First VEA Cyber-Conference Rocks; New Statewide Leaders Installed
July 17, 2020
July 17, 2020
The year ahead promises to be a historic one in our schools and, COVID or no COVID, VEA members gathered (virtually) this week to prepare to make the most of it. At the first-ever Virtual Summer Leadership Conference, hundreds of educators tuned in—from home—and collaborated on approaches to our history-making opportunity to bargain contracts next year, this November’s elections, and a host of other topics.
While the virtual format was not the way the conference was originally planned, members adapted smoothly. “Sessions were very interactive,” said Richmond Education Association member Angela Dews. “Because they were at home, I felt many participants were more comfortable sharing their ideas with others. I really appreciated that.”
Dews looks for some carryover from the virtual conference format into the new school year, as the city of Richmond recently decided to spend the first semester doing online learning. “I will be able to adapt materials and use methods I learned to make everyone more comfortable with the virtual platform, which is our new normal.”
One thing unchanged from previous summer leadership conferences was the wide range and depth of the training offered. In addition to collective bargaining and elections, members worked through sessions on racial and social justice, reaching out to new educators, creating community, advocacy, action plans for local associations, digital organizing, local communication tools, relationships with administrators, and others.
“These are all such important topics for leaders in our Union,” said Katelyn Ritenour of the Chesapeake Education Association. “They’ll help us continue to grow and build capacity ahead of demanding our collective bargaining rights.”
A relatively new technological tool for local associations is Action Network, an online way for members to share and support Union messages and advocate for VEA positions. “I’m excited to use it,” said Cathy Smith of the Washington County Education Association. “It’s a great way to organize contacting members and possible members.”
Both conference veterans and newbies came away better equipped for the year ahead. Jennifer Rokasky of the Prince William Education Association has been to VEA’s summer conferences and conventions many times. “I always learn something new from my fellow VEA members,” she said. “This year, I especially liked the Q&A breakout rooms, where we could interact and ask questions to presenters and each other.”
“I’m most looking forward to the new school year and building a stronger community within my school as a building rep,” said Kris Acker of the Loudoun Education Association. “I have some great ideas from this conference, and I look forward to coordinating with my local and getting people excited as we work together to make school safe for everyone.”
The cyber format didn’t detract from the fun, either. “They entertained us!” said Ritenour. “I loved bingo with [incoming VEA president] Dr. Fedderman, the dance party with DJ Que, and laughing with the comedian, Micah ‘Bam Bam’ White!”
The event wrapped up with a very moving ceremony in which former VEA President Princess Moss, now the NEA Secretary-Treasurer, officiated at the installation of Dr. James J. Fedderman and Carol Bauer, VEA’s new president and vice president. In a historic moment, Moss, one of only three Black women ever elected to lead the VEA, gave the oath of office to the first Black man ever to hold the office of VEA president, James Fedderman.
After saluting outgoing president Jim Livingston, Fedderman told the cyber-audience, “I’m humbled and honored to work with our membership—we have the right people on the bus and I’m looking forward to picking up many more in the journey ahead.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers in Virginia earn 32.7% less in weekly wages than other (non-teacher) college-educated workers. Virginia’s teacher wage penalty is the worst in the nation.Take Action Now