Turning Hope into Action was the theme of the NEA Rep Assembly this July 2010, in New Orleans.

Over 8000 delegates from 50 states, Washington, DC, and representatives from international schools attended the conference from June 30 through July 6.



Some of the highlights were President Dennis Van Roekel’s energizing keynote speech. He laid out specific steps educators could take to create change. Van Roekel also told members that the expected changes in the education landscape were strewn with potholes: “an ongoing economic recession, budget cuts and layoffs, grandstanding politicians, and an extreme anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment. Plain and simple – this is not the change I hoped for. Our members feel betrayed and so do I! Our members are angry. So am I!” For more information on the keynote address, click here.

neara10Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the American School System, also spoke to the delegates. Ravitch said that education reform is pushing bad ideas, blasted high stakes testing, and called on educators to fight for the backbone of democracy, (public education), rather than having one system of education for the haves, and another for the have-nots. Ravitch was awarded an NEA Friend of Education Award at the assembly. For a video clip of Ravitch’s speech, click here.

Governor Martin O’Malley, from Maryland, accepted NEA’s Distinguished Education Award. This award goes each year to a governor who has made major statewide efforts to imporove public education. O’Malley stated in his acceptance of the award that it is the responsibility of those in government to give educators the resources and support to ensure that students can be successful.

Teacher of the year Sara Brown Wessling of Iowa said we need schools “where students thrive because of the system, not in spite of it,” and then described what such a school looks and sounds like. Wessling teaches 10th- through 12th-graders at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa, where she's worked for a decade. She uses Facebook and song to teach her high school English students. Her message centered around “decluttering learning”: simplify the “clutter of our days, the bells, the papers, the ten-page cell phone policy, and we need to relearn to wonder. We need to learn to wonder why.”

The NEA ESP of the year was Helen Cottingim, a Kentucky bus driver. She has driven three generations of students since she began her career. Cottingim told the audience that she had a simple application procedure when she first applied for her job: it consisted of a name, address, and a phone number. The salary? A hundred dollars a month. She also said her bus was old enough to have carried the founding fathers. It was a very lively, entertaining speech!

Click here to find the RA speeches.

The Rep Assembly discussed 103 New Business Items, four Standing Rules changes, five Constitutional Amendments, 20 Legislative Amendments, and four changes to Resolutions. The topics of these included financial support for education, bullying, both physical and cyberbullying, immigration issues , reauthorization of ESEA, environmental issues in schools, and communications challenges among others. The assembly passed a hotly debated NBI which called for a no confidence vote in Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. This passed on the first day of the assembly. The delegates also adopted a revision of the Code of Ethics of the Education Profession at the Assembly.

Delegates also shared their perspectives on the Rep Assembly on Facebook, gave generously to the NEA Fund for Children and Education, and also donated over 10,000 books to the Placquemines Parish of New Orleans, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Delegates also drove out to the Placquemines area to help sort and deliver books, and were surprised to find so much devastation to the area five years after Katrina.

Certainly a lot of interesting events took place during the Rep Assembly! To hold such an event in a cultural center such as New Orleans also meant that delegates enjoyed music, food and entertainment unmatched in other RA cities. Delegates from WEA Eastern enjoyed a Council Dinner at Tommy’s on Tchoupitoulas Street on July 3rd. The city and its street names were certainly another aspect for learning. How can Chicago compare? We’ll see in 2011!