Chesterfield Program Brings Educators and Elected Officials Together
February 14, 2020
February 14, 2020
By Christine Melendez
The Chesterfield Education Association’s Connector Program is all about relationships, because relationships lead to conversation, conversation to understanding, and understanding to change.
Last year, CEA Secretary Devyn Keller suggested that Association members find a way to get to know their elected officials and ensure that educator voices were heard when decisions about public education in the county were made. So, after last November’s elections, the Connector Program was launched, pairing interested members with newly-elected or re-elected officials on the board of supervisors, school board, and state House and Senate.
CEA held a kickoff dinner for Connector to start the dialogues, which will continue with monthly meetings. “Our connector meetings are a great opportunity for me to get to know school board and board of supervisor representatives on a personal level,” says CEA member Katie Sobrito. “Developing these relationships a critical component of working together to build strong schools in Chesterfield.”
There are certainly benefits and risks associated with these newly-formed partnerships, but so far, our success outweighs any bumps in the road. As schools continue to be underfunded, it’s imperative that VEA members are involved at every level of the democratic process. We believe Connector will help our officials get a closer look at the daily grind of being educators and what we need in our schools. As an association, many of our larger actions, such as lobby days, rallies, and large turnouts at public hearings can be perceived as intimidating. A more personal connection with officials humanizes the work we do and helps them understand our collective actions. We believe it will also positively affect future decision-making.
Undoubtedly, there are also risks with this program. One is that we are potentially limited in our communication efforts because it may become easier for elected officials to avoid engaging with CEA members if they think they’re only dealing with one of us. We continue to work towards more effective communication and realize that legislators will sometimes find it easier to deal with VEA statewide leaders. We’re very pleased with Connector so far, as many school board and board of supervisor members now expect to hear from us at least monthly, and we have a seat at the table during work sessions and advisory committee meetings. In turn, elected
officials see our collaborative efforts and appreciate the work we’re willing to do; we’re not just coming to them with demands, so they value our input. This will surely benefit our efforts to secure a 5% raise for all school employees in next year’s local budget.
We look forward to solidifying lasting partnerships through Connector as we continue to work to make quality public education a hallmark of the Commonwealth.
Melendez, a member of the Chesterfield Education Association, teaches World Languages at Matoaca High School.