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Strong Beginnings

By John Larson | OEA President

Pictured above: OEA President John Larson joins members outside of McMinnville High School to protest a visit by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

As the leaves begin to turn and the Fall slowly turns into Winter, I am struck by how quickly the first four months of the year have passed.  During my short time as OEA President I have been humbled by the amazing work of OEA members across the state. Though the challenges and stresses are many for educators in Oregon, OEA members continue to work tirelessly to give each and every student the education they deserve. To date, OEA has hosted three conferences, and I have enjoyed watching our members dig into the trainings on everything from bargaining to racial equity in our schools.  At the Summer Leadership Conference in Bend, more than 400 leaders from across the state gathered to kick off the new year.  In early October members met again in Bend for the OEA Advocacy Conference to learn more about how to actively engage with members and organize around the issues that have the greatest impact on their students. In late October, I was honored to have the opportunity to speak to a large contingent of ESP members in Salem where they gathered to engage in trainings around their professions, including an amazing workshop on Adverse Childhood Experiences and how ESP’s make a difference for students every single day. I have also been encouraged by a group of conservative educators who have formed a new caucus within OEA to ensure that all of our members’ voices are heard in the organization.

"During my short time as OEA President, I have been humbled by the amazing work of OEA members across the state."

As OEA members spend countless hours every day dedicated to their students, we continued to be faced with new and dangerous challenges from those who would see public schools privatized, charterized, or corporatized.  Groups like the Koch Brothers-backed Freedom Foundation have made no secret of the fact that they believe that the best way to accomplish this goal is first to destroy the Union.  The corporate lobby in Oregon continues to advocate for a lessening of pay and benefits for educators so that the budget can be balanced without impacting their bottom line.   In October, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made a visit to McMinnville Public Schools.  She met with some incredible Oregon public school educators and with students who both sent the message: our public schools are important.  Despite the advocacy of OEA members throughout McMinnville, Secretary DeVos’s message after her visit continued to be a push for school vouchers and further privatization of our public schools.

These challenges are very real and very serious.  However, based on what I’ve seen from our members so far this year, they are no match for the dedicated professionals who make up the membership of the Oregon Education Association.  Thank you all for your service to the students of Oregon!

— C. John Larson

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