VEA-Retired Connections: Spring 2021

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Spring 2021 Volume 23, Issue 2

A Publication of VEA-Retired

President’s Column By Dennis J. Pfennig

Inside this Issue: VEA Board of Directors 2 About the State


VEA Fund


VEA-Retired Elections


NEA Conferences


As I write this in late March, I am all Zoomed out. Over three weeks this month, I participated in an array of virtual Association events, board meetings, council meetings, committees, conferences, and conventions. While attendance at virtual meetings is less stressful in some ways than meeting in person -- the commute can’t be beat, and one can easily slip away unnoticed to get refreshment or use the home facility -- these meetings are unfortunately not as participatory as in-person gatherings. I’m certain many of you have experienced the same over the last year. The important thing, however, is that modern technology has enabled our Association to function during a pandemic. It is not only meetings that are going virtual, but also this newsletter. This is the final issue of the Connections newsletter that will be mailed to those for whom we do not have an email address, with the exception of members who have already requested continued delivery of hard copies of the newsletter. So, if we don’t have your email address and you have not requested continued paper delivery of the newsletter, you will not receive any further issues of Connections. We don’t want to lose contact with you, so please send us your email address or let us know if you don’t have access to email (see page 8). Many thanks to those who’ve already contacted us to update contact information. May the coming summer be kind to us all, and may the pandemic go away.

Martha Wood Distinguished Service Award By Kathy Davis

Two remarkable VEA-Retired members, Sara Jane Knight and Lola McDowell, are the 2021 recipients of the Martha Wood Distinguished Service Award (formerly the VEA-Retired Distinguished Service Award). (Continued, page 3) Share your stories! If you or your local retired chapter would like to have an article in the next issue of Connections, please forward it to by September 15, 2021.

Congratulations to Sara Jane Knight (left) and Lola McDowell (right)!


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VEA Board of Directors 116 South Third Street Richmond, VA 23219 (800) 552-9554 2020-21 VEA-Retired Council Dennis Pfennig President Lola McDowell Vice President Malia Huddle Secretary-Treasurer Denise Davis Retired Member at Large, VEA Board Eddie Fifer Immediate Past President Congressional District Reps:

The VEA Board of Directors met virtually on January 22-23, 2021. The following is a summary of decisions and highlights. ❖ The Association is fiscally solvent with slightly over 12 months of operating reserves as of November 30, 2020. NEA recommends having 12 months in reserves. ❖ Each local has had a Fitz Turner commissioner appointed to assist locals’ developing plans to reach a goal of 22% ethnic minority membership. The Board voted unanimously to reconfirm the Association’s commitment to racial justice, making it a VEA core principle.

❖ Todd Park, director of organizing and field support, stressed the VEA’s campaign to instruct locals in how to move forward with collective bargaining. There is much work to be done, and the key to success is membership. Both the Stafford and Chesterfield locals have been recognized by NEA for their recruitment successes. ❖ Kathy Burcher, director of government relations and research, is on a one-year leave of absence to serve as the state’s deputy secretary of education. Shane Riddle is serving as interim director in her absence. ❖ Information was shared about the vendor that was hired to coordinate VEA’s virtual delegate assembly (which was held in March).

❖ Brenda Pike, executive director, praised the staff for its “stunning” accomplishments during the pandemic.

Shirley George, 2nd

❖ Two NEA staffers have accepted high-level positions in the Biden Administration.

Holly Jackson-Conrad, 1st

Sid Neighbours, 3rd Vashti Mallory, 4th Connie Coates, 5th 6th

Cheryl Perry, Meg Gruber, 7th Kathy Davis, 8th Ralph Booher, 9th Marlene Parker, 10th Bruce Smith, 11th

❖ The Association plans to allocate $50,000 to educate members about issues in the November 2021 elections. ❖ Charlotte Hayer was re-elected to a three-year term on the NEA Board of Directors. ❖ The NEA Convention will now meet (virtually) June 30-July 3, 2021. ❖ A report on VEA’s annual audit was given. In examination of the books, auditors came across no “red flags.” ❖ The Board adopted two top priorities — racial justice and organizing to bargain. ❖ Carol Bauer, VEA vice president and budget chair, presented to the Board a proposed Association budget for fiscal year 2021-22. It was based on an FTE membership of 36,286 and assumed events and meetings would be in-person, not virtual. Dues will climb $11. Motion to adopt passed. ❖ The Board approved a motion to send $500 to the family of any Association member who dies of COVID-19. ❖ The Board approved a new three-year contract for the executive director.

