The power of standing together
ESPs gather to learn, network and honor Haverhill paraprofessional Nancy Burke
By Jean Conley
S tanding together and working toward common goals were among the dominant themes of the 2017 MTA Education Support Professionals
Hundreds of ESPs from across Massachusetts
gathered for the annual event, which was held April
7 and 8 at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel in Falmouth.
They attended workshops with titles ranging from
“Collective Bargaining” and “How to Organize for
Power” to “Helping Traumatized Children Learn”
and “Difficult Conversations.”
ESP Committee Chair Leslie Marsland
welcomed the attendees during a dinner on Friday
night, April 7. She called ESPs the “first responders”
of public education and said they need to “continue
to be the voice of our students, our schools, our
union and our communities.”
Those sentiments were similar to the reflections
offered by others.
MTA President Barbara Madeloni noted just
how central ESPs’ work is “to the education and the
well-being and the quality of community that we
create in our public schools.”
It is crucial that educators gather not just to
celebrate their work and extend their knowledge,
she said, “but to get to know each other, to build
relationships so that we can build power.” That
matters, she added, when it is time to demand
respect, decent benefits and livable wages.
The 2016 ballot fight against the expansion of
charter schools in the Commonwealth was won by
a coalition of labor, faith, parent and community
groups, Madeloni reminded the audience. “We need
to lock arms, share our values and work together.”
MTA Vice President Erik J. Champy said that
more than 20 years ago, when he was new to the
MTA Board and attended the Summer Conference
for the first time, it was ESPs who took him under
their wing and showed him the value of activism.
He lauded the “many incredible leaders”
among ESPs throughout the MTA and noted their
commitment to their students and their fellow union
During the No on Question 2 campaign,
Champy was invited to the University of
Massachusetts Amherst to meet with the University
Staff Association. The ESP leadership stressed that
everyone needed to be involved in the effort to defeat
the ballot initiative, he said.
“We need to win Question 2 together,” he
recalled the leaders saying.
A perennial highlight of the weekend is
the recognition of the MTA ESP of the Year,
and participants enthusiastically applauded this
year’s winner, Nancy Burke, when the award was
announced during Friday’s dinner.
Burke, a special education paraprofessional in
the Haverhill Public Schools for 18 years, works
with the most challenged special needs students at
Haverhill High School.
Over the last several years, Burke has led
the transformation of an overgrown courtyard at
the school into a garden that serves as an outdoor
learning lab for the nearly three dozen students in the
Burke is a building representative for the
Haverhill Education Association and a member of
the ESP Committee. She also served as chair of the
ESP Task Force.
Burke said she uses the school garden to
encourage her students to be creative, to collaborate
and to apply critical-thinking skills. But beyond that,
she said, the process of building the garden required
recruiting help from others in the community,
including members of the school’s football and
wrestling teams, the Boy Scouts and the Junior
She said that working on the project became a
communitywide effort, inspiring all types of students
to be compassionate and to “give back to their
Burke expressed gratitude that the MTA and the
NEA opened her eyes to the possibilities created by
“Being an ESP, you can do anything you
want — from writing a grant for a special project
to serving on committees and being elected to
leadership positions,” she said.
“You are here for your community,” she added.
“Get inspired. Be inspired. And don’t take ‘no’ for an
On Saturday, participants heard from Doreen
McGuire Grigg, the outgoing national ESP of the
Year, and Saul Ramos, an MTA member who was
named the new NEA ESP of the Year on March 11.
‘Get inspired. Be inspired. And
don’t take ‘no’ for an answer!’
— Nancy Burke
MTA ESP of the Year
Please turn to ESPs/Page 36
On Friday night, hundreds of ESPs gave
an enthusiastic reception to Nancy Burke,
pictured below, when she was named the 2017
MTA ESP of the Year. At right, participants
created a variety of dishes in a “Cooking with
Children” workshop on Saturday.
Photos by Jean Conley