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The Recognition They Deserve

Delaware educators launch monthly award program for support professionals.

Last March, at the annual Delaware State Education Association (DSEA) Representative Assembly, delegates voted to work with state legislators to establish an Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year award on par with the state’s Teacher of the Year honor.

“DSEA recognizes that ESPs are a vital part of the education system today,” says Mike Matthews, DSEA president. “A statewide award would not only be a tremendous confidence-booster for ESPs, but also do wonders to acknowledge their many contributions and achievements.”

While a state bill is pending for the creation of a Delaware ESP of the Year award, DSEA officials decided to establish an in-house ESP of the Month award.

“Since there is currently a DSEA Teacher of the Month award, we wanted to make sure that ESPs were also given the recognition that they so deserve,” Matthews says.

DSEA awarded their inaugural ESP of the Month award in October to Nate Threatts, a paraeducator at Caesar Rodney High School in Camden who is active with Special Olympics Delaware.

Nate Threatts, DSEA ESP of the Month

“Someone told me I’d won the award during football practice,” says Threatts, head coach of the school’s United Partners athletic program and a varsity football assistant coach. “I didn’t know the award existed.”

The award is publicly known as “All-Star Educators” and was created in conjunction with iHeartMedia. Saying he is honored to be the first recipient, Threatts is quick to cheer on his fellow ESPs.

“ESPs have such a dramatic effect on student development since so many of us work one on one and in small groups with students,” says Threatts, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and served six years in the Delaware Army National Guard. “We build relationships not only with students but also with their parents that can last forever.”

National Recognition of ESPs Lacking

Currently, the U.S. Department of Education does not acknowledge school support staff with an annual national award and White House ceremony as it does teachers. However, earlier this year, Sen. Patty Murray introduced in Congress an updated version of a bill titled, “Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act.” The legislation is pending with the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. According to the act, the term “classified school employee” refers to “a public employee of a State or of any political subdivision of a State, who works in any grade from prekindergarten through higher education.”

Currently, the only national award for school support staff is presented by NEA. The annual NEA ESP of the Year Award is presented in March at the NEA ESP Conference. The award recognizes ESPs for their contributions to schools, communities, and the profession. The awardee serves as an ambassador for ESPs across the country, promoting the value of ESP members at national and state NEA conferences. The first NEA ESP of the Year award was presented in 1992.

Debby Chandler, president of the National Council for ESPs, says state awards and a national U.S. award for ESPs would help boost the professional credibility of school support staff.

“A national ESP of the Year award would also be a wonderful way to connect our ESPs from one state to another,” says Chandler, who is based in Spokane and is a board member of the Washington Education Association (WEA). “These national awards bring people together on behalf of their unions, school districts, and communities.”

In the case of NEA’s national award, Chandler says: “It allows NEA members to hear and read stories about how ESPs change the lives of students through their work at school and how they contribute to their communities through volunteerism, monetary donations, political activism, and by getting involved with charitable campaigns.”

Statewide Bill in Motion

How to Establish an ESP of the Month Award Within Your Local Association 

  • Contact your local Association president about your proposal.
  • Inform your UniServ Representative.
  • Write a proposal with award criteria and selection committee rules. Hint: Use your state Association’s criteria for their ESP of the Year Award.
  • Schedule your proposal as an agenda item for the next Association meeting.
  • Present your proposal at an Association meeting for discussion and a vote.

With the ESP monthly award now established, DSEA UniServ Director Julie Harrington is working with Director of Government Relations Kristin Dwyer on appropriate language for a bill to be presented to statehouse legislators in January.

“ESPs ensure that the education system meets the needs of the whole child,” says Harrington, a former paraeducator, local president, and DSEA executive board member. “This state award would give ESPs the recognition they deserve and bring to light all that they do for our students in Delaware.”

Harrington, UniServ Director Mike Hoffmann, and other ESPs have been lobbying for the bill since spring.

“DSEA always recognizes the value of our work and contributions to the education community, but too often when someone hears D-S-E-A they think of it as a teacher’s union,” says Hoffmann, a former local president, DSEA vice president and treasurer, and NEA director.

Hoffmann says that while the creation of a mainstream ESP of the year award is highly significant, so is DSEA’s monthly award.

“A state affiliate establishing an ESP of the month award speaks to the value the affiliate places on the work of ESPs,” Hoffmann says. “This type of recognition also helps to inform the public that NEA and state affiliates like DSEA represent all public school employees, not only teachers.”