Sunday, August 15, 2010

This is the first opportunity I have had to post anything on my blog since starting my third year in office and the first year of my second--and final-- term as VEA President. All of that started on August 2 which also coincidentally was the date that our new Executive Director, Philip Forgit, joined the VEA.

Philip and I started out his first day on the job and the beginning of my new term in the VEA Headquarters in Richmond where I introduced Philip to those staff members who work in our headquarters--at least to the ones who weren't on vacation or on their summer schedule. We offered a coffee break for everyone mid-morning in our large conference room, and then later in the day, I took all of the VEA Management team and Philip out to lunch for an informal gathering.

On Tuesday morning, August 3, Philip and I both headed to Roanoke in order to drop in for a while on the VEA Districts 4 & 5 Association Activist training. We were able to sit in on part of the training and share lunch with the leaders and reps from Roanoke, Roanoke County, Franklin County, Botetourt County, Alleghany County, and Covington, just to name a few. Philip got to meet UniServ Directors, Pat Wood and Ron Emery, and he got a chance to chat with some of our district leaders, our NEA Director, Sarah Patton, and some of the newer reps who have just signed up to serve in that capacity for the first time along with some of the more veteran reps who have been dedicated to the association for years.

I always feel like it is a homecoming when I am in Roanoke since I lived and worked there for 25 years. Some of the reps who were in the training were former colleagues of mine from Roanoke County and many of them were district and UniServ Council leaders when I was a local leader so many years ago. It was great getting to spend some time with them.

After lunch, Philip and I took off together for Carroll County. It was great getting some time to spend just the two of us getting to know each other better and to talk about the many facets of the VEA and our hopes and dreams for the future of our organization. We have much in common with regard to our ambitions for our organization, and I am extremely impressed with Philip's vision and his ability to articulate that vision in a way that people, I believe, will readily adopt as they listen to his plans for our collective future organizationally.

On Wednesday morning, August 4, Philip and I joined the new Carroll County Education Association President, Keith Hommema, at the Floyd County High School for their convocation. We got to meet the division superintendent and some of our long time members there, and we got to spend some quality time with UniServ Director, Marshall Leitch. Marshall represents District 3 and the New River UniServ Unit. After the convocation and a brief reception for employees, Philip and Marshall and I went to lunch where we had a long and productive conversation about the VEA.

From Floyd County, Philip and I then traveled to Norton, VA where we convened with Doris Boitnott, one of our two new Membership Organizing Specialists, and Ernie Roberts, the UniServ Director for District 1 and the Cumberland UniServ Unit. Doris had been in the Cumberland area since the first of the week participating in the Association Activist training that was offered to the leaders in District 1. By all accounts, it was a great training and the folks out that way feel energized and ready to go to work on building back the membership ranks that have slipped in some areas for various reasons. Philip had a chance to talk at length with Doris and Ernie over dinner on the 4th, and the first thing the next morning, we headed off to Pound, VA where the Wise County Public Schools convocation was being held.

For the second year in a row, I was allowed to speak to the audience which was a huge honor and privilege. I mostly talked about the excitement and anticipation that goes into planning for a brand new year and particularly about the excitement inherent in that first day back when everyone gets to start with a fresh slate--students, parents, and educators alike. I also got a chance to remind the folks that while they are busy doing their best to provide the best education they can for the students they teach, the VEA is working constantly on their behalf monitoring the activities of the Virginia General Assembly, the Board of Education, and other groups that impact the policies and political decisions that drive what we do every day. I also reminded them that this year, in particular, we are going to need to be on guard about protecting even more fiercely than before, our Virginia Retirement System. It is simply a fact that public pension programs are under attack and are being subjected to new scrutiny by legislators and politicians who are looking to balance the budget on the backs of public employees. We must band together as never before to prevent that from happening in Virginia.

After helping out with the new member recruitment effort in Wise County, Philip and I headed on back to Roanoke where he picked up his car and headed back to Richmond. Since I needed to be back in Scott County first thing Monday morning, I stayed in Roanoke and worked remotely, answering phone messages, returning emails, etc., and catching up on work that had piled up during the week that I was out of the office.

Before getting to Roanoke, however, Philip and I took a detour for lunch in Abingdon, and we caught up with Helen Marlowe, UniServ Director for District 2 and Southwest Virginia UniServ. Doris Boitnott, who was also headed back toward Roanoke stopped with us, and we had lunch and great conversation before heading back to Roanoke.

