Education Support Professional of the Year (ESP) Ernest “Jameel” Williams energized nearly 9,000 fellow educators attending NEA’s Representative Assembly (RA) in July with a powerful speech about the critical roles ESPs play in the lives of the nation’s 49.4 million public school students.
During his remarks, Williams urged NEA delegates to “concentrate on uniting our efforts to work together as a single group of educators united in solidarity for our professional survival.” In addition, he compared educators to a football team, saying “if the blockers don’t block the quarterback, or the tight ends or running backs don’t work together, the team is set up to be defeated because the opposing team senses weakness and that gives it an extra edge. We don’t need to show division in the ranks,” said Willliams, a bus driver and teacher assistant from Henderson, N.C. He has taught at L.B. Yancey Elementary School for all 23 years of his education career.
“ESPs are the lifeline that help make schools operational and ensure students have a safe, clean, and nurturing learning environment,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Jameel’s drive and dedication to making sure his students start and finish the school day on a positive note serves as a reminder of just how important a role ESPs play in helping children succeed and achieve.”
As part of his ESP of the Year award, Williams received a $10,000 grant from the Gardner Rich Foundation of Chicago, half of which he plans to donate to the Celebrity of the Year Scholarship to help young people continue their education at a college or university of their choice.
“Jameel believes every child has the right to learn, “said North Carolina Association of Educators President Sheri Strickland. “He is a champion for the rights of ESPs and is committed to having his students believe in their full potential.”
America’s nearly 3 million education support professionals — more commonly known as ESPs or school support staff — make up 43 percent of the public school workforce. ESPs comprise nine staff groups who work to support the nation’s public schools and higher education institutions. From food service workers to para-educators to bus drivers and custodians, ESPs are the foundation that keeps schools and colleges clean, safe and healthy.
Nearly 9,000 educators from every state were in Chicago for NEA’s RA in July. The RA is the top decision-making body for the 3.2 million-member NEA. Delegates set Association policy and address issues facing schools, students, and the teaching profession.