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Martha Wood Distinguished Service Award (continued from page 1) At its March meeting, the VEA-Retired Council accepted the award committee’s recommendation to honor these exceptional nominees. The decision was based on the award’s criteria: demonstrating professional responsibility, displaying leadership, advocating for VEA-Retired members and for the education profession, and promoting a positive image of public education. Both winners have themselves served on the VEA-Retired Council. During her teaching career, Sara Jane Knight was a dedicated member of the Arlington Education Association, and taught social studies at Yorktown High School for many years. She rose from building representative, through various roles, to AEA president. She also served on the NOVA UniServ Council, was a delegate to many VEA and NEA conventions, and attended Lobby Day for many years. Having retired over 25 years ago, Sara Jane continues to be an active leader. She was one of the founding members of Arlington Education Association-Retired, has served as its president and recording secretary, and continues to support others elected to its leadership positions. She has served as a retired delegate to VEA and NEA conventions, has coordinated regional retiree luncheons at Fort Myer, and has continued lobbying efforts. One of her most ambitious efforts involved work with the Arlington Community Foundation. Sara Jane, along with her late friend and loyal Association advocate, Louise Fishbein, spearheaded the linking of AEA-R to the foundation. This project allowed funds to be designated for teachers, their classrooms, and their students. Grants are available to teachers for special projects, courses, or workshops, as well as scholarships to many state private universities. Two local non-profits, Doorways and the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, are now linked to the project, helping homeless students in Arlington Public Schools who have lost their most basic support system. Former state delegates Karen Darner and James Almand wrote that they were “grateful Sara Jane Knight had prominence in those students’ lives.” After 47 years in the classroom, the first seven in Baltimore and the remainder in Richmond City, and 45 years of volunteering in a myriad of capacities and serving as an Association leader at the local, state, and national levels, Lola McDowell continues that same dedication in retirement. Retired for nearly a decade, she still works with students, coaches new teachers, trains parents on working with their children at home, and lobbies both local and state elected officials. Lola also has attended numerous VEA and NEA conventions and recently attended the NEA Leadership Summit and the NEA-Retired Conference, digitally. For over 20 years, Lola has been a driving force, spending countless hours coordinating activities for “Read Across America,” NEA’s celebration of reading. During that time, she was able to convince elected officials from Virginia governors to Richmond City mayors and council members to read to children. Other leaders, including police, firefighters, school officials, professors, TV personalities, and Association leaders were also persuaded to participate. Every year before the celebration, Lola speaks before the Richmond’s city council and school board to emphasize the importance of reading and public education. Her most recent effort to support public education was a partnership with RPS to help recruit retired members to serve as mentors for new teachers. In retirement, Lola has been active in membership recruitment for the REA and for VEA-Retired, where she currently serves as vice president and membership chair. During the pandemic, she has continued to hold Zoom meetings with her committee to create new ways of serving current members and attracting new members to the Association. For several years, she has served as co-chair of the REA-Retired and has been instrumental in obtaining NEA grants to support public education for at least three years of that time. In fact, REA-Retired deserves a separate article, as its list of projects could serve as a model for any retiree group wanting to expand its services to its members, while attracting new ones.

Connections About the State

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Arlington Education Association – Retired By Judith Knight th

Members of AEA-R met virtually on February 25 to discuss updates on numerous issues, including reopening plans, collective bargaining, membership recruitment, and its scholarship program. Members were very interested in plans for the next stages of school reopening, staff concerns, and General Assembly activity on state-wide reopening. Several members recalled when Arlington educators had collective bargaining, and the group had a vigorous discussion about advantages and current challenges, given the pandemic and approaching deadlines for implementation. Membership recruitment has been impacted by Central Office’s preoccupation with the fluid reopening situation. While it’s understandable that reopening procedures (and vaccinations) be primary, access to information about new retirees has been difficult to obtain in a timely way for some time. Members are hopeful that may soon change. Members also discussed the status of the AEA-R’s scholarship program’s most recent awards to Arlington high school graduates and summer STEM teachers. They agreed to increase the number of awards and to research local organizations that focus their work on children and families. AEA-R’s next meeting will be April 21st.

Congressional District 2 By Shirley George

Congressional District 2 includes Virginia Beach, Norfolk, the Eastern Shore, and parts of the Peninsula. Due to COVID-19, we have not had our usual sessions with speakers. Members, however, have assisted in different ways, such as in Accomack County where some have assisted in political campaigning and virtual activities. In Virginia Beach, retirees attended a school board forum and participated in a “pack the parking lot” event at a VBCPS School Board meeting that lasted many hours. Members also participated in PAC events during the political campaigns in November. Norfolk’s members attended school board meetings as well as political campaign events. I plan to work with the UniServ Directors in my district to set up Zoom sessions in the coming months. With the help of the UDs, we will launch an end-of-the-year membership campaign in the entire district through Zoom and personal contact by phone. Our retiree groups will return to meeting several times a year for informational sessions, lectures, and lunch. I wish for all of you and your families safe, healthy, and happy days.

