NEA’s mystery man Dennis Van Roekel addressed delegates for the first time after being named president-elect, with a forceful speech that called for change in the public education system as it exists today.
“The operative word in 2008 is change,” said Van Roekel, adding he was not satisfied with a public education system that leaves behind large numbers of minority students.
“I am not satisfied with the unequal access to schools, not satisfied that some children go to ... modern schools and others go to schools that say society doesn’t care for you,” he said.
Van Roekel, a former Arizona math teacher who served as vice-president under President Reg Weaver, also attempted to dust away some of the mystery surrounding himself by telling delegates how he had wanted to become a teacher right from the time he was in 7th grade. He remained a teacher for nearly 25 years.
He brought on stage his extended family, from his wife to his children and their families and his mother who he introduced as a lifetime NEA member and a former teacher herself.
He talked of how, throughout his long association with the NEA, he had watched and learned from the union’s presidents like Mary Hatwood Futrell, Keith Geiger, Bob Chase and Reg Weaver. “The mission and vision of this organization defines who I am, what I care about, and believe in,” he said.
Van Roekel, as expected, did not make any major pronouncements of change in the direction of the NEA, however, and observers here say they don’t expect any drastic departure from the path carved by Weaver, at least not immediately.
Still, with the entrance of AFT’s reform-minded Randi Weingarten raising expectations for some change in the traditionally inclined NEA, is it just possible we might see a new—and changed —Van Roekel emerge after he takes office Sept. 1 as the leader of the 3.2-million-member union?
A version of this news article first appeared in the NEA & AFT: Live From the Conventions blog.