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We Can Make It Happen

There's a certain energy and hopeful anticipation about a new school year. It's almost like a feeling of renewal or rebirth. This is a golden time: all the students—and their parents—eagerly awaiting a fresh start.

Every year all of us have a hunger to help make our lives better: for our students, for our profession, and for public education. Through your local Association, you will show members how to be effective activists. You will show them the leadership skills they always had, but were temporarily lying dormant. As a teacher I knew once said: "You know it, you just don't know that you know it."

I truly believe that this will be a historic year for public education. So, we need you to get ready because we have work to do, both in and out of the classroom. In just a few weeks, the nation will elect a new President and a new Congress. Our most important and immediate task from now until November 4 is to organize, energize, and mobilize our members to get involved in this election. Having your say in the classroom begins with having your say at the ballot box.

But electing a President and Congress who are friends of education is only a means to an end. We know that this election will affect the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, health care for children, and the repeal of the Social Security offsets. But it also has the potential to be the moment when our nation begins to renew its commitment to public education.

This commitment has always served our nation well. Public schools are one of our most beloved institutions. But this commitment has eroded over the past 30 years, as our government was dominated by an ideology of de-regulation, privatization, and huge tax breaks for the wealthy.

We have seen the tremendous toll that this ideology has had on our nation. The American people are ready for change—and this election year gives us an opportunity to transform public education so it will meet the needs of our students in the 21st century.

As we move forward beyond this school year, we cannot allow any further delay of our vision for public education in this country. We cannot sit back and watch the most important issue to our nation be kicked like a can down the road any longer. As educators, we must be accountable to each other. But more importantly, we must hold our elected leaders accountable. And if they can't see the light, then we must make them feel the heat. 

If we are truly serious about achieving Great Public Schools for Every Student by 2020—then we must not forsake our responsibility, not even for a moment, and must give everything we've got to make this a reality. As your new President, this is my impassioned plea to you—to pour your hearts and souls into our vision like you never have before.

It will be your stories, your commitment and sacrifice that will finally lay to rest the awful disgrace of achievement gaps and dropout rates that are plaguing communities across this nation. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the rationing of education in our country. And I'm ready to show the world that we are still that great nation that can unite for a great cause with a collective spirit and common purpose for the good of humanity. That time is right now.

Forty-seven years ago, President John F. Kennedy presented an audacious challenge before a joint session of Congress: send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. There were many who thought he was being unrealistic and that it could never happen.

But in the face of disbelief and cynicism, Kennedy's dream became a reality. Although Neil Armstrong took that giant step for humanity, the American collective will made it happen.

A great public school for every student by 2020 may sound impossible, but I believe this nation can make it happen. All we need is the will and the belief that we can do it!


— NEA president Dennis Van Roekel
Photo: Scott Iskowitz

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