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Organizing School Pays Dividends

After three days of intensive workshops and fun, some 300 participants at VEA’s Reggie Smith Organizing School returned home with a renewed commitment to the power of our collective voice, and they pledged to adopt the VEA’s new mantra: “Organize, organize, organize.”

VEA President Dr. Kitty Boitnott, at the conference’s closing session, said that VEA members need to lead their localities in addressing funding inequities, improving working conditions, and taking the necessary steps to ensure student success. “We need to be the advocates, to stand up and demand that things change,” she said. “Take what you learned here and use it.”

Speaking after Boitnott, Philip Forgit, VEA executive director, reminded participants that Reggie Smith, after whom the organizing school is named, made a mark on thousands of VEA members by giving them the confidence to act on their beliefs. “Honor that by growing this organization,” he said. “You’ve now graduated [from the Organizing School]. You’re now being called to do something with what you learned.”

Participants interviewed at the organizing school clearly were on the same page.

Group action is the way toward real accomplishment, says John Day, VEA’s current Education Support Professional of the Year. “We organized the bus drivers in King George,” he says, “and now it’s time to organize the entire county workforce—the teachers, the custodians, the secretaries, the cafeteria workers. We need to get everybody involved on a united team.”

And there is no lack of issues around which to get educators involved, notes Lori Ellison of the Frederick County Education Association. “We need to organize around the new teacher evaluation process. We need to be at the table with the school board and the administration, and we need to do it now, up front.”

Politics will continue to play a crucial role in the future of the state’s public schools. “I learned the importance of this fall’s state senate races,” says David Martin of the Prince William Education Association. “It’s really important that we have education-friendly candidates elected.”

Before leaving, participants filled out postcards listing commitments they’ll make to strengthen the Association, and many gave donations to the VEA Fund for Children and Public Education to support pro-public education candidates in the upcoming state elections. More than $1,000 was raised and, at the final conference session, “King” and “Queen” fundraisers Jeffrey Pennington (Portsmouth Education Association) and Trenace Riggs (Virginia Beach Education Association) donned crowns to the amusement of the audience.

Boitnott said the return of summer organizing training (VEA did not offer the summer school from 2006-2010) “has been a long time coming. To see this conference come to fruition and be so successful has touched my heart.”

View photos: View a slideshow of photos from Reggie Smith Organizing School.




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