A nother set of MTA ESP Leadership Weekends will soon get underway, responding to education support professionals’ demand for
more training in that area amid growing attacks on
Interest in the program, which is modeled on
the National Education Association’s Leaders for
Tomorrow effort, spiked in the aftermath of the U.S.
Supreme Court’s decision last summer in the Janus
v. AFSCME case. Registration for this year is full,
illustrating the high interest in leadership training
among ESPs. And participants are looking forward to
Joni Cederholm, vice president of the Weymouth
Educators’ Association and a paraprofessional for
23 years in the Weymouth Public Schools, will be a
participant this year. She said she attended post-Janus
training at the MTA Summer Conference and decided
that the leadership weekends would help prepare her
for contract negotiations set to begin next fall.
“I want to be prepared,” she said. “Ready to go.”
Along with professional development and union
skills workshops developed specifically for ESPs,
the leadership program offers a way for members to
become more active in the MTA.
The program will be held over three weekends
in November, January and April and cover a wide
range of topics that include developing assertiveness,
overcoming fear, building confidence in one’s ability
to lead and strengthening interpersonal skills.
Shaleah Rather, vice president of the Classified
Staff Union at UMass Boston and a longtime MTA
activist, served as a facilitator in last year’s program.
She will do so again this year. Rather said that she is
thrilled at the strides being made by the group of 12
participants who “graduated” at the 2018 Education
Support Professionals Conference and that she was
especially gratified to see several of those members
working on the All In initiative this past summer.
The initiative, which focuses on one-to-one
conversations between members as a way of building
union power, will play an even bigger part in the
program this year, Rather said.
The leadership weekends “helped participants
foster the leadership skills they needed in order to
get out there and knock on doors,” she said. “They
all talked about the program being a really great
experience and said they would not have been active
in All In conversations over the summer had they not
gone through it.”
Janice McKeown, a paraeducator at the Runkle
School in Brookline, graduated last spring along
with two fellow members of the Brookline Educators
Union — Roylene Hunte and Wendy MacMillan.
McKeown said she found the experience to be
invaluable preparation for the current school year, as
her local faces a new set of challenges.
“The camaraderie — meeting other people from
other communities, listening to what they are going
through and learning from that — helps to motivate
you,” she said.
McKeown added that her relationship with
MacMillan and Hunte grew significantly during the
“You probably wouldn’t find three more
different people going through the program,” she
said. “And as an educator, you can feel very alone
at times. But now we are comrades-in-arms. We are
all at different schools and we have had different life
experiences. But the program gave me, Wendy and
Roylene a common base to work from.”
McKeown said she found so much value in the
program that she would consider attending a follow-
“You can never have these trainings too often,”
she added. “Being in the same room with other
people who are going through similar situations is
just uplifting. It reinforces and supports you and
gives you a boost. This program is about self-esteem,
speaking up, and exploring your true values. No
matter where someone is in their life or career, I
think we all benefit from continued practice and
growth in these areas.”
Despite Cederholm’s many years as an activist
— before becoming an officer in her local, she was a
building representative, a member of the negotiating
team and a member of the WEA Executive Board —
she looks forward to strengthening her skills.
She also wants to be a model for other up-and-coming members of her association.
“My hope and desire is to show other members
how important it is that they become involved. It
is important to not be afraid — to have a voice. In
numbers, we have strength.”
“The camaraderie — meeting other
people from other communities,
listening to what they are going
through and learning from that
— helps to motivate you,” said
paraeducator Janice McKeown.