Utah’s Eskelsen Garcia Named New NEA President

The National Education Association (NEA) has elected a new president, former Utah educator Lily Eskelsen García, the current vice-president of the organization.

The Desert News‘ Benjamin Wood reports that Eskelsen García was elected last week and will begin her term on September 1.  Outgoing president Dennis Van Roekel praised Eskelsen García:

“Lily’s going to be the most dynamic spokesperson I think we’ve ever had, and she will make people take notice,” Van Roekel said in a prepared statement. “She will continue to push for equity in education and carry on the organization’s commitment to student-centered union leadership and social justice.”

Eskelsen García has been a lunch lady, a kindergarten aide, an elementary teacher, Utah Teacher of the Year, president of the Utah Education Association, various roles in the NEA, and was chosen by President Barack Obama to serve as a commissioner on the White House Commission on Education Excellence for Hispanics.  She was also an educator for homeless youth in Salt Lake City.

“We must measure what matters and put students’ needs at the center of the system once again. We can no longer allow politicians who have never stepped into a classroom define what it means to teach and learn,” the new president said in a prepared statement. “At a time when nearly 50 percent of public school children live in low-income families, our country must refocus its priorities on the needs of the whole child and bridge the gaps that have only grown over the last decade.”

Lisa Schencker, writing for The Salt Lake City Tribune, says that the incoming president knows quite a bit about classes that are too large and funding that is too small.

Eskelsen García notes that Utah teachers are very savvy.  They know how to “stretch a dollar” and be extremely resourceful.  She adds that teachers want common sense answers and the tools to do their jobs.  What they do not want, she says, is “toxic testing” that is punishing their kids.

Eskelsen García will preside over the 3 million member NEA and will be tackling more issues than just “high-stakes” testing.  She earned her elementary education degree from the University of Utah, graduating magna cum laude.

She earned her master’s degree in instructional technology, spent a year teaching at the Salt Lake City homeless shelter, and a year teaching abused and neglected children at the Christmas Box house.  She is well-known for her blunt language about education and for her use of music in her advocacy efforts.

Some of the issues she will face head-on when she takes her post in September are: court cases that challenge teacher tenure; the loss of support of many loyal Democrats; turmoil surrounding the Common Core; and restoring trust in the union.

Caitlin Emma , reporter for Politico, writes that Eskelsen will take a stand against the federal government’s “value-added measures”, a method of evaluating teacher effectiveness, that she feels are not valid.

The recent Vergara case in California will be another hurdle for the new president. Eskelsen García wants to be sure that everyone realizes that tenure doesn’t mean that teachers, once they have received it, have that job forever.  Tenure only means that due process is in place when they face dismissal.

Eskelsen García would like to abolish the word “tenure”, but opponents of granting teachers tenure may not feel the same way.

Joe Williams , executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, says Eskelsen García needs to make clear what the union is for — not just what it is against.