Fairfax Education Association – Retired By Cheryl Binkley

One of the highlights each year for FEA-R is when we join with Fairfax County Retired Educators (a social group of retired educators) to host two festive days of holiday breakfast and lunch for the cadre of Fairfax County state legislators. Because Fairfax covers so much territory, the legislator’s group is large (28 legislators). There was deep concern about whether FEA-R could host the much-anticipated celebratory events ahead of the 2021 General Assembly session. However, Barbara Allen, GRT chair, acting as coordinator, and her planning team were not daunted. With a quick Zoom learning curve, team coordination, and classic educator organizing, the virtual event was held with high levels of legislator enthusiasm on December 8th and 9th. Door deliveries by members to the guests the day before of gourmet scones and a specialty tea from Ireland kept the air of festivity for the event. As in prior years, the group delivered copies of the FEA-R position statement for the General Assembly, which Mimi Dash formally presented during the meetings. This made it possible for Fairfax retirees to inform legislators about their priority projects for the upcoming General Assembly session. COVID isolation proved no match for the ingenuity of retired VEA members.

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Connections Elizabeth River Retired Educators By Angela Peterson

New officers have been elected: Angela Peterson as president, Ruby Grandison as vice president, and LaNette Desler as secretary/treasurer. We are taking measures to keep healthy and safe until we are all able to get the COVID shot. Some of our members are participating in the workshops that VEA offer. Once we’re able to meet safely, we will plan our next steps to recruit new members to grow our membership. Please keep well and be safe.

Richmond Education Association – Retired By Lola McDowell and Vashti Mallory

Due to the pandemic, REA-R has not been able to meet since March 2020; however, we are continuing to communicate with retirees. Quarterly letters have been sent to keep members abreast of what is happening. For example, teachers in Richmond Public Schools have been working very hard to make sure students succeed. It has been difficult for everyone to adjust to teaching and learning virtually during this pandemic. The VEA Convention, held virtually in March 2021, saw co-presidents Lola McDowell and Vashti Mallory serve as elected delegates. REA-R members were made aware that they had the opportunity to attend the convention as guests and were given information about how to request such access. The REA Cheri James Scholarship Committee has been raising money by selling Krispy Kreme Donuts. Retirees are asked to support this. The donuts are delicious. A recent letter was sent to members which included a VEA-Retired application, asking recipients to share information about REA-R with friends and those still employed who might be interested in becoming pre-retired subscribers. New pre-retired subscribers will receive a portable fan which displays LED “VEA-Retired” messages when spinning. Last, but certainly not least, members were encouraged to make arrangements to get the COVID-19 vaccination. All need to get the shots so we can defeat this pandemic. Members were told to be persistent if they have problems contacting the Health Department. It is important.

Valley Association of Retired Educators By Bea Morris

VARE has not met since last March; however, we have kept up with each other by emails and telephone calls. A card shower conveyed our many good wishes to a member and his wife who celebrated their 93rd birthdays in February and January, respectively. Memorials and personal notes expressed sympathy to members who lost loved ones, and calls and cards cheered those who dealt with various health issues. Although we have been careful to follow the guidelines for being safe during the pandemic, we have learned to cope and have continued to carry out our responsibilities. Several members worked the polls during the election, and we all found a way to vote safely. We thank VEA for the Daily Reports that kept us informed about legislation and guided our lobbying. We are looking forward to warm weather and the possibility of being together in the spring.

VEA-Retired Membership As of March 31, 2021, VEA-Retired had 4,780 members (4,528 retired lifetime and 252 annual retired members). That is 24 fewer members than at the same time last year.


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The VEA Fund for Children and Public Education By Meg Gruber

Thank you to the VEA-Retired members who recognize the importance of donating to the VEA Fund for Children io and Public Education. The VEA Fund just completed its biggest fundraising drive of the year at the VEA Delegate Assembly, raising over $60,000, which will help elect candidates who support Virginia’s public schools. Retirees raised a total of $2,733 during the convention, $1,435 from delegates and $1,298 from non-delegates. Outside of convention, there are currently 74 retirees who (combined) contribute nearly $900 a month to the VEA Fund through Easy Pay or monthly credit card donations. Want to join your fellow retirees and donate to the Fund? Go to to become an Easy Pay monthly contributor, or to set up a one-time or recurring contribution via credit card. As little as $5 a month can make a big difference. Your support of the VEA Fund helps us continue to fight for quality school funding, pay raises, and educational equity issues, and we can see how the last several elections have helped our public schools. Remember that the VEA Fund is the political arm of the VEA, and NO VEA DUES MONEY is ever given to candidates.

