NCAE North Carolina Association of Educators
Vol. 52, No. 1
It’s That Time of Year Again … Back to School!
Welcome to the 2021-22 Year
NCAE News Bulletin
Here’s to a New School Year! Are You Ready? Like many of
you, I am extremely excited about the upcoming school year and all of the possibilities it brings for us to come together again. Last year’s unknowns Tamika Walker Kell helped shape President where we are now as we begin navigating our spaces with a very familiar accessory – face masks. I hope you enjoyed the summer break, which gave us an opportunity to recharge in a variety of ways. Some of us vacationed, some of us worked, and some of us engaged in professional development. Of course, the business of NCAE and NEA continued with two inperson and virtual Summer Leaders Conference sessions, and the virtual NEA Representative Assembly, which was well attended by members of the North Carolina delegation. Knowledge and skills gained at these events will prepare us as we return to our
Advocating for Students
NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly recently spoke before the Education Appropriations Committee on K-12 education and making students the top priority. “Our students have endured what can easily be described as the most challenging school year on record, and we know many of them will be returning to school in the fall with far more social and emotional needs than when they left last March. Many schools are without even a single fulltime nurse, counselor, or psychologist, and this shortage will be more acutely felt this fall. Signi cant resources are necessary to begin to remedy this problem, and we are asking you appropriate suf cient funding to cushion these increased needs.
buildings to organize and increase membership, engage our existing members, and make connections with parents and community allies around public education. As we enter this new school year, we have a charge to make it as productive and successful as possible. We have to lean into the partnerships we have forged with each other, our students, and their families as the wait continues for a state budget. One that will hopefully fully fund public education. And as we wait, we must take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself and face every challenge that is sure to come head-on! During the worst challenge of recent years – the Pandemic -- we saw how important it is to be in community with one another, whether face-to-face or virtually. We saw how important our NCAE family is, how important our school families are, and how those connections can get us through anything that may arise. So, when things get tough this year, continue to nurture and support each other. It’s just as important for us to do this for our colleagues as it is for our students. As your professional organization, remember the Association is here to help with whatever you need. As I mentioned, I am excited about the 2021-2022 school year and all it will have to offer as we continue to build and grow NCAE. Here’s to the first day of school! Make it your best year yet!
NCAE News Bulletin
WELCOME MATT ABER-TOWNS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
leven years ago, Matt Aber-Towns began the journey of organizing educators. It’s a bug he says he “caught early,” which connects to his passion for social/racial justice and the labor movement. Prior to being appointed as executive director of the Association, Aber-Towns spent two years leading the Idaho Education Association. He has more than a decade of experience in education association work. His previous experience includes eight years with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) serving as organizing director for Early Childhood Education and Care, deputy director of the Southwest and Mountain Region, and national representative for Organizing and Field Services. He was recognized two consecutive years by President Obama’s White House Summit on Worker Voice for successfully elevating the role of women of color and creating an innovative bargaining model with employers. Aber-Towns also has extensive experience in training, budgeting, and capacity-building. “NCAE was appealing to me because the organization is forward-thinking,” said Aber-Towns. “There is a vision for rebuilding NCAE around social, racial and economic justice and that’s what originally drew me to this work 18 years ago. For me, NCAE feels like a place to call home and a challenging opportunity to help assist achieving its inspiring vision.” Helping to expand the labor movement in North Carolina, and its connection to public education, is also important to Aber-Towns. “I think that public education is a litmus test to the strength of our democracy. A vibrant labor movement aspires to have great public schools for all our children. We have both the immense challenge and opportunity to form broad community coalitions that call for great public schools for all students. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration when I say that when we accomplish that, I think we’ll not only reclaim the promise of public education, but the promise of our country.” “Matt is the perfect addition to the NCAE team, with organizing and leadership skills that will help us continue the amazing work we are doing for educators, students and public education throughout North Carolina,” said President Walker Kelly. “We are excited about the energy, passion and experience he brings to the Association.” Aber-Towns said he feels as if the stars are aligning, and he is excited about jumping in and being part of a team to move the Association’s vision, strategy and goals. “I am thrilled to be joining the NCAE family, and I look forward to working alongside a union board and staff that share my values.” But it’s not all about work for Aber-Towns. He and his wife, Rosalie, his son, Emerson (age 3), and daughter, Aila (age 2), are getting settled and can’t wait to see all that the beautiful state of North Carolina has to offer. When asked his preference of the beach or the mountains, he stated, “I love both! But if I had to choose, it would be the beach.” During his free time, Aber-Towns enjoys fly fishing, road trips with his family, and playing with his kids. His favorite season of the year is fall, he is a Pearl Jam fan but listens to all genres of music, and his favorite movie is “Big,” starring actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks. Aber-Towns is originally from Michigan – hence his pick of the “beach.” He is a graduate of Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, where he studied sociology, political science and history.
