The Wayne Education Association (WEA) has always worked hard to be an ‘in the know’ organization. WEA President and social studies teacher at Wayne Valley High School Eda Ferrante prides WEA’s involvement at the local, county, and state level. Whether conducting PAC drives, campaigning for Board elections, contacting legislators, or communicating with members, “we all have to realize that our union participation must extend beyond the local level – it’s bigger than that,” Ferrante said.
So in response to national #RedforEd initiatives across the country, along with New Jersey’s own organizing efforts surrounding passage of important ESP and Chapter 78 legislation, WEA declared 2019 as “a year of action” with a strategic plan to engage members throughout the new year. The actions team met throughout the fall to develop specific actions targeted for specific time periods in 2019.
Donna Reaver, action team chair and first grade teacher at James Fallon Elementary School, indicated it was important to “hit the ground running” after returning from the holiday break by communicating with members ahead of the holiday season about the various initiatives WEA planned to undertake.
Starting on January 2nd, and every Wednesday in January, WEA members began their #RedforEd and Chapter 78 reform initiatives by gathering outside their school buildings to walk in together to raise community awareness of the devastating effects that have taken their toll on educators across the state. Reaver stated, ‘almost everyone’ participated at all our fifteen sites.
In order to ensure the Wayne township community understood the reasons for the actions, the WEA actively publicized all their organizing efforts via local news outlets and social media.
Christopher DeWilde, music teacher at Anthony Wayne Middle School, states that people do take notice.
“Even at the middle school level, students have been asking questions about why we are doing this,” DeWilde said. “Overall, the community has had a positive reaction. Having a large percentage of parental and community support just strengthens our cause.”
Ferrante also advocates getting involved with county organizations as well. As a member of the Passaic County Education Association (PCEA) actions committee, Ferrante met and planned with other local leaders throughout the fall. One county initiative included an event on January 30th at the Willowbrook Mall, in Wayne, where three-hundred members organized to demonstrate against Chapter 78.
Continuing in February, the WEA focused their energy on a social media campaign focused on the national #RedforEd momentum along with lobbying legislators to support legislation for ESP protections and Chapter 78 relief. And the end of March, WEA conducted district-wide walk-outs to call attention to Chapter 78.
Reaver ensured that community and media outlets were notified to keep the message clear.
“This has reached a crisis state” Reaver said. “It’s really an obvious and critical situation. Teachers are leaving the profession and those remaining are taking second and third jobs to make ends meet.”
Ferrante insists that it must not end there.
“Our next goal is to work with district PTOs to engage parents even further, hoping that on future #RedforEd days, educators are not the only members of the school communities wearing red,” Ferrante said. “We want to see parents and students wearing red in support of their educators.”
Rebecca Tzortinis, teacher at Albert Payson Terhune Elementary School and PTO president of James Fallon Elementary School, echoes the importance of getting word out to the parents and community.
“Sharing our stories to the public at board of education meetings has been eye opening for many parents. Many people outside of the profession are not always aware of what is happening with Chapter 78 and hearing the concerns of dedicated professionals is important,” Tzortinis said.
When providing assistance to other presidents and local leaders in developing member buy-in, Ferrante discusses the importance of making connections with your members.
“One-to-one meetings are vital to ensuring that our members are educated so they can continue informing and educating others” Ferrante said. “But, it cannot be member-to-member alone; we must engage the entire community.”
“Everyone needs to let their voices be heard. We are already seeing support growing, so we need to keep moving ahead,” Tzortinis said. “Currently my school PTO suggested ordering our field day shirts in red to help us continue our #RedforEd campaign.”
DeWilde believes it has helped locally, but also at the state level.
“I feel that over time we have engaged more of the staff and it has become a good bonding experience for us as a group,” DeWilde said. “It is important to show our government leaders along with the community that we are united and will stand up for what we believe in.”
WEA plans to participate at the NJEA Day of Unity on May 1st at the Wayne Municipal Building at 475 Valley Road.
Ferrante insists there is no reason for people to be left in the dark.
“If a member in my local or in any local aren’t hearing the message, they should go ask their president, go ask their county leaders, go ask their colleagues in other schools,” Ferrante said. “This isn’t just about WEA members; it’s about all members.”