Conference features professional development, networking and union building
By Jean Conley
H undreds of education support professionals from across the state gathered on Cape Cod in early April for a weekend of professional
development and union building.
Workshops at the 2019 Education Support
Professionals Conference, which was held April 5
and 6 at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel in Falmouth,
addressed a wide range of topics, from Weaving
Social and Emotional Learning into the Classroom
to Understanding the Bilingual Brain. Sessions on
bargaining, understanding the Fair Labor Standards
Act and the Legal Rights of ESPs helped participants
build their leadership skills, demand for which has
grown since the U.S. Supreme Court’s anti-union
Janus decision last year.
At a session on the Fund Our Future campaign,
an initiative to provide an additional $1.5 billion
per year in funding for public schools and colleges,
participants discussed strategy and the legislative
framework of the effort to pass the Promise Act
and the Cherish Act, along with messaging and
The campaign was a major topic of discussion
throughout the weekend.
At dinner on Friday evening, outgoing ESP
Committee Chair Leslie Marsland laid out some of
the challenges that union workers have contended
with over the past several years.
“In 2016,” she said, “we had to deal with
Question 2 — and we defeated it.” In 2017, “we
all worked hard on the Raise Up Massachusetts
campaign to help move the Fair Share Amendment,”
only to be thwarted by a Supreme Judicial Court
ruling that kept it off the ballot. “But we are not
defeated,” Marsland said, noting that efforts are
moving forward to put the amendment on the ballot
She reminded the crowd that the Janus decision
was expected to badly damage union membership.
“But recent reports show that union membership in
Massachusetts is up,” she said. “We’ve worked hard
to organize, and we’ve turned the page.”
This year, she added, “we need to rally around
how to fix funding for public education — schools
and colleges — by working for the Fund Our Future
“I know we can win this battle,” she added.
“We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.”
MTA President Merrie Najimy picked up on
Marsland’s remarks, starting with the chant: “Whose
“Our schools,” the crowd thundered back.
“Whose colleges?” she asked. “Our colleges,” the
Najimy said that without ESPs, “our schools and
colleges would fall apart.” And yet, she said, ESPs are
often unrecognized “despite the fact that you cultivate
the most important relationships with our students.”
The lack of respect is all too common at all
levels of the education profession, she said, and it is
fueling the Red for Ed movement across the country.
“We’ve been in a Red for Ed moment in
Massachusetts before it even got that name,” Najimy
added. “But every time we’re disrespected, we have
to remember as union members that we can do
A case in point is the Fund Our Future
campaign. The time is now, Najimy said, to reverse
the profound underfunding of public education,
which has meant inadequate pay for ESPs and other
educators. Because of the advocacy of educators
and their allies, she told the crowd, “Legislators
say that this year, something is going to happen.
But something isn’t good enough. It has to be the
Promise Act and the Cherish Act.”
Vice President Max Page reinforced that
message, stating that educators “have changed the
conversation” this year at the State House.
“But we don’t just want something done,” Page
said. “We want the right thing done.”
He went on to urge everyone present to “show
up on May 16” when educators and their community
allies will converge on the State House — and on
Springfield City Hall — to send a clear message
to legislators that public education needs to be the
state’s top priority.
A high point of the conference was the
celebration of the MTA ESP of the Year.
Participants enthusiastically applauded this
year’s honoree, Joan Cederholm, vice president of
the 700-member Weymouth Educators’ Association
and a secretarial paraprofessional at the Johnson
Early Childhood Center.
The conference provided the second opportunity
for Cederholm to step into the spotlight.
She was initially honored during a surprise
assembly at the preschool on March 11 before a
crowd that included dancing and cheering children,
fellow union activists, parents, community members
Cederholm was introduced by Kathy Meltsakos,
the 2018 MTA ESP of the Year. As Meltsakos noted
the breadth of Cederholm’s school, community and
union activism, she paused for a breath. “Is anyone
else tired yet?” she quipped.
Cederholm acknowledged feeling “shocked
beyond belief” the morning she learned she had been
chosen, and she expressed her gratitude to her fellow
ESPs, union members, and community and family
Photos by Jean Conley
Joan Cederholm enjoyed a moment with her
granddaughter, Emilia, after being honored as
the 2019 MTA ESP of the Year.