Don Cameron, the executive director of the National Education Association, has announced plans to retire early next year, after guiding the country’s largest teachers’ union through nearly two decades of change and increasing influence.
“I thought now is the time to do this,” Mr. Cameron, 62, said last week. “I’m in good health. I wanted to spend more time with my family and on my private life. The organization is going well, it’s on the right path, and I just feel I can leave now and feel confident.”
Mr. Cameron joined the NEA’s Washington headquarters in 1979 as assistant executive director, after working for the union’s state affiliates in Michigan and Florida. He was promoted to his current job four years later.
As the union’s top nonelected officer, Mr. Cameron has played a central but mostly behind-the-scenes role in reorganizing the staff to help carry out the policy changes called for by the four NEA presidents under whom he has worked in that capacity.
He arrived in Washington at a time of internal strife, when the NEA’s own employees often went on strike against the union’s management. Mr. Cameron is largely responsible for helping move beyond those disputes, allowing the national staff to devote more energy to serving the group’s state and local affiliates, said Keith Geiger, who served as the NEA president from 1990 to 1996.
“There is no question that the relations between the NEA and its state affiliates is the best it has ever been, and Don Cameron gets the credit for that,” Mr. Geiger said.
More recently, Mr. Cameron has helped reorganize the NEA staff to better support President Bob Chase’s call for a “new unionism” devoted to raising the standards of the teaching profession while still protecting workers’ rights.
The union’s teaching and learning division, which focuses on school improvement issues, has been expanded from 25 to 43 professional staff members—now rivaling its government-relations department in size.
At 550 staff members, the overall size of the association’s headquarters is no larger than it was when Mr. Cameron took over, but the union’s membership has grown from about 1 million to 2.5 million.
Mr. Cameron said he won’t be seeking employment elsewhere after leaving the NEA. Instead, he hopes to spend part of his retirement writing about education reform and how the union evolved during the time he worked for the national organization and its state affiliates.
“It’s been probably one of the most productive periods in the NEA’s history,” he said. “We had the advent of collective bargaining, the advent of NEA involvement in politics, and now new unionism.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 16, 2000 edition of Education Week as Executive Director of NEA To Retire After Nearly 20 Years Behind Scenes