Aug 222014

Myrna Aquitana_LighthouseNew America Media sponsored a recent forum at the UTLA auditorium to discuss changes in protecting the integrity of education. Among those invited in the panel of discussion were: newly-elected National Education Association (NEA) President, Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, Alex Caputo-Pearl, UTLA President and Mikki Cichocki-Semo, California Teachers Assn. (CTA) Secretary-Treasurer.

NEA is the nation’s largest professional employee organization representing 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

As the newly-elected NEA President, Ms. Garcia initially related her humble beginnings as a Latina, whose parents were not educated. Her mother was a native of Panama and her dad was from Nicaragua and she recalled how she started as a lunch lady in a school cafeteria in Utah after she graduated from high school. Further she said, she was actually the “salad girl” because the cafeteria management refused to allow her near the “hot food.” Through the encouragement of her teacher, she pursued her college education at the University of Utah through student loans and by “singing at bars and coffeehouses accompanied by her first husband, Ruel Eskelsen.

She graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Elementary Education and earned a masters degree in Instructional Technology and taught for nine years at the Orchard Elementary School in West Valley, Utah, where she was named Teacher of the Year. She rose up the ranks and joined the NEA executive committee in 1996.

Currently, as the newly elected President of the 3 million member NEA, Lily’s education advocacy includes her Latina background, and she believes that “public education has been misguided with education policies, and toxic tests which are hurting the kids.” She aims to “reduce student loan programs and make college more affordable for all.” Much like her humble beginnings, she believes that educators have the “duty to care for the whole student – mind, body and character, no matter how they arrive, what their learning conditions or their health conditions were.”

Ms. Garcia further believes that “professionalism carries the responsibility to take action, individually and collectively, to fight to make the promise of public education a reality and to prepare the whole and happy child to succeed in becoming a whole and happy child.” At the top of her agenda is “speaking up on behalf of the students and putting their needs at the center of the education system.” She also leads a campaign against “high-stakes testing and other policies that detract from student learning.”

NEA President-elect Lily Eskelsen-Garcia from the NEA website

NEA President-elect Lily Eskelsen-Garcia from the NEA website

During the panel discussion, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, who has 22 years of collective teaching experience at the Fried Kahlo High School and Crenshaw High School, advocates solutions in “reaching out to parents who want something better for their kids, thus humanizing and personalizing education, particularly in diverse communities such as Los Angeles.”

CTA Secretary-Treasurer Mikki Cichocki-Semo’s advocacy on the other hand centers on “engaging parents to unite and organize in order to push for the priorities in children’s educational systems.”  As a specialist in Youth Services, Mikki’s 23 years of education experience focuses on “discipline, attendance and child welfare issues for nontraditional students who face shrinking alternative educational programs.”

The final discussion centered on the goal of educators to “provide time, tools and resources necessary for the transition to the Common Core State Standards and make it a success, for the sake of  students who are the future of America.”

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