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Leading the Way

Two New NEA Leaders Working together, from worlds apart

The two new members of NEA’s nine-member Executive Committee hail from very different worlds. Joyce Powell is from New Jersey—liberal, densely populated, relatively affluent. Greg Johnson is from Oklahoma—conservative, rural, not so well-off. New Jersey ranks fourth in average teacher pay, Oklahoma ranks 42nd.

At the 2009 NEA Representative Assembly, Greg Johnson directs the All-NEA Choir.

Photo: Calvin Knight

Johnson is a high school choir director. He also leads the All-NEA Choir, which performs at the annual Representative Assembly (RA). In 1998, Johnson was recruited into leadership by his wife, Diane, then an Association building representative. She came home one day and told him there was a vacancy for local president. Later that year, Johnson attended his first NEA RA in New Orleans as one of nearly 10,000 delegates.

“I was absolutely hooked,” he recalls. “It was the most amazing thing I was ever a part of. The whole process—the size of it and how it worked—the passionate discussions, hearing members from all around the nation. I would hear one point of view and say, ‘Yeah, I agree with that,’ and then someone on the opposing side would speak and I’d say, ‘Wait, I haven’t thought about that!’”

Joyce Powell reads to children in Middlesex, New Jersey, on Read Across America day 2008.

Photo: Steve Baker

By 1998, Joyce Powell was an RA veteran and a New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) state officer. Powell comes from the poorest county in New Jersey, by the southern tip of the state. Her parents had no money to pay for education, but she got a scholarship and worked her way through college. She credits her success to “hard work and good educators.” Powell worked as a substitute teacher and paraprofessional while finishing her degree, then taught special education students for more than 20 years.

One of her priorities as NJEA president has been high-quality professional development for both support professionals and teachers. “My family didn’t have a lot of opportunity, so that’s uppermost in my mind—opportunity for educators to advance and for students to participate in the American dream,” she says.

On the national scene, Powell wants first to deal with the problems members face in the economic downturn. She says NEA must also address the Obama Administration’s promotion of charter schools and alternative compensation. NEA’s response, she says, should include organizing more charter schools.

Johnson says having an education-friendly president in the White House gives NEA an opportunity to transform hard-to-staff schools and make sure the most vulnerable students have the best teachers. “That will cost money,” he says. “We need to invest in facilities and people.”

Get to know your Association officers and Executive Committee members.

State Report


Privateer Ousted, NEA/AFL-CIO Solidarity Program Prospers
The Matanuska-Sustina Borough School Board recently voted to hire about 100 custodians as in-house employees rather than contracting for their services through a private company, as the district has done since 2006.

“It was a long time coming,” says Rick Byrnes, president of the Classified Employees Association (CEA) in Wasilla, Alaska. “Our average custodian has 15 to 20 years in the district. You don’t replace that kind of experience and dedication.”

Byrnes credits the victory to a two-year campaign by CEA and NEA-Alaska to help recruit and elect board members who oppose privatization. “We’re more powerful at the polls than when we make speeches at board meetings,” Byrnes says. All education support professionals in the school district belong to CEA, which now has about 760 members.

Meanwhile, the 650-member Inglewood Teachers Association (ITA) in California has become the latest NEA local to take part in the NEA/AFL-CIO Labor Solidarity Partnership Program. This brings the number of non-merged NEA locals affiliated with the AFL-CIO to 18. The program now has about 26,000 members.

Ongoing Labor Dispute

Teacher Salaries Cut, Health Care Costs Raised Unilaterally
In June, members of the East Providence Education Association (EPEA), the largest teacher local in Rhode Island, unanimously issued a vote of no confidence in the local school committee.

This ongoing labor dispute peaked in January when committee members unilaterally cut teachers’ salaries by more than 5 percent and raised their health care contributions by 20 percent.

Committee members said they needed to manage a $9 million deficit and that the contract had expired in October 2008. EPEA contends these actions are illegal and asked the state Labor Relations Board to review the case, which at press time was pending.

Arkansas Matters

Reduced Insurance Premiums, New Teacher Evaluations
Following vigorous lobbying by the Arkansas Education Association (AEA), Gov. Mike Beebe and legislators approved two funding bills that provide $15 million toward helping defray exploding teacher health insurance premiums. Although teachers had sought $25 million for fiscal 2010, the funding was “better than nothing,” says AEA President Dan Marzoni.

In other Arkansas news, AEA formed a task force to develop a standard teacher evaluation model that can be used by 2011 in each of the state’s 245 school districts. Many districts currently use models of their own creation.


Report Card
We check out who’s making the grade—or needs improvement—in education around the country.


Central Valley High School Administrators
Administrators at this Ceres, California, school violated the education code by changing the final grades of 89 students last year. The changes were made without the consent of teachers months after they submitted the grades.


Loudoun County (VA) School Board
They lowered the minimum score for an A to 90 on a 100-point scale; now, only 60 is required to pass a class. Tough grading can hobble students in competing for college admissions and scholarships. Is the grading change an improvement or not? Tell us at


Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry
He signed legislation that authorizes fast-track certification of teachers through a program administered by the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. NEA argues against this substandard approach to teacher education.