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Delegation Salutes Executive Director John Wilson


NEA pays tribute to Executive Director John Wilson as he prepares to retire in September.

July 05, 2011
By Cindy Long

And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.

That’s how Chaucer describes the clerk in the Canterbury Tales, and that’s how Karen Garr describes her longtime friend and colleague John I. Wilson. A member of the Wake North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), Garr first met Wilson in 1971 when they were both teachers in North Carolina. He immediately became her friend, as well as her mentor.

“If you lined up all the people John Wilson has mentored throughout his career, it would be twice as long as the line at the voting polls yesterday,” she said.

The people he mentored, the educators he served, and the colleagues he inspired paid tribute to Wilson at his last RA as Executive Director Tuesday as he prepares to retire and return to his home state of North Carolina in September.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said that one of his favorite stories about Wilson took place on a day when bad things seemed to be coming at the Association from every direction. He went into Wilson’s office and asked him how he managed to handle it all so well.

“I was a special education teacher!” Wilson replied.

He took his gift for education and turned it into a career of activism and leadership and helped steer the NEA through some of the most challenging times in the organization’s history.

“NEA is stronger today than it was the day he became executive director,” said Van Roekel.

After thanking the Executive Committee, the NEA executive staff, and state executives and staff, Wilson thanked the delegation in a speech that captured his passion for public education, students, and the power of collective bargaining.

“You cannot have a vision for a great public school for every student and then not use your best tactic to achieve that vision,” he said. “I want to see the day when parents demand an expanded scope of collective bargaining in every school district because they know it serves their children well…When collective bargaining becomes ‘collective wisdom,’ to serve students and provide great professionals – both teachers and ESPs – the career they deserve, the community wins, and ultimately America wins.”

Wilson told the delegation that he wants to be a voice for poor children, because he knows what it means to live the American dream and he wants every child in America to experience it. But in order for that to happen, Wilson said two things need to occur.

First, corporate America has to stop being so greedy and start paying its fair share in taxes so that poor children aren’t denied the resources they need to have the same opportunities as the children of CEOs. Second, he said NEA has to take the lead in demanding from politicians, parents, and our members to do what we know works for students, especially poor students.

He said the obsession with testing must end, that bureaucrats and politicians must stop undermining the teachers who put their students first every day, and that he would continue to give voice to the members of NEA he knows “to be the finest people in the world.”

“I will never stop fighting for you and the students you serve,” he said. “God bless you and thank you for this wonderful opportunity you gave me.”

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