In July, roughly 6,000 National Education Association (NEA) members assembled in Chicago, as well as remotely. Chicago was chosen after a historic decision to boycott the original 2022 NEA Representative Assembly (NEA RA) location of Houston, Texas, sending a strong message to Texas legislators in the wake of anti-women and anti-choice legislation voted into law in the lone-star state.
The RA is one of the union’s most consequential events to debate, determine and enact policy that will guide the national union and its nearly 3.2 million members during the upcoming school year. Every state affiliate of NEA, including NJEA, sends a delegation of its members to represent its respective statewide union.
In her keynote address to the delegates on July 2, NEA President Becky Pringle delivered a stirring message of hope, resiliency and commitment. “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world, and you have to do it all time,” said Pringle, quoting writer and educator Angela Davis. Without hope for change, change is impossible. “We must share that view Professor Davis holds dear: Whether it is a mind, a heart, a school, a community, or our world: transformation is always possible!”
The challenges facing educators, students and communities today are real and many: crippling educator shortages, a lack of professional pay, an ongoing assault on curriculum that honestly confronts this nation’s history of racism and openly celebrates LGBTQ+ people.
And still, despite these challenges, “you’ve embraced your role as the voice of education professionals; you understand that our work is fundamental to this nation, so you have accepted the profound trust that has been placed in us,” Pringle told RA delegates. “You have found a way to resist, even as you hold onto joy. Courageous and creative. Prepared and persistent. You stand in the power of NEA—and NEA stands in the power that is you!”
Vice President Kamala Harris to educators: ‘You Are Essential to Our Democracy’
Vice President Kamala Harris gave high praise to educators for their commitment to students and social justice, and offered reasons for hope despite the obstacles they face in an electrifying “call-to-action” address on Tuesday, July 5.
After pausing to remember the seven people killed and dozens wounded in the July 4 shooting in Highland Park near the site of the RA in Chicago, Harris issued a searing indictment of those politicians who refuse to make our schools and communities safer with further common sense legislation to curb gun violence. “Teachers should not have to practice barricading a classroom. Teachers should not have to know how to treat a gunshot wound. And teachers should not be told that ‘Lives would have been saved if you only had a gun,’” said Harris.
Harris also thanked educators for their partnership, praised their commitment to social justice, and asked them to keep moving the nation forward.
Initiating change and taking a stand
The work of NEA RA delegates is to debate association policies, legislative position statements, resolutions and new business items (NBIs) that govern the actions of the nation’s largest union. Long hours are spent behind the scenes researching the policies and NBIs presented, speaking with the makers, and coming to decisions as a state caucus.
Educators are increasingly aware that students need and deserve safe, just, and equitable schools. One NBI really stood out, setting the tone for the rest of the proceedings, and it was spearheaded by NJEA member and NEA Board member James Frazier from Union County. He was one of several educators appointed to serve on the task force that developed the criteria behind the new policy, which continues to build upon the existing and ongoing racial and social justice work of the association.
Frazier is excited about the work ahead and how educators will be able to create positive, nurturing school communities for students to flourish in a diverse and interdependent world. Equally important, he is ready to help lead the work of the policy so that today’s educators have the resources, training, and supports they need to help all students succeed.
“This policy statement allows NEA to provide the avenues for educators to have what they need so that education is safe, just, and equitable across this nation and to feel supported in their work,” says Frazier. “In turn, our entire school community will be affected in a positive, nurturing way, and our students will leave their communities and flourish in whatever community they go into next. That is what this policy will help do.”
NEA RA delegates adopted the policy statement. It will help students thrive and further cement the association’s vision of schools as thriving spaces that are safe and welcoming for all students, discriminatory toward none.
The policy focuses on a variety of actions guided by the following principles:
- Adopt a restorative justice philosophy to create a school climate that rejects the criminalization and policing of students.
- Provide training and support for culturally competent instruction.
- Develop and implement plans to end disparities in disciplinary and behavioral practices.
- Create a community-centered school environment to foster safe, positive environments and engage all members of the public school.
NJ delegates elected for national seats
During the NEA RA, delegates are also responsible for electing the association’s leadership, which this year included three three-year seats and one one-year seat on the NEA Executive Committee. Several NJEA and NJREA members were elected into national seats.
Christine Sampson-Clark, a delegate from Mercer County and a teacher in the Trenton Public Schools, was reelected to a three-year term on the NEA Executive Committee.
“I’m honored to continue my advocacy work and representing the voices of my fellow education professionals in my second term on NEA’s Executive Committee,” said Sampson-Clark. “I believe it is my duty to promote education excellence for our students and our educators.” As an educator, advocate, and community activist, Sampson-Clark is dedicated to raising issues on the national agenda that are important to students and NEA members. She also is committed to quality and equity in public education and inspiring members to work collectively.
Previously, Sampson-Clark has served on the NEA Board of Directors, as chair of a number of NEA boards and committees, including the NEA Board’s Black Caucus and the NEA Friends of Education Committee. This is her second three-year term on the NEA Executive Committee.
Middlesex County Education Association member and NJEA delegate, Lois Yukna, was elected president of the National Council for Education Support Professionals (NCESP) for the next three years by her fellow NCESP members. Her term begins Sept. 1, 2022.
“It is indeed an honor and I am excited to advance the work of the council,” said Yukna. “The voices of our ESPs must be at the forefront of our work. We not only represent school staff but students as well. Our experience and knowledge are critical to creating environments in which our students feel safe and can thrive within their communities.”
Yukna serves as president of the Middlesex County Education Association, Executive Committee member of the Woodbridge Township Education Association, the NJEA Executive Committee and is the 2017 NJEA ESP of the Year. Yukna previously served as the NCESP Secretary.
As a strong advocate for all members, she has risen through the ranks of the association. Yukna’s association experience began with her successfully graduating from NJEA’s Union School and the NJEA Bolivar L. Graham Practicing Apprentice Program. She is an accomplished leader on the local level and has achieved key leadership roles on the county, state and national levels. She embodies the true essence of an education support professional in every aspect of her work and will serve our national membership proudly.