Go to a school board meeting in Manistique, and you’ll most likely see John Barry sitting in the audience – or standing at the microphone – no matter if the agenda includes anything related to his duties as president of his ESP local or not.
“I go so I can see what’s coming down the pike, so I can stay up-to-date on the issues,” he said.
Barry also keeps his eye on the latest board activities to make sure earlier promises are kept. He and his local in 2015 fought off attempts to fully privatize custodial services, but certain positions are filled by privately contracted employees after union workers leave.
When the board began widening the variety of new ESP hires that were non-union, Barry was there to question, protest, and point out with specific examples how privatizing support staff positions led to lower quality services for students.
For his commitment to advocacy, Barry last weekend was presented with one of MEA’s highest honors for Education Support Professionals, the Leon A. Brunner Award.
“It’s all worth it to know I’ve made a difference to one student or to one school,” Barry said.
Barry works as a bus driver and food services worker, and he’s also known as a handyman willing to help anyone – students and staff alike – with anything he can, according to Robin Mulligan, the art teacher and Manistique EA president who nominated him for the award.
In the past few years, he has helped to organize a spring food drive for local community food banks called “Beat Us if You Can,” a friendly challenge between the district’s EA and ESP units. In 2015, Barry organized a “Fill the Bus” campaign as a home-game tailgate event to collect school supplies, clothing, and donations to help K-12 students in need.
“I wanted to do something for the kids, and it was a very, very big success, so now we’re doing one to refill our food pantry,” Barry said.
As an ESP president in a district with declining enrollments, Barry has had his share of battles, losses, and successes. He maintains a positive working relationship with the superintendent and school board so he has a direct line of communication. But it doesn’t guarantee he’ll win every battle.
He admits the losses can be frustrating, especially when high-quality services from long-time employees are replaced by transient employees of for-profit companies. The kids are the ones who lose out, he said.
“I think I keep on coming back because I want to see if that little bit of extra push will make a difference,” he said.
Barry is a past elections chair for 17B coordinating council, a deacon for his church, and an organizer for several community activities.
The Leon A. Brunner Award is given annually to an ESP who exemplifies outstanding commitment and significant contributions to the field.