When Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey Shore last year just days before the scheduled start of the NJEA Convention, we made the difficult but necessary decision to cancel the convention for the first time in its long history. At the time, we promised we’d be back, bigger and better than ever, to be part of Atlantic City’s recovery.
This November, we are ready to make good on that promise with a great convention that will draw tens of thousands of NJEA members with outstanding exhibits, high-quality professional learning, and the opportunity to hear from respected experts on a wide array of critical educational issues. And we will do it all in Atlantic City, where our presence will make a difference economically as well.
I’m proud that NJEA and its members have the opportunity to participate in Atlantic City’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy. But I’m even more proud that we didn’t wait until now to start making our presence felt in devastated communities across the New Jersey.
Almost before Sandy’s winds had died down, NJEA members were on the front lines of the recovery efforts, donating their time and resources to help displaced families begin the long process of rebuilding.
In Toms River, bus drivers were called into service to help with evacuations before and during the storm, and again when it was time for people to return to their homes.
Members of the Atlantic City Education Association visited shelters and reached out to students’ families to offer support, even doing laundry so a family could have clean clothes.
In Trenton, several locals partnered with the district’s food service provider to provide lunches to families in the days after the storm when power was still out.
The stories go on and on. From members who helped with storm cleanup, to those who opened their homes, to those who helped students replace supplies lost in the storm, there was an incredible sense of community and a recognition that we all have to band together to overcome difficult situations.
NJEA also took decisive action to help. Shortly after the storm, we established the NJEA Hurricane Sandy Back to School Fund and the NJEA Back to School Effort with a $500,000 donation intended to help members in the difficult work of rebuilding, both personally and professionally. In addition to providing resources, NJEA helped match members and communities in need with those who wanted to help. From helping members rebuild classrooms and workspaces to providing backpacks and supplies to students, the NJEA Back to School Effort helped restore a sense of normalcy to a very unusual school year.
I couldn’t be more proud of our union and its members. But I’m also not surprised, because that’s what a union does. We look out for each other. We stick together. We offer a helping hand to our brothers and sisters so that all of us can climb higher.
We will demonstrate that in another way at the convention, as members present trainings and participate in discussions with each other, sharing best practices and helping each other improve their professional practice. And you can bet that the learning and collaboration doesn’t end when they leave the convention center. It’s how we operate as professionals, and it’s why New Jersey’s public schools are so strong and successful.
As I begin my first year as president of NJEA, I want members to know that I’ll be your advocate in that work. I’ll make sure that you can count on NJEA to protect our profession and make it stronger and prouder than ever.
And I know I can count on you to uphold the tradition of excellence that defines public education in New Jersey. That’s why I’m confident we are going to have a great convention and a great school year.