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Education Support Professional of the Year Delivers Remarks to NEA Representative Assembly

Doreen McGuire-Grigg calls ESPs “secret weapons” that change lives, bring communities together, and support student success.

WASHINGTON - July 05, 2016 -

The National Education Association’s Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year, Doreen McGuire-Grigg, a special education paraeducator in California’s Lakeport Unified School District, took to the stage on July 5 to address nearly 7,000 delegates to NEA’s 95th Representative Assembly (RA) at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC.

Long known as a “pathbreaker” and an admired leader with the California Teachers Association, McGuire-Grigg spoke of the herculean efforts of ESPs throughout the nation. She advocated for the inclusion of ESPs, and underscored the value ESPs bring to other educators and students.

“It is an honor for me to stand here today, representing incredible education support professionals from around the United States,” said McGuire-Grigg, who told the roaring crowd that ESPs are often the bridge between schools and communities. “And as such, we are often a school community’s secret weapon. We see the whole child, we notice their victories and their challenges.”

The 28-year paraeducator recognized several of her peers: a dropout coordinator from Arizona who works to keep students in school by connecting them to college aid; a substitute teacher coordinator from Georgia who mentors students and connects at-risk youth to volunteer opportunities; and a Wisconsin bus driver who started a book sharing program on his bus that has since spread to all of the district’s buses.

She referred to her peers, and other support professionals, as “secret weapons,” people who change lives, bring communities together, and support student success, and encouraged her colleagues to include ESPs in their next union meeting or event.

“Ask an ESP to join you,” said McGuire-Grigg, who grew up in the same community where she now works. Her father was a teacher and administrator with the Lakeport Unified School District for more than 35 years.

“Even if they’re already members, asking or including an ESP can make all the difference not only to an educator who sometimes feels invisible, but to the students we all serve. It’s smart to include us in your battles – we are secret weapons and a key ingredient!”

McGuire-Grigg also emphasized how ESPs are a part of the fight against excessive testing that takes time away from teaching and learning and institutional racism, and asked teachers to join their fight against the threats of privatization, saying the work of ESPs is constantly under attack because their jobs are being targeted by private corporations that put profits before students.

“Would an outside contractor know to put an extra scoop of vegetables on the tray of a student that doesn’t know where or when his next meal is coming from? asked McGuire-Grigg. “Would an outside contractor stay after school to fill backpacks full of food for students to eat over the weekend? Would an outsider comfort a crying student and walk them to the office?

“We need teachers to be our secret weapons. We need your stories, your passion and your numbers. If you see us picketing to fight outsourcing or for a living wage, pick up a sign and join the line.”

The paraeducator signed off with an inspiring message: “Amazing things can happen when education support professionals are treated as equals -- as partners and allies in student success. We are more than partners, we are problem solvers. We are an untapped resource and we are here to support the whole student, the whole school, and the whole community. We are the secret weapons.”

As ESP of the Year, McGuire-Grigg represents NEA and other ESPs at national education conferences, media events, and other community occasions. The annual award is NEA’s highest for an ESP. Approximately 2.8 million school support staff work in the nation’s public school systems.

The RA is the top decision-making body for the nearly 3 million-member NEA, and sets association policy for the coming year. Delegates adopt the strategic plan and budget, resolutions, the legislative program and other policies of the association. NEA’s RA is also the world’s largest democratic deliberative body.

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