NCAE News Bulletin
WELCOME NICOLE PRICE, ASSOCIATE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
rice is no stranger to North Carolina. While working for NEA as an organizational specialist, she was assigned to NCAE during the 2020 election cycle, where she worked closely with leaders, staff, and members to elect pro-public education candidates. Most recently, she worked with the Association during its We Heart Public Schools RV Tour campaign. A native of Baltimore, MD, Price’s path to combining her two loves – politics and public education – began while working for the city’s hospital and healthcare workers’ union. She assisted with surveying members of the union on issues that were important to them. Interestingly enough, the survey revealed that members wanted better opportunities for their children, especially relating to education – not wages. This led her to have a conversation with the union president to determine how to engage members around this important issue. It led him [union president] to having a conversation with then Mayor Martin O’Malley, who encouraged then Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich to support more funding for public schools. Price stepped into the public education arena full time by going to work for the Baltimore City School System, which she did for six years. While there, she had the opportunity to connect with and have more extensive conversations surrounding politics and public education. Her last two years with the school system, in particular, pushed her to begin thinking more deeply about how to make the leap. “I was assigned a leadership coach, and in the process of working with her, I decided it was time for me to leave the school system and figure out how to merge my love and interest of politics and public education,” said Price. “I really wanted to work with educators and help amplify messaging around public education and political discourse. The connection was made when I was hired by NEA.” Working with NCAE as a temporary staffer revealed to Price how engaged NC members are, coupled with the vision of President Walker Kelly and Vice President Proffitt. Her goal as associate executive director will be to assist in building a team focused on collectively fulfilling the Association’s vision, and to oversee the organization’s communication, government relations, and organizing work in an effort to serve and retain members and recruit new ones. Price says she is ready for the challenges she will face in her role but looks forward to all she hopes to accomplish. Speaking of accomplishments, when asked to share one of her most memorable ones, she said it centers around family. “I am very proud of the relationship I have with my 26-year-old son. When he was younger, I really stressed the importance of being truthful because it’s the right thing to do; he has maintained that lesson. Also, I am the ‘favorite’ to many of my cousins across many generational age groups, who fondly call me Nik-Nik or Cousin Nickie. I love the fact that I am a favorite cousin.” Also very important in her life are her mother and grandmother. “Both were role models who impacted who I am today. My mother has the biggest, most caring heart of anybody in the world. I learned how to care for people by watching her. Similarly, my grandmother was a woman of amazing strength and tenacity. To her I owe my love of the city of New Orleans and music. I’ve never met two people who gave so much of themselves to their family.” Still want to know more about Nicole Price? She prides herself on being authentic and transparent, touting the motto, “What you see is what you get.” She has lived many places but maintains that Baltimore is home. She has a brother who lives in Texas, likes Jazz and Hip-Hop, loves to rollerblade and ride her bike, says her mood dictates favorites such as food and color, and looks forward to figuring out which is better, Eastern barbecue or Western barbecue!
