Friend of ESP: Victoria Hughes 

For Victoria Hughes, a health and elementary education teacher in Phillipsburg Primary and Elementary schools, educational support professionals (ESPs) are not employed to merely “support” the professional staff. For Hughes, they are an essential and equal part of the school team. 

This is the key reason that she received the NJEA Friend of ESP Award at the NJEA ESP Conference in February. The award can be bestowed upon any person or organization whose leadership, acts, dedication, commitment and support have proven that person or organization to be a true friend of, and advocate for, ESPs and their contributions to public education and students. 

“As an educator, Vicky understands that it takes a village to raise a child, and she works hand in hand with ESPs to build a true sense of community,” said NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson upon handing Hughes the award. 

Hughes travels between two schools, teaching nearly 1,000 students and working with more than 200 staff members. She works to ensure that her students understand that the ESPs with whom they interact are educators, whether the staff members are secretaries, custodians, food service or transportation professionals, instructional technology staff members, paraprofessionals, teachers or any staff member in the school. 

“I have always made it a priority to include special education paraprofessionals in my work and to interact with them as the fellow professional colleagues they are,” Hughes says. “We brainstorm together to ensure that all of our students learn the objectives of our lessons. We discuss content knowledge, not only for any given academic day, but as stewards of our students’ progress.” 

Hughes goes the extra mile to include ESP members’ core content ideas in her classes. 

“Their ideas are such a complement to my lesson plans because they are creative, inspiring, concise, and imbued with kindness and compassion. 

A true people person 

Scott Elliott, a special education paraprofessional at Phillipsburg Elementary School, nominated Hughes for the NJEA Friend of ESP Award. He notes that Hughes has over 30 years in public education. Now completing her 23rd year in Phillipsburg, Hughes began her career in Trenton Public Schools teaching in the family life program, which was a pilot program of Rutgers University. Hughes played a key role in a program that went on to have a statewide impact. 

“Vicky is truly a people person, especially when it comes to ESPs,” Elliott says. “I can attest that she treats all ESPs like classroom teachers each and every day, and always asks for their opinions—especially when it comes to classroom management, behavioral intervention plans and the establishment of protocols and procedures that affect all students.” 

In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Hughes is one of the moderators for the AAA School Safety Patrol Program at Phillipsburg Elementary School. The primary goals of the program are to help children cross streets safely on their way to and from school, to help them achieve safety on the school bus, and to foster qualities of leadership and good citizenship.  

Hughes knows that this work also requires the equal participation of ESPs, particularly paraprofessionals who work as one-on-one assistants for students who need such specialized services. As staff members who implement the goals of the patrol program, their specialized knowledge concerning their students’ needs, as well as their daily experience with students at crosswalks and on buses, is indispensable in running an effective program. 

“Vicky is collaborative, proactive and dedicated to any task she applies herself to,” says Edward Labatch, the assistant principal at Phillipsburg Elementary School. “She is held in high regard by her fellow colleagues—including support staff and administration. They recognize her commitment to success in the school and the Phillipsburg community as a whole.”