Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Last Two Weeks

Since writing last on November 8th, I have been busy as usual.

On November 9th, I testified before the Joint Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education for the purpose of maintaining the VEA position that in spite of the revenue shortfall that continues to get worse rather than better, we urge our lawmakers to protect K-12 classrooms as much as possible. It is important that we not shortchange our students at the very time when they need a high quality education that will help to prepare them for the challenges of the 21st century global economy. Specifically, one of the recommendations that I offered was as follows:

"VEA supports the policy direction adopted by the Virginia Board of Education on October 22, 2009, to 'Advocate against permanent structural changes to the Standards of Quality that result in decreased funding for K-12 public education.' The Board adopted this position following extensive study of the issue of funding our schools and following extensive public input. I urge you to base your decisions on this important policy direction."

In short, we continue to urge that lawmakers make every attempt to make cuts to K-12 education minimal and temporary. We have an uphill battle ahead of us, however. There are those in the House of Delegates who fail to appreciate their responsibility to uphold the Constitution of the Commonwealth which requires that they " shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained."

Rest assured, we stand ready to remind them at every opportunity of their responsibility, but we will need the help and support of every educator in the Commonwealth as we enter this General Assembly session.

On November 10th I attended the Brunswick regional Pre-Legislative Dinner with Director of the Office of Government Relations and Research, Rob Jones and his Assistant, Doris Boitnott. We had a great turn out for that event, and we have one more dinner to attend next week in Danville.

On November 11th, I served as one member of a panel discussion sponsored by the Atlantic in partnership with Altria. The topic of discussion was "Beyond the Classroom: Collaborating to Leverage In-and Out-of School Efforts for Student Success." Joining me on the panel were Sherrie Brach, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg, Karen Pittman, Executive Director of the Forum for Youth Investment, and Ellen Winn, Director of the Education Equality Project. The event was moderated by the Deputy Managing Editor of Atlantic Monthly, James Gibney.

On November 12th, I left for New Orleans in order to attend a national conference of elected officers and executive directors from each of the state affiliates. This group which identifies itself as the National Council of State Education Affiliates (NCSEA) meets quarterly for the purpose of sharing with one another and networking around the various issues that are affecting us all. Topics of discussion included the most recent released regulations that are part of the Race to the Top funds, charter schools, and performance pay just to name a few. We listened to two dynamic speakers, and we had a great time networking with one another and sharing issues of common concern.

I returned to Virginia on November 17th and traveled the next day to Alexandria to celebrate ESP Day and American Education Week at John Adams Elementary School. I was joined by NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan along with NEA Executive Committee member, Paul Monroe and ESP of the Year Debbie Axtell. We had a great time. We were entertained by the musical performance of students who played for us and we had 4th graders join us in the library media center so that they could help celebrate and recognize several of the ESP employees in their building.

After a brief ceremony in the library, we moved to the cafeteria where Dennis, Secretary Duncan, Paula, Debbie and I served lunch to 2nd graders who were pretty awestruck by the number of cameras that surrounded them while they chose between chicken or grilled cheese for lunch.

On Saturday, November 21st, I chaired the second and final meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee to Study Dues and yesterday and today I spent some valuable but rare time in the office for the purpose of catching up on mail, meetings, and routine business.

Next week I will be headed for Abingdon for a Legislative Dinner with the southwest legislators and leaders from Districts 1 & 2, and then I will meet Doris and Rob in Danville for the 9th and final Pre-Legislative Dinner of 2009.

Other important events that have occurred include the hiring of a new Director of Human Resources and Finance and a new secretary for the Office of Government Relations and Research. These new hires are the result of long time VEA employees who are retiring and leaving us next week. Brenda Cloyd who has been a part of the VEA landscape ever since she became vice president back in the early 1980's and Betty Wright who has worked for the VEA for 40 years are both retiring and their last day will be next week. It is going to be hard to think of their not being part of the VEA family...but we look forward to working with the individuals who are coming on in their new roles. We welcome them and hope that they will find the VEA a place where they can stay for the next 40 years.

In a couple of days we will all be celebrating Thanksgiving. I would like to sign off by offering my heartfelt wishes for a happy Thanksgiving for all who read this post. We have much to be thankful for in spite of the many challenges that are presenting themselves to us. Most specifically, we have each other, and for me, at least, I am thankful for that every single day.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Until next time.