Summer Leaders Conference 2021: Members Come Together for Intense Trainin on “Building the Union and Taking Back the State”
This year’s Summer Leaders Conference offered something for everyone, whether a new or veteran local leader or a rankand-file member interested in learning more about getting involved. Two tracks were offered: “Build Our Union: Who We Are and How We Win from the Building Up,” which included in-person sessions in Raleigh and Asheville as well as two virtual sessions, and “Take Back Our State: Tools and Skills to Lead Our Locals,” offered totally via Zoom. “It was so good to have members back together in person in some capacity for this year’s conference,” said President Walker Kelly. “The halls of the NCAE Center, which had been quiet for far too long, were filled with the sounds of learning and networking. Participants seemed happy to be in the presence of their colleagues and took advantage of the wonderful information that was offered. I have every confidence this is going to be a great year for our organization and all that we will work to accomplish on the state and local levels.” Here are a few highlights. Click to see more.
NCAE News Bulletin
NCAE News Bulletin
PS Tour Ends on a High Note with Four Summer Celebration Events
Members gathered on June 12 in four locations — Buncombe County, Franklin County, Gaston County, and Pitt County — to celebrate the success of the We Heart Public Schools Tour and the great work of all educators last school year. Each event kicked off with a press conference to highlight the need for investing more in public education, followed by lots of food, fellowship, and fun. Lovable Local Leaders, those educators who really went above and beyond, were also honored!
Pitt County Franklin County CLICK for more photos Gaston County
James Hopkins, principal of Lakewood Elementary School in Durham — Also known as Santa Claus, Hopkins has been an educator for 18 years. He said he chose a career in public education because it is the most honest way to change the world. “Working with the entire school community, inspiring confidence in public institutions, and getting to hang out with kids every day is what I enjoy most about what I do,” Hopkins said.
Loved by parents and students alike, a colleague said of Hopkins, “I have yet to see one day he's not happy and full of life. You know the saying, ‘It bounces off of me and sticks to you.’ Well, all of his wonderful qualities help to uplift Lakewood Elementary and I hope that flame keeps growing to progress and manifest into something extraordinary!” What makes Hopkins a Lovable Local Leader? According to a description written about him, he has really turned things around for the school, students, staff, and parents. The school was extremely unorganized before he came. Not
receiving valuable information pertaining to the school, its events, and the students was so frustrating, and didn’t allow parents to plan as it relates to involvement. His staff likes how he goes above and beyond to show parents he is listening and sees that their voices are being heard. He always asks for staff and community input, and he has a goal to know each student when he sees their face along with their family members. Each month a Lovable Local Leader will be featured in the News Bulletin.
NCAE News Bulletin
“NCAE Gave Me the Voice I Didn’t Have!”
