Skip to Content

Education Support Professional of the Year energizes, inspires fellow educators

Colorado elementary school health technician urges educators to lead the profession with courage

WASHINGTON - July 04, 2012 -

An elementary school health technician from Colorado is the National Education Association’s Education Support Professional of the Year. Judy Near energized nearly 9,000 fellow educators, attending NEA’s Representative Assembly (RA) today with a powerful speech about the critical roles ESPs play in helping to ensure student success and lead the profession.

During Near’s speech to delegates at the RA, she urged educators to take control of their profession through leadership roles, “To lead you just need a vision, hope, and inner strength to believe you can change things."

Near encouraged educators to live each day with courage, she said courage helps protect students and communities. "We care deeply for the students and their success, and we work to keep students and schools safe," said Near, a health technician and attendance clerk at Skyline Elementary School in Canon City.

“Education support professionals are invaluable members of a school community—they are often the strongest bridges from classroom and campus to community,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Their relationships with students are not limited to one school year; as students move from grade to grade, they remain part of their educational experience. Their commitment to helping students succeed is the hallmark of NEA leadership and Judy Near is a wonderful example.”

A $10,000 grant from NEA Member Benefits was awarded to Near as part of her ESP of the Year award. Near says she will use award money to advocate on behalf of education support professionals.

"Judy is an incredible person," said CEA President Beverly Ingle, who nominated Near for the award. "She is open and caring; respectful to everyone she meets regardless of their circumstance. Her sense of humor is inviting and inclusive. Judy was truly the best choice for ESP of the Year."

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.

The top decision-making body for NEA, the RA sets Association policy for the coming year. Delegates adopt the strategic plan and budget, resolutions, the legislative program, and other Association policies, and they vote on proposed amendments to NEA's Constitution and Bylaws. The NEA Representative Assembly is the world's largest democratic deliberative body.

For more information about ESPs and their role in America’s public schools, visit
Photos from Judy Near's address are available by visiting

# # #

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

CONTACT: Brenda Alvarez  (202) 262-5377,