By Kathryn Coulibaly
As NJEA President Marie Blistan likes to say, educational support professionals, also known as ESPs, should really be known as essential school professionals because they—and the work they do—are the heart and soul of our school communities. No one better exemplifies that dedication, service, and community spirit than 2021 NJEA ESP of the Year Kimberly Scott-Hayden.
The list of her accomplishments and acts of service is impressive but does not do justice to the energy that Scott-Hayden brings the work she does. She is a proud graduate of East Orange Public Schools, where she currently serves as an inventory control clerk, assists the supervisor of Security Services, and is the president of the East Orange Maintenance Association. She is also the daughter of Amy and Lester Scott who both worked in East Orange, Amy as a revered kindergarten teacher and Lester as a maintenance worker/painter.
Scott-Hayden’s involvement in her district also led to her meeting her husband, Eric Hayden, a retired police officer who works as a security guard in the district. As a further testament to Scott-Hayden’s extraordinarily giving nature, she donated a kidney to her husband of 21 years in September. Scott-Hayden, who has three children, is also raising three of her seven grandchildren.
If it all sounds exhausting, you’re right! But Scott-Hayden’s can-do spirit just doesn’t quit.
For Scott-Hayden, who graduated from Clifford J. Scott High School in 1988, coming to work in the district in 1995 was like coming home. After her parents repeatedly encouraged her to apply to work in the district, she started her first day on the job on Dec. 18, 1995—her birthday.
“That was my birthday present to myself that year,” Scott-Hayden recalls. “I’d worked at the YMCA of Montclair with children after school and at Brookhaven Health Care, but my parents knew that I belonged here and that I had a lot to contribute to this community. There’s a lot of history and connection for me in East Orange; what better place to work than a place where I can give back?”
Scott-Hayden’s mother was instrumental in showing her how she could give back to her community through the school district.
“Watching her work and give so much of herself was really powerful,” Scott-Hayden says. “She would make sure kids who didn’t have coats and gloves were taken care of. We’d take her students with us to the circus or to the beach. We still have relationships with these people today; they see us as their family. My mother had such compassion and love and she passed that on to me.”
Another value her parents passed on to her was being an active member of her union. As soon as Scott-Hayden joined the district, her parents urged her to become involved: advice she has taken and run with!
Since becoming president of her local association, Scott-Hayden has grown its membership from 40 to 400. Her unit now represents maintenance, security guards, teaching assistants, and paraprofessionals. She also has serves as an officer with the Essex County Education Association, served on the NJEA Delegate Assembly and the NJEA Executive Committee, and currently is an NEA Director.
Scott-Hayden was featured in an NJEA ad for Ch. 78 relief and ESP Job Justice bills. She has written numerous grants totaling over $100,000 to benefit students, her local association and staff in her district. She initiated innovative programs on professional development (PD) including financial literacy and empowerment, Safe Space Collaboration Centers, and the first-ever PD at Sea event for ESP and certificated staff to be held in 2021, when it is safe to do so.
Scott-Hayden also is an active member of the NJEA Amistad Stakeholder Group. The state’s Amistad mandate is intended to teach the history of Africans and African Americans in the United States and their role in building this nation. The NJEA Amistad Stakeholder Group, created in 2018, is a coalition of education stakeholders representing educators, parents, school and district administrators, education advocates and the New Jersey Department of Education, which seeks to ensure that the mandate is fully implemented.
“As chair of the NJEA Human and Civil Rights Committee, we included all our Equity Alliance chairs as part of that work; we all needed a seat at the table,” Scott-Hayden says. “I brought the information about Amistad to my district when it first became law. We are 90 percent African American in our district and our staff is very diverse, but we have not done what we needed to do to educate our students about the role Africans and African Americans have played in American history. It was very enlightening to sit around the table with the stakeholders, teachers, principals, supervisors, PTA members and discuss these topics. We had all these different groups that touch education in different aspects talking about how we would incorporate the curriculum. And we wanted to ensure that teachers had support to integrate the curriculum into every subject: from math to music to science to history. Just having these conversations made us realize the power this would have on our students.”
Scott-Hayden does not let job descriptions hold her back; one of her biggest pet peeves is when an ESP colleague says they are “just” an ESP.
