has shown that when nonmembers are asked why they did not join the Association, the number one answer is: "No one asked me."

We can and must change that dynamic and we do it by changing the conversation! We are not insurance sales people!

Whether an Association leader, a building rep, a staff member or an officer, we must reach out to every nonmember, particularly those new to our profession. They represent the future of our profession and of our Association. Start a conversation, but then: Listen. Find out what his or her interests are. What do they need in order to make their work with students more successful? What are their ideas for the future? Then share how our Association can help them achieve their goals! It will make a difference, I promise you. Membership is built one person at a time!

Membership Matters!

Jim Livingston

President, Virginia Education Association











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