Two years ago, the worst thing that could possibly happen to a career educator, became Tabatha Cox’s nightmare. She was suspended from her job as a middle school counselor on an unrelated criminal matter. Her employer immediately assumed she was guilty without giving her an opportunity to speak for herself. Because she was a member, she knew help was only a phone call away. “During the 22 years I worked as a state employee, I had never been written up for anything inappropriate. I never received any complaints, and I was always proficient or exceeded proficiency in my job performances and reviews. When this unfortunate situation occurred, the first thing I did was contact NCAE. Lead Attorney Verlyn Chesson Porte was wonderful!” The Advocacy Center worked to attain the basis of Cox’s suspension. Several extensions were agreed to while the criminal case progressed, which ended up being dismissed. Following the case dismissal, NCAE attorney Mark Kerkhoff filed a lawsuit on her behalf for violations of her constitutional rights and failure of due process. After more than two arduous years, the suit was settled and the charges expunged. With tears in her eyes, Cox said the most difficult part of this experience was being prohibited from attending her oldest and youngest son’s games when they played in the district. “It was my oldest son’s senior year in high school and my youngest son was in the eighth grade. In all I missed 28 games between the two of them. I can’t tell you how it felt. It was detrimental to my children and to me; it’s time
I can never get back.” Cox said suing the school district was never about money. It was simply about not ever wanting what happened to her to happen to another employee or parent. The experience felt like a punishment. She felt persecuted. And the people who really suffered were her children. “It’s hard when you work for a school district that says it’s all about the children and making sure the best is provided for them. But not my children. I had a hard time processing that.” The door on being a school counselor may have closed for Cox, but another one has opened that is allowing her to continue helping others. She has opened her own practice for mental health and substance abuse patients – Open Hearts, Healing Minds. “I feel like this is what I try to do every day with people … open their hearts and help heal their minds,” she said. “My practice is slowly growing and I am so grateful to be working again and doing what I was meant to do with my life.” As for her ties with NCAE, Cox is switching to a community ally membership because she said it’s important to stay connected with NCAE even though she is no longer a public school employee. “I am so thankful for the people who stood by me and supported me, and I’m beyond grateful for the things that NCAE did for me. I could not have done this without the Association. I would have given up without their help and advocacy. I wouldn’t have been able to fight for myself and that was vital to me. I was not going to give up because I knew I was innocent. I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. More than anything, it was important to clear my name and NCAE gave me that ability. NCAE gave me the voice I did not have.” (Click to hear Cox’s emotional testimony)
During the June meeting of the NCAE Board of Directors, the rst hybrid meeting of the year, Board members Ronda Mays and Dr. Michael Putney were celebrated for their dedication and service as outgoing members of the BOD. Each was presented with a plaque by President Walker Kelly
NCAE News Bulletin
New NCAE Staff! Three new staff members have joined the NCAE family. Welcome to: Valerie Warren, chief data manager – In her job, Warren identifies and takes advantages of opportunities to use data to make the Association stronger and more effective. Before becoming a permanent employee, Warren volunteered in several capacities for the Guilford County Association of Educators (GCAE) and NCAE. She worked with husband Todd Warren, president of GCAE from 2017-June 2021, to help set up social media and communications systems, as well as take care of logistics for meetings. Her work for NCAE included working on the NCAE Strong Campaign, developing and managing digital and social media for the NCAE Our Safety Our Say petition campaign. Prior to working for NCAE, she was a consultant providing project management, organizational development, and strategic planning services, and worked in supply chain management, purchasing, and sales for Volvo Trucks. The youngest of four siblings, Warren has a degree in International Studies and Sociology with a minor in Economics from Guilford College. She is the mother of two children, a new pup named Alligator, and two cats. She enjoys horseback riding, entertaining friends on her front porch, and gardening. Why was she interested in working for NCAE? “NCAE is one of the most powerful organizations in our state, and one of the few that has stayed the course in fighting so hard for public school employees, retirees, and communities to have the resources and dignity they deserve. I believe when public school employees and communities are united, we are an unstoppable force! I feel so lucky to be part of an organization that is dedicated to such meaningful and critical work.”
