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VEA Activists Prep for Challenges Ahead

“One of our members brings home $2000 a month and still has to pay $900 just to get health care for himself, his wife, his child and their baby on the way,” VEA President Meg Gruber told nearly 200 members at the Association’s annual Reggie Smith Organizing School. “There’s no way that any education professional should have to live that way today.”

Calling that situation just one among many, Gruber issued a call to action to VEA activists, telling them how badly they’re needed not only in the coming elections, but every day in our school buildings around Virginia.

“We’ve got obstacles to conquer and barriers to overcome,” she said, “and those of us who share a common belief in and commitment to public education, and our Association, need to be laser-focused on professionalism.”

It was a theme echoed by State Senator Donald McEachin, who also spoke to RSOS attendees. “We need you like oxygen,” he told them. “You are the grass roots. If Ken Cuccinelli becomes governor and gets the $1.4 billion in tax cuts he’s proposing, it’s going to come out of the General Fund, the classroom, and the salary increases you haven’t seen in a long time.”

McEachin, a longtime legislative supporter of public schools, also understands the importance of education in a very personal way. “My wife is a prosecutor and she tells me that she almost never has to prosecute someone with a high school diploma. I know if we can get our children reading by third grade, if we can get pre-K programs going, then we can build fewer prisons.”

Association leaders who came to RSOS signed up for workshops focused on one of three subjects: political action, organizing and training of trainers, which helped prepare members to be presenters at VEA professional development seminars.

In the political action strand, members learned to use the online Voter Activation Network; heard from a panel of Association members who currently hold elected office; listened to a presentation from David Poole, a former journalist and founder of the Virginia Public Access Project; created strategies for using social media in political activities; heard an overview of Virginia’s political situation from VEA Government Relations staff; and wrapped up by listening to a presentation by Virginia Delegate Rob Krupicka.

“I’m excited about what I learned about recruiting people to get involved in local politics,” said Joy Kirk, president of the Frederick County Education Association.

Members in the organizing strand learned that solid, effective local associations are built on personal relationships, in which leaders and members make a concerted effort to understand the needs, desires and stumbling blocks of colleagues, administrators, elected officials and families.

“For local associations to work well, people need to feel like they’re involved in something bigger than themselves, something that reflects their values and interests, and something that they can do together,” said presenter Nick Niles of NEA.

Organizing participants also learned effective ways to build group power and to draw educators together at the worksite level.

VEA members who went through the training of trainers strand are now prepared to oversee VEA workshops, including The MODEL Teacher, which deals with increasing effectiveness in instructional and professional areas; iTeach, focusing on integrating technology into the classroom; and Effective Classroom Management.

“We know that one of the best ways to learn anything is to teach it,” said Ted Warner, president of the Northampton County Education Association, “and I’ve become a better teacher in the last few days in this strand. I’m excited and honored now to be able to help my colleagues.”

To see more RSOS coverage, go to VEA’s photo site at


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