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Educator Input on ESSA Focus of IPD Conference

The meeting rooms at the Richmond hotel were buzzing. In one, a group of VEA members was discussing the much-too-high percentage of Virginia’s children without access to quality preschool; next door, a member/presenter was demonstrating how to use a cell phone to scan student responses; two doors down, a conversation about responding to the ever-increasing diversity of the student population was in full swing; and other rooms were alive with exchanges about using music to teach and remember concepts, boosting leadership skills, and figuring out ways to manage frightening amounts of student debt.

It was just one block of time at VEA’s annual Instruction and Professional Development Conference, which brought together about 300 state educators interested in staying current, honing their skills, and interacting with colleagues. The event, called “Every Educator Succeeds,” was designed around the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces No Child Left Behind.

“ESSA is an opportunity,” says James Puckett of the Russell County Education Association. “Now is a time we, as educators, can really make a difference in the future of public education. We need to step up.”

Puckett is a member of the Association’s statewide ESSA Implementation Team, formed to help locals across the state create their own teams to ensure educator input as the new law takes shape. VEA has also created a digital toolkit to help members; it can be accessed here:

Earl Wiman, a member of NEA’s Executive Committee, kicked off the conference with a rousing keynote speech, laying out the ESSA mission as ensuring that the law is implemented to promote equity, empower educators, and address the improper use of high-stakes testing.

“There is nothing more powerful than the voice of an educator,” Wiman said. “We know the names of the children in the school. We need to offer specific, positive feedback about what’s working in the classroom and where we need to go.”

Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Ralph Northram, also spoke to conference attendees, thanking them for the work they do every day and telling them, “I’m standing here talking to you because of my education.” He also urged Association members to increase the focus on STEAM activities and early childhood education.


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