Empowering Educators to Get ESSA Right

Empowered Educators Day at the NEA Representative Assembly 2016

The evils of NCLB are gone and the opportunity of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is here, Shelly Moore Krajacic, NEA Executive Committee, told delegates at Empowered Educators Day July 3.

“No more test and punish,” she said during the opening plenary of “Educators and Leaders Collaborating and Action Planning in Support of Student-Centered, Educator-Led Strategic Change: ESSA Implementation. “Now it’s about putting kids first. Student learning is at the center of everything of what NEA does and every member should be empowered to make sure ESSA puts students first.”

Krajacic reminded the participants that ESSA is the latest form of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, a major part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty and of the Civil Rights Movement. ESSA puts those principles back into the law, she said, and involves the community and puts the people who know kids best at the center of the process.

There is opportunity for equity, for community resources, for helping struggling populations of students, for English Language Learners and more. The key is empowering educators to take charge, not federal policy makers.

“Here’s the thing about the U.S. Education Department (ED) — they like having a lot of power, and we’re about to take that away from them,” she said. “ED is about to publish regulations that interpret the law in ways we don’t like. We have this huge opportunity to say no, we’re not picking you [Education Department], we’re picking our children. We need to own this. It’s about sitting down and actually figuring out what’s best for kids.”

Educators have until August 1 to let ED know what they think of the regulations and how they’d like to see the law implemented, and what better opportunity than NEA’s Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly (RA) to get thousands of educator voices to speak out about this issue.

Throughout the RA delegates will have opportunities to offer ideas on ESSA, by tweeting #EmpoweredNEA and #ESSA, by texting ESSA to 84693 for timely texts on all things ESSA, and by visiting GetESSARight.org for information and a form to share your thoughts on ESSA.

Krajacic acknowledged that not everyone is as excited about union business as RA delegates, but every educator is excited about helping kids succeed. Get them involved, she said. Walk into their classrooms and ask them what they think their kids need, and explain that we have an opportunity to get it.

“Ask them, ‘what would make this an ideal school?’ Maybe they’ll come to a meeting and help you get the word out about ESSA. Maybe they’ll chair a committee,” she said. “Reach people where it matters most, with the students, and use this law as a gateway to get people involved in the union and show them how the union is totally focused on students, that it’s at the core of everything NEA does and stands for.”

After the opening plenary, participants broke into three interactive breakout sessions:

Engaging Families and Communities with the new Every Student Succeeds Act, a two-part session featuring a panel that discussed the family and community engagement provisions of ESSA. The panel was moderated by Kisha Davis Caldwell (MD), National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and included Janet Eberhardt (CA), Community Relations Specialist/Elementary Advisor, 2015 NEA ESP of the Year; Anne T. Henderson (DC), Senior Consultant, Community Organizing and Engagement, Annenberg Institute for School Reform and Amanda Lowe (DC), National Disability Rights Network.

The session also included a facilitated interactive discussion that provided participants with opportunities to work together to lay the foundation for frameworks that will incorporate state/local ESSA/FCE goals, timelines, and proposed activities.

The Instructional Leadership Opportunities Within ESSA allowed participants to engage in cross-role conversations and identify opportunities for authentic educator empowerment in the law. Doreen McGuire-Grigg (CA), Paraeducator, 2016 NEA ESP of the Year, 2016 White House Champion of Change and Phyllis Robinette (CO), Teacher Leadership Initiative, Cohort 2, Cohort 3 Coach, Lewis Palmer Education Association President helped lead the discussion.

The third session, Taking the Lead on ESSA Policy to Ensure Student Empowered Educators Success, focused on ESSA’s intent to put decision-making into the hands of local educators, parents and communities, with discussions on how NEA members must be knowledgeable about the law, and must engage community stakeholders to support policies that meet the needs of our students. NEA leaders discussed best practices and strategies to build partnerships and shape policy at the state level.

Moderated by Kimberlee Irvine (UTEA), Alumni Teacher Leadership Initiative program, panelists included Lynn Goss (WEAC), Paraeducator, Member of US Education Department Negotiated Rulemaking Committee on ESSA, Cecily Myart-Cruz (CTA), Educator, United Teachers Los Angeles-NEA Vice President, and Gabriel Tanglao (NJEA), graduate of NJEA Union School, the NJEA Apprentice Program and leader of NJEA’s first Minority Leadership Training Cadre.

NJEA’s Tanglao urged participants to engage their state delegations and their colleagues back home.

“ESSA is a major opportunity. It can become a missed opportunity or something we seize, it’s up to us,” he said. “We need to approach it with a sense of urgency.”

Learn more at GetESSARight.org.