Sarah Fellman, organizing manager – A native of Charlotte by way of Pennsylvania, Fellman designs programs and campaigns that will lead NCAE to grow the number of educators who are taking action to recruit new members, strengthen their local affiliates, and build the power of the organization. Prior to being hired, she was a contract lead organizer for three months, coaching three member organizers in 14 locals in Regions 2-4 and working with the retiree organizer membership recruitment program. She also worked as the organizing director for Christy Smith’s campaign for Congress in California’s 25th district, the second largest Democratic congressional field program in the country. Fellman and her sister are products of Mecklenburg County’s
public school system. After graduating from high school, she moved to Boston to study political science at Harvard University. There are many reasons Fellman was interested in working for the Association. But one of the most important reasons was the effects she witnessed caused by the General Assembly’s assault on public education during the 2008 budget crisis. “I was a student at a disproportionately white and middle and upper middle-class school in a re-segregated school district, and the resources I had access to and the transformative public education I received wasn’t available to everyone. It was my 10th grade Civics teacher who connected me with my first opportunities in organizing and politics that ended up changing the course of my life and giving me the purpose and meaning I now have. I want that for everyone, and I believe we can have that for everyone when public school educators, students, families, and communities unite to fight for what we deserve.” Andrew Willis Garces, organizing manager (job responsibilities same as Sarah Fellman) – The father of a 2-year-old and a future public school parent with a life-long commitment to racial justice, Garces said there is a no better vehicle for bringing about the dramatic change needed in North Carolina for his daughter and her future classmates to have a life with more dignity, options, and an equitable distribution of life chances than NCAE. “I am deeply committed to the labor movement, having previously worked for the SEIU, Change to Win CLC, LIUNA, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation, and having been a member of several staff bargaining units.” Garces served as a lead organizer for the Spring 2021 NCAE organizing program with a focus on supporting the Guilford County Association of Educators (GCAE). The local was instrumental in securing $15/hour for classified staff, and he helped develop a Building Leader Fellowship Program and trained new building leaders and Fellowship leads in the art of coaching for leadership development. A native of Memphis, TN, Garces has a younger brother. They lived in Guadalajara, Mexico for a while and in South Florida. He attended college and grad school in Washington, D.C. and Virginia respectively, studying conflict resolution. He has master’s degrees in conflict resolution and clinical mental health counseling. Prior to joining the NCAE team, he was the cofounder and executive director of Siembra NC, which builds power with Latinx North Carolinians. He has also traveled around the country giving workshops for unions. When not working, Garces says he enjoys making ice cream, ranking every French fry available in the Triad area, and living room dance parties with his wife and daughter.
NCAE News Bulletin
NCAE Website Gets a Redesign!
Warren Co. Member Recognized as Professional of the Year Derrick Fogg, coordinator of Technical Education for Warren County Schools, has been recognized as professional of the year by the North Carolina Association of Family and Consumer Sciences. Known for his leadership skills within Career and Technical Education in North Carolina, Fogg is described as a reflective practitioner who endeavors to make sure classroom teachers provide instruction that is relevant and current to meet the needs of the community in Warrenton. His commitment, professionalism, and dedication extends to the classroom as well. “Derrick works within his school to provide real life workbased experience for his students,” said Michael Holman, the Association’s vice president of Membership/Nomination Committee. “He has worked over the years to transition the CTE program areas from traditional vocational instruction to teaching 21st century employable skills.”
The NCAE website has a new look and feel! Launched in early July, the site has been redesigned to offer a smoother browsing experience. Features include exciting graphic and photo elements, bold colors and fonts, and more userfriendly options to find everything you need. The site is still a work in progress, and we are continuing to work behind the scenes to tell the Association’s brand story in an easy-to-understand way. Check it out here!
Space Bundles Grandview Middle School teacher member Vanessa Lail is one of four North Carolina teachers who will receive new tools and technology to help teach about outer space and inspire and empower students in the field of space exploration. The space education bundles are valued at $5,000 each and include a large Mars or Moon learning map, Mimio Mybot educational robotics system, a Lunar or Mars Pro Globe with augmented reality technology, and other resources. A total of 27 educators applied statewide for the competition by writing two paragraphs about what space exploration means to them and what winning these bundles would provide to their counties.
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Read how the pandemic will change the future of schools. The article was published in NEAToday and be accessed by clicking here.
