Helping produce the ESP Conference in NOLA

By Sheila Caldwell, BSN, RN, CSN-NJ

There are times when you are asked to dance into the wee hours. You’re moving, twirling, and swaying, knowing that all the preparation for the choreography is front and center for those on the stage. The audience doesn’t know the intense nature of the work involved to make the production come off without a hitch, but the choreographers, dancers, musicians and all who assist with stage management do. The audience stands and is pleading for an encore. They want more, they hadn’t been together to celebrate in more than two years and love the interactions, connections, learning and overall experience that the team has put together.

The team understood the task and was more than up for it to make the 2022 Education Support Professionals (ESP) Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) a great success.

I had mentioned the ESP Conference in my last entry. Well, the conference was in March, and I will share some of my work in relation to it. Just know that all the while anything related to health and safety that NEA had be involved in still was ongoing, but this is about the conference.

My main focus prior to the conference was assuring that the vendors and sponsors were provided with any and all information for “in-person” as well as “virtual” exhibiting. I provided them with the customer service that would be expected when asking a company or group to offer to be a part of such an important event–an event that focuses on the education support professions in the school setting. In NEA language, this means the “career families.” You can read more about them by clicking here.

I oversaw the process for the program guide entries in the conference app for both in person and virtual vendors and other exhibitors. All of the ESPQ team had specific responsibilities, but whenever any other team member needed assistance, we pitched in. It was very evident to the attendees that the expectation was a great experience for all.

I’ve worked in event planning before, so this was just another opportunity to recall the skillset that I had in my toolbox and expand upon it. I was asked by family and friends at home about NOLA. I had to respond that I was there for work and not a vacation to be able to sightsee the city. This was a concept that some didn’t seem to understand, having not worked on all that it takes to smoothly prepare for more than 500 attendees. This number was truly lighter from what I had been told, as we were honoring COVID-19 protocols.

I do have to say that there were a few moments to connect with some other NJEA members. A group scooped me away for a few minutes to take a few photos at the “step and repeat,” which is the sort of backdrop you often see celebrities pose in front of on the red carpet. I also had some conversations about the sessions and how NJEA members were so very delighted that they did attend.

I did almost forget to mention that the evening that many had planned to arrive in NOLA, tornadoes tore through parts of the city. Thank goodness we were safe, but from brief discussions with some of the local residents who work at the hotel, there was devastation in nearby areas. There were even reports from attendees that their planes had to circle in the sky above the storms before they were able to land.

As far as the conference goes, there were an array of presentations that focused on the Leadership Competency Framework. You can take a look at the presentations that were offered by downloading the program and even seeing presenters from New Jersey that you might know (click here). If you are an ESP looking to expand your presenting to the national stage, consider watching for the call for proposals next school year.

I do have to say that I hadn’t been on a plane in several years and had some apprehension. I was also concerned about my knowledge of re-circulated air on the plane due to the coronavirus, but we had a smooth flight, people remained masked, and all went well.

Finally, for this entry, I do want to share the ESP of the Year Reception and Award Dinner. These events were well attended, and everyone had a great time. Both evenings lent way to networking and celebrating. I have to give a shout-out to our outgoing 2021 ESP of the Year recipient, Kimberly Scott-Hayden’s, whose outgoing speech was delivered with such passion. You can view photos taken throughout the conference by clicking here.

So, now that this major production for the NEA ESPQ team has ended, it is time to get back to the work of health and safety as well as any other opportunities that my fellowship dance takes me. Takin’ off these shoes for now.

(Thank you to Ashanti Rankin and Sabina Ellis for some of the photos)

Sheila Caldwell is a certified school nurse in the Matawan Aberdeen Regional School District. She is on leave to participate in the SISP Fellowship described in this article. In addition to receiving numerous national and local awards, Caldwell has received the American Academy of Pediatrics-NJ Chapter School Health Advocate of Year (2016) and the 2021 National Association of School Nurses (NASN) Recognition Award for “continued support and unique contributions to NASN and school nursing.”

Caldwell can be reached at