2022 VEA-Retired Elections VEA-Retired elections will take place in January 2022. We will be electing all positions on the VEA-Retired Council and retired delegates to VEA and NEA conventions. Council positions include president, vice president, secretary-treasurer, 2nd retired member-at-large on the VEA Board of Directors, and one representative from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts. Elected council members will serve two-year terms beginning August 1, 2022, while elected delegates will attend the 2022 and 2023 conventions. All VEA-Retired members are eligible to run for elected positions. Petitions and self-nomination forms will be available by request from VEA beginning on September 1, 2021. Completed paperwork must be returned to VEA by December 15, 2021. Petition signatures may be gathered in person or electronically; petition signatures must be from current VEA-Retired members.

NEA Leadership Summit and NEA Retired Conference 2021 By Dennis J. Pfennig

The first virtual NEA National Leadership Summit opened March 12, 2021 with an address by President Becky Pringle. In keeping with the conference theme (Our Democracy. Our Responsibility. Our Time.), she urged members to work to establish a more just world, to help lead a movement to make public education once again a common good, and to challenge themselves to grow and continue on a path of leadership. She also noted how proud she was of members working under near impossible conditions during the pandemic to serve the needs of students. President Pringle was followed by Nancy MacLean, professor of history and public policy at Duke University and author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, who explained how corporate America, led by the Koch Bothers, has been at work for decades to remove government from all aspects of American life, to permanently change the relationship between government and people. They work to undercut support for public education. Privatization is their aim. The Kochs’ America resembles that of 1900, a time before restraints were placed on corporations. (Continued, next page)

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NEA Conferences (continued) Virginia’s own Princess Moss, NEA vice president, kicked off the next day with an address calling for racial and social justice. She then introduced Andre Perry of the Brookings Institution, author of Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities, who argued leadership must “focus on race and structural inequality, education, and economic inclusion.” Improving community and business structures will lead to school improvement as well, he said. The last day saw Noel Candelaria, NEA secretary-treasurer, a Texas special education teacher, speak of the need for collective action to achieve the goal of great public schools for every child, stressing that “common purpose is the key to success.” Rev. William Barber II, pastor, author, former president of the North Carolina NAACP, and now visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary, closed the day with a strong message condemning systemic racism, which keeps the poor tied to “a life of struggle.” Barber called for all to recognize the cost of societal division, and how it helps those who want to stay in power and on top. Now, the conference was not all speeches. There were programs on the NEA budget, how to activate to protect public education in 2021, and leadership development. There was also time for state caucuses to meet. VEA President James Fedderman and Vice President Carol Bauer hosted a gathering of some twenty attendees. All and all, the 2021 Summit met its goal. Attendees were energized, informed, and ready to continue the fight for great public schools. No sooner had the leadership summit closed than the 2021 post-summit NEA-Retired virtual meeting opened with an address by its president, Sarah Borgman. She then introduced a “mother hen” and “true friend” of the retired, NEA President Becky Pringle. Pringle expressed gratitude for retired members’ continued dedication to public education and noted NEA-Retired is the fastest growing group in the NEA family. Day two saw Borgman stressing the need for collective responsibility for promoting racial and social justice and for letting elected lawmakers know what is needed to make this happen. Like the leadership summit, the NEA-Retired meeting also offered break-out sessions on various topics. The one I found most informative as a retiree was about NEA Member Benefits. Once registered (, members can sign up for a monthly copy of Kiplinger’s Report, which is loaded with valuable information for seniors; apply for an NEA Cash Rewards credit (3% cash back on gas, dining, and travel purchases and 2% on groceries); open an NEA Money Market Account (with rates far better than many banks offer); purchase long-term care insurance and care-plus hospital insurance (covers post hospital expenses for those over 65); get discounts on hearing aids (call 877-232-3099, open to adult immediate family members as well); pet insurance; vehicle and home insurance (through California Casualty); participate in an auto-buying program; and even sign up to receive two FREE magazines a year ( These are just a few of the benefits available to members. Another session was an open-ended fireside chat with Sarah Borgman, in which attendees had the opportunity to share their thoughts with leadership. I expressed a need for NEA to hire sufficient staff so that phones can be answered when retirees call headquarters, and correspondence of both the email and snail varieties is answered. Another interesting workshop came out of the Wisconsin Education Association Council-Retired, which has developed an unusual way of sending its political action messages via Facebook memes. Such visual messages engage both emotions and minds. It has proven to be an effective way to combat misinformation being spread by political adversaries. The final day of the meeting was devoted to conversation and sharing among retired state presidents and state staff liaisons. The NEA-Retired meeting was very well-planned and executed. Yes, there was a glitch here and there with technology new to so many of us, but it was time well-spent.



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