Legislators, superintendent, teachers, and national education leader honored with prestigious education champion awards
Nearly 200 educators and guests celebrated the Connecticut Education Association’s 175th anniversary on Friday, September 29, at an inaugural fundraising gala and special awards ceremony at the DoubleTree Hotel in Bristol. Proceeds from the event benefit the Connecticut Education Foundation, which assists children whose families are experiencing financial difficulties, provides scholarships to students pursuing careers in education, and supports teachers facing catastrophic illness or other hardships.
“This fundraising gala is the first in what we hope becomes a cherished annual tradition, raising money for CEF, which is there to help students and teachers in times of need,” said CEF President and CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey.
“As we continue the yearlong celebration of CEA’s founding 175 years ago, we reflect proudly on our organization’s history of standing strong for Connecticut’s active, aspiring, and retired educators, and we honor those who have made a lasting positive impact on students, teachers, and public education,” said CEA President Kate Dias.
The gala recognized teachers, legislators, and other champions of public education. Among the award recipients were former Danbury, CEA, and NEA President Bob Chase and Manchester teacher and early- career educator Katie Grant.
“Bob has made a lifelong commitment to protecting students and teachers’ rights in Connecticut and across the country, starting in the 1970s as a teacher and local leader, through the 1980s, when he led CEA,” said Dias. “In the 1990s he went on to make a difference at the national level, serving as president of the National Education Association, where he supported over three million teachers across the country. Even now, in retirement, he continues to participate in association events and activities and never misses an opportunity to support educators.”
“Just by showing up, speaking out, and advocating with the strength of the three million NEA members behind him, Bob helped Utah teachers receive one of the biggest pay raises in history,” said former NEA President and Utah teacher Lily Eskelsen García, who shared poignant stories underscoring the impact Chase has made on the education community. “You live in the light,” she told him, “and it inspires.”
Accepting his award, Chase became emotional as he recounted the story of a former student who had supported the Ku Klux Klan until a classroom discussion helped change his perspective. All educators, Chase pointed out, have the capacity to open students’ eyes to the wider world. He encouraged teachers to keep teaching truth and never forget the difference they make in their students’ lives.
Fourth-year Manchester High School English teacher Katie Grant was honored for her activism and dedication to union leadership as an early-career educator.
“Katie is a shining example of how young leaders are effecting change in their union and their profession,” said Dias. “She leapt headfirst into a union leadership role, first as an aspiring educator and now as a Manchester teacher, and in those roles she has proven herself as a mentor and guide to other new and aspiring educators.”
State Representatives Jeff Currey and Kathleen McCarty received CEA education champion legislative awards for their leadership on education issues, commitment to students, active engagement with teachers, and tremendous effort toward enacting legislation that improves Connecticut’s public education system.
“Jeff and Kathleen have been instrumental in helping pass much-needed legislation to improve teaching and learning,” said Dias. “In news conference after news conference, they have stood by our members, showing bipartisan support for our education proposals and helping to get them passed.”
“There are so many educators who played a part in what I do today, and I wouldn’t be who I am without them,” said Currey. “Many of the issues educators faced those decades ago are similar to the ones in front of them today, except that back then, they often had to push their way into a room. Now, without them, there is no room. At every level of government – and in public – we must trust educators and allow them the ability and flexibility to do their work. As House Chair of the Education Committee, I view my legislative work through that prism and thank CEA for its ongoing partnership to ensure a high-quality learning experience for every child, every day.”
“I am honored and humbled to receive CEA’s Legislative Champion Award,” said McCarty, who is the ranking House member on the Education Committee. “The meaningful and hard work that our teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, and administrators do on a daily basis with love, dedication, passion, and professionalism in order to meet the academic, social emotional, and mental health needs of our students is exceptional. Connecticut teachers deserve respect and gratitude for their hard work and loyalty to our children.”
Guilford Superintendent Dr. Paul Freeman was honored as a steadfast ally who stands up for teachers and pushes back against efforts to ban books, silence or harass educators, or attack school curricula.
“Paul is a true beacon of hope for teachers, ensuring their voices are heard and their contributions are celebrated,” said Dias.
“Teachers are essential,” said Freeman. “Teachers grow the future. And today more than ever, I fear that teachers are becoming the frontline defenders of the promise of a public education.”
DeLancey expressed gratitude for all who came out to support the Connecticut Education Foundation and make CEA’s first fundraising gala a success.
“There is an amazing amount of support tonight for our students, our teachers, and public education, and we want to thank our sponsors, members, staff, and guests who came together to celebrate and raise money for such a worthy cause,” she said.