National ESP of the Year inspires conference attendees

Working in a rural Colorado school district for 22 years, Judy Near was constantly frustrated by her non-union work environment. Employee concerns weren't addressed. Near's colleagues felt voiceless.

MEA ESP Caucus President Connie Boylan introduces NEA 2012 ESP of the Year Judy Near as the keynote speaker at the 2013 MEA ESP Statewide Conference on Saturday, March 16 in Bay City.

"I was an employee who did my job and did it well, sitting in the back of the room, never wanting to draw attention to myself. But then, my life changed; I changed," Near says. "I learned you don't need a title to lead. Believing you can be the one to change things is more than enough."

Near's efforts to organize her local union, the Canon City Education Support Professional Association, started her on a path of leadership that went from the local level all the way to serving on the NEA Board of Directors. Her service and leadership led to her being named the 2012 NEA ESP of the Year.

"Our teachers had been organized for many years. It only made sense that we had a seat at the table and a voice in the decisions that affect our jobs," Near said during her keynote address at the 2013 MEA ESP Statewide Conference.

"All of us should expect nothing less."

Near spoke about her experiences as an organizer and her efforts to fight privatization. She also lauded the efforts of ESP and teacher heroes, ranging from those who do their jobs every day for students, to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in staring down gunmen in the hallways of Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut and a school bus in rural Alabama.

"How many of you have ever said, 'I am just a. . .'? You are not 'just a' -- you are a valuable piece of the education your students receive," Near said. "Every single one of you has a story that matters and is powerful. Think about the students you work with and what you teach them every day. How they rely on you and feel about you. Think about how their parents depend on you."

Working together to share the importance of ESP and ensure their voices are heard was a refrain throughout the conference, held March 15-16 in Bay City. Under the theme of "One Team, One Goal," attendees received training on a variety of issues, including bargaining, battling privatization, legal issues, running effective local associations, legislative and political advocacy, communications and job skills.

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