By: Richard L. Smith
As a decades-long educator in the Newark Public Schools system in NJ, my long-time service does not mirror what I see with my colleagues as more and more quality educators leave the profession.
It has been difficult for many districts to fill open positions for classroom teachers, substitutes, and various education support professional (ESP) positions.
As I've seen that the classroom teacher shortage is always at the forefront of most school-based conversations, the unsung heroes and some of my BEST friends in my Newark school building are the ESPs.
They include your security officers, maintenance personnel, food service personnel, bus drivers, etc. They are essential to ensuring the day-to-day operations in a school run smoothly.
The following is a piece I wanted to share from Mr. James Frazier, President of The Union County Educational Association, who supports and pushes for a fair living wage for all ESPs.
"A valuable and intricate part of each and every student's educational process and success is the unsung heroes of our school communities. These are our education support professionals, affectionately known as ESPs. ESPs are the individuals who ensure the entire school system works and runs smoothly throughout the school year.
They are basically the backbone or, better yet, the foundation of the school community. Imagine having a building without a strong foundation.
The building would not stand as it would eventually crumble.
These inspiring individuals are our custodial maintenance, food service, paraprofessionals, clerical staff, security, and IT department professionals, to name a few. I'm sure everyone can share stories about their favorite ESP's impact on their life. Mine, in particular, was a custodial maintenance person at my elementary school.
Being a person of color and growing up in the 80s, there weren't many individuals in my school community that looked like my classmates or me.
I remember how this individual would spend time with us, bringing different sporting equipment out for us during recess.
I also remember how during lunch, being a young growing child who, like most growing children, seemed to have a bottomless stomach, he would give us extra milk or treats.
Aside from myself, I am certain others were significantly impacted by having this individual in our lives.
Many may have seen him as a father figure. These small gestures of kindness and compassion for our well-being as children have remained with me to this very day.
In fact, it has impacted my 26-year career as a school security officer and how I interact with my students.
I made it a priority that my students always feel heard, can relax, and learn in a safe environment.
The key for me was to build TRUST! Who can imagine a school building without our secretarial/clerical/administrative assistant office staff?
Those emergency moments during the school day when you have to get something of importance to your child, you reach out to that super important person in the main office to come to the rescue!
They are essential to the everyday workings of many of our school buildings. Many ESPs live and work in their school community. Many are your next-door neighbors. ESPs are taxpayers who have children being educated in the schools in which they work. In fact, ESPs hold many volunteer roles in their communities.
They are coaches, scout troop leaders, PTA/PTO members and leaders. They are members of many community social clubs. They genuinely are an intricate part of the entire community. With all of this, ESPs hold 2 - 3 jobs in order to make ends meet to sustain their livelihood. You may not be aware, but many ESPs do not earn a fair and appropriate living wage.
Many school boards balance their budgets on the backs of the unsung heroes of our school community.
Many ESPs are denied full-time hours, which means they're not provided health insurance.
This impacts the family. If health insurance is provided, sometimes it only covers the individual and not the entire family. Furthermore, many school districts have cut corners in order to "balance the budget" and have turned to privatization of our very important ESPs.
Doing this has seriously impacted the quality of education our students receive, and has contributed to diminishing our existing school infrastructure.
School districts need improvements, not cuts, especially when it comes to our ESPs. It is time to make our unsung heroes feel appreciated.
It is time to give our ESPs a fair LIVING WAGE!! In closing, think about those fond memories and stories of your youth.
Think about the impact a particular individual ESP has made in your life. Ask your local school district leaders to ensure our unsung heroes are compensated fairly and equitably.
A living wage and RESPECT are essential and necessary for all ESPs".