Part of the Same Team

Like many of you, I, too, cheered for the U.S. women’s national soccer team when it won the World Cup this summer. As I watched the team celebrate, one thing stood out: everyone involved with the organization contributed to the team’s success.

The players and head coach are the most visible. Equally important, however, are the assistant coaches, equipment managers, team trainers, nutritionists, and countless others who all played a critical role in making sure that the athletes performed at their best.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia joins 2015 Education Support Professional of the Year Janet Eberhardt on the stage after addressing the Assembly  at 153rd Annual Meeting, 94th Representative Assembly at the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando Fl.  July 4nd 2015. Photo by Calvin Knight
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia joins 2015 Education Support Professional of the Year Janet Eberhardt on the stage after addressing the Assembly at 153rd Annual Meeting, 94th Representative Assembly at the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando Fl. July 4nd 2015. Photo by Calvin Knight

Abby Wambach, one of the members of the U.S. national team, once said, “I’ve never scored a goal in my life without getting a pass from someone else.”

That quote encompasses the way I feel about our indispensible Education Support Professionals. Like a sports team, an educational team comprises many different people who contribute to the school community’s success. Helping students achieve their potential requires every available resource.

Teachers are often the first to come to mind when thinking of the people who play a part in a child’s education. But even the greatest teachers catch a pass from staff who, among many things, transport students to school, maintain the building, prepare meals, communicate with the community, offer support in the classroom, and direct the library and front office.

It takes team members like Janet Eberhardt, who was named the 2015 Education Support Professional of the Year (ESP) for her outstanding contribution to the San Francisco Unified School District, her community, and the profession. During her remarks before more than 7,000 attendees at the National Education Association’s 153rd Annual Meeting and 94th Representative Assembly (RA) in Orlando, Florida, I was especially moved by her passion in calling for ESPs, teachers and higher education faculty to join together and fight for students and public education.

When I presented Janet with the national award earlier this year, I said that she is an absolute dynamo, and I feel even more strongly about that sentiment now. She leads by example by developing ESP training opportunities and developing future leaders. In her 29 years with the San Francisco Unified School District, Janet has created programs to engage and mentor students and families as well as developed several reading and student creativity programs to unlock a love for reading. As a union leader within the United Educators of San Francisco, she has held multiple important leadership roles, including planning, coordinating, and delivering ethnic minority leadership training for regional members. Janet has worked tirelessly over the years to help her ESP brothers and sisters gain voting rights within the state association. She has also been recognized with her state association’s human rights award for work she’s done to improve human rights for members, students, and families.

She is an inspiration to the countless families whose lives she’s touched in some way. Quite simply, it’s impossible to measure the impact that she has had in her work, in her passion, and in her activism.

And, yet, she is just one example of the many outstanding support professionals who, in many cases, work behind the scenes to contribute to great public schools and ensure student success for all children, everywhere.


Today, ESPs make up nearly one-third of the total education workforce, and include school and university custodians, security services, food services, clerical, transportation, and technical workers as well as paraeducators with 75 percent of ESPs living in and being active in the same communities in which they work. Of NEA’s nearly 3 million members, there are approximately a half-million members who are Education Support Professionals.

ESPs are critical to the success of school districts, families and students. They are champions inside and outside of the classroom; believers in students; advocates for families; leaders for unions; and a powerful force in public education. As Janet said in her remarks, she asks her students to go the extra mile and she expects the same from her fellow ESPs. We are better as a profession because of it.

Over the next year, Janet will serve as an ambassador for Education Support Professionals around the country. She will be spreading her message of working together to fight for students and public education, and will promote the values of all ESP members across the country. As summer winds down and we prepare for another school year, I am excited knowing that people like Janet Eberhardt are on the education team, helping students reach their goals.

3 Responses to “Part of the Same Team”

  1. Cynthe Winebrenner

    Just when I think I have had a tough day at my school, I get a message like this and I am encouraged to not throw in the towel, but wring out the sweat and get back in the battle! Thanks <3

  2. Barbara Catalano, Ohio ESP Retire

    Thank yo Lilly for posting this! An d congratulations to to Janet!

  3. Paula Monroe

    What a great article! I was fortunate to work with Lily and know her support for ESPs. This article is a true reflection of who she is as the President of NEA, but more importantly, who she is as a person. Her recognition of Janet Eberhardt is well deserved. Janet is an amazing leader and, as Lily notes, only one example of all the amazing ESPs out there – working every day to meet the needs of the whole child, support teachers, administrators and parents. I appreciate any recognition and acknowledgement of the value of every individual in the education workforce and Lily always does it the best!


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