Becky Pringle, a science teacher from Philadelphia, has been elected president of the National Education Association. Pringle, who served as NEA vice president for six years, will assume her new duties on September 1. On that date, she becomes not only the leader of the nation’s largest union representing 3 million educators, but also the highest-ranking African American female labor leader.
Joining Pringle on the new NEA leadership team will be NEA Vice President Princess Moss of Virginia and new Secretary-Treasurer Noel Candelaria of Texas. NEA elections are usually conducted in-person at NEA’s Representative Assembly, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year they were held remotely with nearly 6,000 elected NEA delegates casting mail-in ballots. The results were announced at a tele-townhall with RA delegates on Wednesday hosted by outgoing NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.
The delegates also reelected Hanna Vaandering, an elementary physical education teacher from Ridgewood Elementary in Beaverton, Ore., to the NEA Executive Committee.
Pringle, Moss, and Candelaria are the “right people at the right time,” Eskelsen García said. “This is an incredible leadership team. They will be the eyes and ears for our membership.”
As Secretary-Treasurer, Candelaria will bring a “wealth of experience and knowledge to the NEA leadership team,” said Eskelsen Garcia. “He knows that our students, our schools are our purpose.” A special education teacher and former teacher’s aide from El Paso, Candelaria previously served as president and vice president of the Texas State Teachers Association.
“I know that public education is the heart of the American dream,” said Candelaria. “We know from experience that every student can learn. We also know that shortchanging our schools today could shortchange our children for a lifetime.”
Candelaria replaces Princess Moss who will become NEA’s new vice president. An elementary music teacher from Louisa County, Va., Moss also served two terms on the NEA Executive Committee and was the president of the 62,000-member Virginia Education Association.
Eskelsen García praised Moss for seeing the potential in every child and has been “unapologetic and relentless” in fighting so that our students receive the support and resources necessary to succeed.
“America’s public schools continue to face many challenges and need our help more than ever,” said Moss. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on the many inequities embedded into our systems. As your vice president, I pledge my full attention and energy to ensuring safe learning spaces for all students and educators, and to bridging these inequities.”
Introducing her successor, Eskelsen García called Becky Pringle “exactly the person that every student needs, that every educator needs, on their side… She will grab the baton and run with it.”
Pringle’s election is the culmination of a long and distinguished career as a classroom teacher and a tireless advocate for public education, and for racial, social, and economic justice. As a science teacher in Philadelphia, Pringle served as a local president and steadily rose through the ranks of NEA leadership, serving on the NEA Board of Directors, the Pennsylvania State Education Association board, and as a member of NEA’s Executive Committee.
In 2008, she was elected NEA secretary-treasurer, where her stewardship helped navigate the association during one of the worst economic downturns – and the devastating cuts to public education that came with it – in the nation’s history.
Pringle’s acceptance address to NEA delegates on Wednesday was a stirring call to action for educators to confront and finally defeat the forces that have jeopardized the education and lives of too many students.
“We cannot—we will not—put off for one more second creating schools that serve the needs of all our students regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, immigration status, or language,” Pringle said. “Now is the time to address the systemic inequities that beset our most vulnerable students.”
Pringle takes the helm of the NEA as we face yet another historic crisis – a pandemic that has leveled the economy and disrupted the education of 78 million students across the country. The continuing fallout from COVID-19 has exacerbated the already entrenched inequities in the education system. And the upcoming school year is shrouded in fear and uncertainty as the pressure builds on students and educators to jeopardize their safety and walk into their school buildings to resume in-person learning.
Educators, Pringle said, are being “bullied from the highest office in the land to reopen school buildings and campuses.”
“I’ve spent these last 5 months Zooming with thousands of you, so I know you’re nervous about keeping everyone safe, and anxious about how to center your advocacy in equity,” she said. “But know this. NEA will support your demands that you get what you need to safely do the jobs you love.”
Pringle announced that as president-elect, one of her first orders of business will be to financially support any NEA affiliate who believes their community’s reopening plan will be putting educators and students at risk.
As President Trump and Betsy DeVos callously disregard guidance and advice from the nation’s top health experts and Senator Mitch McConnell continues to drag his feet as catastrophic budget cuts loom over every state, NEA must step up and lead, said Pringle. “We’re done being forced to make the false choice between living and learning; blamed for the failure of this administration to bridge the gaps in equity and fairness. We’re done.”
Pringle referred delegates to nea.org/safeandjust, which features a school board resolution to mobilize communities around a commitment to protect and support students and educators. NEA will be adding more resources to the site to help educators improve remote teaching and share the latest data from experts. (Additional resources can be found on NEA’s COVID-19 response site educatingthroughcrisis.org.)
Pringle ended her remarks invoking late Rep. John Lewis’ famous call for activists, when fighting for justice, to get into “good trouble.”
From tearing down the inequitable systems that exclude millions of students, to confronting the sexist, racist, and homophobic power structures that banish countless others to second-class citizenship, to keeping every student and educator safe, Pringle vowed that “NEA, we will get into good trouble every day, in every state, in every community all across this nation.”