The Virginia Education Association got its starts in the middle of the Civil War. The story of the VEA’s last 150 years is told in a book set for release next month.
Even though school is out for summer in just a couple of hours…some eight-graders at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Roanoke don’t seem to mind taking a few last questions on the periodic table from science teacher Sharon Simpson. She’s been teaching for 30 years, but says she wants to do it for another five years before she retires.
Keeping experienced teachers like Sharon Simpson in the classroom has been a goal of the Virginia Education Association since its start, according to Bill Johnson.
"The educators in this state have been working for 150 years to promote the value of education and public schools and develop teaching into the profession that it needs to be," he said.
The former VEA communications director has written a history of the organization, due out next month. His research shows that current issues in public education have deep roots.
For example, many religious parents these days teach their children at home or send them to a private school. But Johnson says the push for public non-sectarian schools in Virginia actually started with pastors and clergy.
The VEA got its start at the height of the Civil War, in 1863. Seven years later, the first public schools opened, and the association included just about everyone with a role in educating children…administrators, school board members, parents, students as well as teachers.
That lasted until about 1925.
For those early public educators in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “union” wasn’t a shameful word, Johnson says, even in Virginia. They wanted the rights and privileges that came with belonging to a labor group…even engaging in collective bargaining in the 1970s until the state stopped it.
"The Governor directed the Attorney General to go to court and secure a ruling from the court that said that these school districts were creations of the state of Virginia and had only the authority granted directly by the state and therefore they did not have the authority to negotiate contracts with their employees," said Johnson.
Given the current political situation in Virginia, Johnson says the VEA will have to use other means to promote its core values of teaching, learning and leading. But he says that his research has convinced him that as long as the VEA focuses on those missions, its future is bright.