On Sunday afternoon, I headed back toward Southwest Virginia for Abingdon, VA where I met up with Helen Marlowe again. We were joined by Doris Boitnott and her new partner in Membership Organizing, Robin Gardner, and Ernie Roberts joined us again.

The five of us had a productive meeting over dinner to talk about the activities of the upcoming week. The first item on my agenda was to attend a professional development meeting in Scott County for an opportunity to meet folks and hand out some membership materials.

Following that activity on Monday morning, I headed back to Abingdon where I attended the Washington County Education Association rep meeting and got to hear first hand some of the local issues and concerns that are already on the front burner.

The next morning, after catching up again on emails and phone messages, I left Abingdon and drove to Floyd, VA. The photo at the beginning of the posting is of the sun rising over the mountains as I came out of the Blue Ridge Restaurant on Wednesday morning. I stayed at Hotel Floyd the night before, and I got up early and walked over to the restaurant so I could get a good breakfast before starting my day at the Floyd County High School for their back to school convocation. Seeing the sun rise like that over the mountains with the road sign for Route 221 in the forefront just struck me as a particularly beautiful scene, so I grabbed my phone to take a photograph so that I could share.

I then traveled the five minutes from the hotel to the Floyd County High School for their employee meeting. There I got to spend time with FCEA President, Diana Sutphin, and some of her board members. I also got to see Marshall Leitch again which is always a treat, and the surprise of the morning was when Dr. Bill Bosher walked into the cafeteria. Dr. Bosher and I have known each other since my ABTEL days in the early and mid-1990's, and later our paths crossed several times while I worked on my Ph.D. at VCU where he is on the faculty. He was also one of the co-chairs of Governor McDonnell's Education Transition team, so I know and appreciate Dr. Bosher's influence over educational policy in Virginia quite well. He is a delightful individual and a great speaker, and he talked to the group assembled that morning about the importance of making children feel good about school. If they don't feel safe and they don't feel like someone at school cares about them, they become disenchanted and disengaged and we simply cannot afford to let that happen. Every child deserves a quality education with a highly qualified teacher and every child deserves to have adequate resources allocated so that the education he/she receives is going to prepare him/her for the uncertain futures that face them. On those points, Dr. Bosher and I are in total agreement. He presented a delightfully funny but also profound message to the audience that morning, and I think everyone--including myself--appreciated his remarks.

After the Floyd County event ended, I headed back to Richmond where I spent busy and active days in the office on Thursday and Friday.

And that brings me to today.

I have a stack of things piled on my desk at the office that I am thinking I will go tend to today even though it is Sunday. Tomorrow I will need to away from the office most of the day attending a meeting that is being convened by the Board of Education and the Center for Innovative Technology. The topic of discussion will be Virginia's re-evaluation of the models used for evaluating teachers and administrators. We will no doubt be looking at a variety of pay for performance models including merit pay plans based on student test scores. It is unavoidable that that will be brought up. But I am confident that the VEA will be well represented at the table since I have asked the following individuals to serve on the work group: Michael Hairston, President of the Fairfax Education Association; Bonnie Klakowicz, President of the Prince William Education Association; Frank Cardella, President of the Chesterfield Education Association; and Dominic Melito, President of the Virginia Beach Association. In addition to my attending the initial meeting myself tomorrow, we will also have Betty Lambdin, Director of the Office of Teaching and Learning joining the group, and Sherri Arnold, an English teacher from Maggie Walker Governor's School will also be serving on the work group. She is, happily, also a member of the VEA, a former President from the Henrico Education Association, and a current leader in the Richmond Education Association. I believe it is safe to say that the VEA will be well represented as this important dialogue begins.

For the rest of August, I have many things on my calendar related to membership recruitment, new teacher orientations, and meetings with leaders in northern Virginia as well as Tidewater. If the first two weeks of August have been busy, I anticipate that the rest of the month will be just as busy.

I have shared all of this information with you this morning in hopes to getting across the message that we are working very hard on your behalf to make for a stronger VEA and a more powerful organization for our members. I recommend to you the interview that Philip Forgit, the new VEA Executive Director conducted last week so you can get a sense of his views on our need to develop a stronger organizing culture at the VEA. That interview can be found on our VEA website at

I think I have just about exhausted all of the "news" that I have to share about our August so far, so, until next time.