NCAE News Bulletin
Updates The State Health Plan (SHP) Board of Trustees recently held its quarterly Board and a number of the issues discussed will directly impact educators and their families who are SHP participants. Open enrollment planning is underway. Mailings to inform all participants of the dates are in process, and the Open Enrollment Support Center will have extended hours during open enrollment. There will also be virtual sessions held this year to ease call wait times. In addition, there will be special sessions for retirees who are transitioning from non-Medicare eligibility to Medicare eligibility to ensure a smooth transition without any potential loss of benefits temporarily. There was also discussion about how the Senate budget, and ultimately the final state budget, would impact SHP. The Senate budget repays the SHP for the medical cost
overage incurred for covering all employee COVID-19 related medical costs during the 2020 pandemic. That bill came to more than $172,712,326 through June 30. Also of note, the COVID-19 medical-related coverage continued through June 30, 2021, and expired July 1, 2021. This pertains to the state covering all employee COVID-19 related medical costs. The plan will still pay for COVID-19 claims, but employees will now pay all employee-related medical expenses (deductibles must be met, co-pays, etc.). During the pandemic, the SHP paid 100 percent of all employee costs without having to meet deductibles. The Senate budget also proposes repaying the SHP the budget cuts made to the Plan in the 2020 mini budgets and proposes $300 million dollars to pay toward the retiree healthcare liability.
NCAE works to keep you abreast of everything occurring in the General Assembly when lawmakers are in session. We encourage you to read the Education Insight, the online legislative newsletter published each Friday when legislators are in Raleigh. Updates on current issues such as the state budget process, school mask requirements, and Critical Race Theory are available. You can subscribe to receive the Ed Insight through the NEA edCommunities online platform if you have a profile. If you need to create a profile, visit www.myNEA360.org or contact Linda.Powell@ncae.org.
NCAE News Bulleti
EMERGENCY BROADBAND BENEFIT PROGRAM The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is a $3.2 billion federal initiative to help lower the cost of high-speed internet for eligible households during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It was created by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
What Is The Benefit?
When Can Eligible Households Sign Up?
• Up to $50/month toward internet bill
The Emergency Broadband Benefit program is
• Up to $75/month for residents of tribal lands
open to eligible households to apply beginning
• One-time, $100 discount toward device purchased through participating provider
May 12, 2021. Please check the FCC’s website, www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit, for the latest information.
When Is It Available?
Who Qualifies? A household is eligible if one member of the household:
How Will Eligible Households Sign Up? Eligible households will enroll through participating broadband providers or directly with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). Please check the FCC’s website, www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit, information on the enrollment process.
• Qualifies for the Lifeline program, including those who are on Medicaid or receive SNAP benefits;
What Broadband Providers Will Be Offering the Emergency Broadband Benefit?
• Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, or did so in the 2019-2020 school year;
Many types of broadband providers can qualify to provide service in this program.
• Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; • Received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.
• Contact information for the providers participating in the program will be posted on USAC’s website: www.usac.org
Outreach The FCC is excited to partner with those who want to help get the word out about this critical program. Please visit www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit to sign up to receive important updates and information about the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. For more information visit www.ncbroadband.gov/assistance/emergency-br oadband-benefit-program
• Benefits become available on May 12, 2021 and last until the funds are exhausted. www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit
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N C A E
Dates to Remember August 7th 9th 15th 17th 21st 23rd 25th 26th
National Play Outside Day: Link Book Lovers Day: Link International Day of the World's Indigenous People Best Friends Day National Non-profit Day: Link Clear the Shelters Day: Link International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade & Its Abolition National Park Service Day Women's Equality Day
Children's Vision & Learning Month Get Ready for Kindergarten Month National Truancy Prevention Month Link Child Support Awareness Month Link
“The most valuable investment we can make is in our children’s education. When we make education a priority, we give our children opportunity. Opportunity to learn at higher levels than their parents were able to learn; to earn at higher levels than we were able to earn.” — Martin O’Malley Follow NCAE events and activities on:
N E W S
Positions stated in this publication do not necessarily reflect the official position of NCAE unless so identified. The NCAE News Bulletin, a journal of the Association, is published by the North Carolina Association of Educators, 700 S.Salisbury St., Raleigh, NC 27601, 1-800-662-7924.
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Linda Powell-Jones, Editor/Designer
NCAE News Bulletin