“We can—and do—have a great impact on students just through the simplest acts of caring about our students and our colleagues,” Scott-Hayden says. “My passion is helping other support staff recognize their talents and contributions. We need to tell our stories about how we impact our students.”
Scott-Hayden’s work touches every student in the district. She is responsible for handling all assets for the district that are $200 or above. She ensures supplies are properly inventoried and tagged, she works with her four colleagues to ensure that shipping and receiving, mail, and in-district supplies for students including paper, pencils, and computers are delivered, barcoded, logged in and distributed appropriately.
In addition, Scott-Hayden is the district liaison for school resource officers. She works closely with SROs in the district to cover staffing in needed buildings and handle issues in the large district which has 22 buildings and more than 10,000 students.
“When I came into the district our SROs were primarily hourly contract employees,” Scott-Hayden recalls. “We worked with the New Jersey Department of Justice on a grant in 2001 and started the program to ensure we had staffing levels where they needed to be, vehicles, and bullet proof vests as well as covered the needs of the Division of Security Services to keep our students and school buildings safe and secure. I got involved initially because of the purchasing aspects, but I also made sure we were following all of the guidelines outlined in the grant and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), as required when dealing with the city, chiefs of police, and the superior officers who oversee the resource officers.”
For Scott-Hayden, forming those relationships has been vital to the success of the program and the safety of students and staff as well as the community.
“We hear about issues with police in our schools across the nation and instances where SROs have overstepped their role,” Scott-Hayden says. “But in East Orange, most of the officers in our schools are people of color and who came from our school district or neighboring district. Most of them are alumni and they still see themselves as part of our school community and as a way of giving back. They identify with our students and they work to understand what’s going on with them. They have absolutely been partners with us in identifying ways to enrich our students lives and keep them safe.”
Scott-Hayden is currently working with SROs, as she had with the support of former district superintendent. She is now working with the new superintendent who is already deeply entrenched in the East Orange community as a former educator and administrator. They are on track to roll out a comprehensive after-school program. It will be implemented after the pandemic and will provide students with a place to go after school, homework services, counseling, peer mediation, and food. Her local union members and other staff along with the SRO officers are planning to volunteer when the program is up and running.
In the meantime, SROs and district staff have volunteered their own time and money to take students to games like the NJ Nets, Knicks, NJ Devils and more.
She starts her day at school at 7 a.m., and no two days are alike.
“I’m in full ‘let’s see what we can do’ mode from the time I walk in the door in the morning until I leave around 5 p.m.,” Scott-Hayden says. “I’m doing inventory, scheduling security staff, dealing with security issues, bar coding laptops, delivering supplies, making an emergency run to the county superintendent’s office, or working to get something to Trenton. I’m constantly problem-solving.”
When the pandemic struck, Scott-Hayden’s considerable connections and problem-solving skills were essential in providing an effective scheduling for food services distribution so that students were fed daily at the grab-and-go sites. This also included maintaining adequate coverage seven days a week, 24 hours a day for the district’s fire and security coverage.
“A lot of people tell me I’m straightforward,” Scott-Hayden says. “If I don’t know something, I’m not going to tell you I do. I’m a person who believes that there’s always a solution, we just need to work together to figure it out. I work with everyone from the superintendent on. You have to be able to communicate well. People know what I say is what I’m going to do. And I stay calm in a crisis. I will work with you to find the right person to solve a problem.”
Scott-Hayden’s contributions to her school community, East Orange, Essex County, NJEA, and NEA are impressive—and she is not done yet. As the 2021 NJEA ESP of the Year, she has a powerful platform to uplift and inspire educational support professionals and educate others about the value of the work they do.
“I feel humbled by this award,” Scott-Hayden says. “I don’t do this work for recognition. I’m one of the behind-the-scenes people. I’m focused on how we will help our students and our members.”
While the global pandemic may disrupt some of perks of being the NJEA ESP of the Year, Scott-Hayden has already been nominated for the NEA ESP of the Year award. She will attend the NEA ESP Conference, which will be held virtually this year, and is entitled to a Disney vacation, funded by NJEA, when it is safe to travel. Scott-Hayden will also receive an ESP of the Year ring, she will be a featured speaker at the NJEA ESP Conference, and she will be honored at the 2021 NJEA Convention.
Kathryn Coulibaly is the associate editor of the NJEA Review and provides content and support to njea.org. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.