Nearly 400 teachers gathered at the Mohegan Sun Expo and Convention Center last night to begin setting policy and electing new leaders at the 171st Connecticut Education Association Representative Assembly (CEA RA). The CEA RA is the Association’s highest policymaking body.
CEA President Jeff Leake opened with a warm acknowledgement of teachers’ hard work and dedication.
Delegates were welcomed to the assembly by members of Bridgeport’s Harding High School choir, led by Connecticut Teacher of the Year Sheena Graham, performing an original song written by Graham. “All our kids need a place at the table, a place within a home,” rang out the chorus. “All our kids need a place at the table to be nourished by a feast of love, acceptance, encouragement, praise, and peace.”
On day one of the two-day assembly, CEA Executive Director Donald Williams thanked all Connecticut teachers for their commitment to their students.
“You’re serving your profession, your union, and public education,” he said. “It is a privilege to live and work with purpose—knowing your work has meaning and value, working toward a goal that benefits many, and providing inspiration for children and the next generation. It comes as no surprise that teachers live and work with purpose. You have the power to open the doors of knowledge and to help all students reach their potential.
“You would think these would be universal goals, but they’re not,” he added, referring to corporate profiteers attempting to undermine public education. Contrasting anti-union, anti-public education endeavors bankrolled by billionaires such as Betsy DeVos and the Koch brothers with those of LeBron James, the Dalio Foundation, and others who have used their wealth and influence to buoy public education, Williams said a growing disenchantment with corporate interests and the education reform movement has reinvigorated support for public schools, the students who learn and grow there, and the teachers who make that growth and learning possible.
He also spoke of CEA’s accomplishments and challenges. “Many of our key priorities have advanced this legislative session, including a classroom safety bill that has passed out of the Education and Appropriations Committees and a bill that advances the holistic approach of community schools.” A measure that would shift a portion of the cost of teacher pensions onto cities and towns, however, still looms, and “the legislative clock is ticking,” Williams warned. He urged teachers to watch for Action Alerts from CEA and be ready to contact legislators and voice their concerns.
Up to the challenge
Also addressing the crowd was Berlin teacher David Bosso, recently inducted into the National Teachers’ Hall of Fame, who noted that teaching “is not easy work, but it is vital to who we are as a society. As we conclude National Teacher Appreciation Week, it often feels that the weight of the world is upon our shoulders. We are heroes and champions to our colleagues and our students, but we shouldn’t have to be. Nevertheless, our kids need us, and we take on the burden. We take on the challenge of improving people’s lives. We stand at the forefront of making this world a better place. Our students will become what they aspire to be because of us. Thank you for carrying out this incredibly important work every day.”
Luanelly Iglesias, NEA Danbury EMAC chair and winner of the 2019 Human and Civil Rights George I. Sanchez Memorial Award honoring teachers who significantly advance equal opportunity for Hispanics, noted that in her 15-year career as a bilingual teacher, “CEA has opened many doors for me.” Born in Puerto Rico, Iglesias worked in a factory to help support her family and was a bilingual student herself 30 years ago, when she moved from Puerto Rico.
“I learned how to defeat many barriers through the power of education,” she said, reminding her colleagues of the incredible influence they have on their students. “Many of our students spend more of their time with us than with their families.”
Running unopposed, Stephanie Wanzer was re-elected as CEA secretary, and NEA Director David Jedidian was elected CEA treasurer. With no candidates nominated for Ethnic Minority Director At-Large, Leake announced, CEA’s Board of Directors will appoint a member to fill the position at an upcoming meeting in June or August.
Delegates adopted nine proposed amendments to the CEA RA standing rules and numerous business items. They also passed several resolutions to advance educational opportunities for all individuals (as through affordable early childhood programs, the development of social-emotional competencies, and equitable resources for students affected by poverty), ensure environmentally safe schools, and promote professional excellence, the rights of teachers, and the diversity and strength of the union.
The CEA RA continues today, when delegates vote on a budget that supports strategic objectives, programs, and services for members and discuss new business items.