I had never been inside the White House during the first four decades of my life. This year it has happened twice. The first time I went inside was for the signing of ESSA. I am still planning to post about that experience from several months ago. I just haven’t found the right words yet.
Last week I was at the White House to celebrate Education Support Professionals (ESPs). ESPs are the folks in the schools that you know and love— the lunch ladies, the bus drivers, special education support professionals etc.— they are the glue of the school.
Trekking back and forth to DC wears me down, it is a 6-7 hour trip one way. I make the trip to DC probably about 8 times a year (I am actually blogging from DC right now). But honoring ESPs is at the top of my list for reasons to get on a plane.
At the last minute, the White House changed its mind and didn’t allow me to speak at the event, so I was able to honor the Champions at an evening reception. Here is concise of my remarks.
First I want give special thanks to the White House, the National Education Association, and the National Coalition of Classified Education Support Employee Unions (NCCESE) for honoring the 2016 White House School Support Champions of Change.
My earliest memories of the ESPs working miracles comes from my experience in summer elementary school when the lunch ladies broke the rules and snuck us cartons of chocolate milk.
ESPs have a job title, but they usually do much more than their title and description. Kind of like the Hey Mon skits on the show In Living Color about the Jamaicans who had many jobs.
ESPs regularly go that extra mile in a daily basis.
ESPs clearly know the pulse of the school. In fact, maybe we should call them LIFE SUPPORT instead of school support, because life mentoring students is clearly important to these White House Champions.
Currently, some of the sexy ideas being bandied about in education are wraparound services and community schools. Who often facilitates those wraparound services and are the backbone of community schools? Our ESPs. In this potential new era of locally-based reform, the community care amongst ESPs is very clear. We should, and we must include them in these conversations.
But there is some bad news…. ESPs often are not paid a living wage. In fact, I have heard today about ESPs whose actually owed school districts money after their benefits were subtracted from their check. I have heard here today about ESPs who checks are less than $10 for a month. This is a travesty.
Furthermore, ESPs are the first folks impact by the privatization of education. When educational leaders believe they can save a buck, ESPs are the first place they look. This is a mistake because private companies often temporary approaches to labor won’t deliver on the promise of community-based schools.
I also want to commit today to the idea of a National Classified Employee of the Year award. ESPs across the nation deserve this visibility and recognition.
In conclusion, we so often envision change as large social movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, or changes in policy and/or law. Before you today you see humans who are change the world one life at a time creating a butterfly effect that has no bounds.
They collectively lift the weight from small shoulders.
So I say to you and all of the ESPs who you represent today…..Thank you Champions! Say it with me. Thank you Champions! One more time… Thank you Champions!
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