Leaders for Tomorrow Class of 2010

Leaders are not born, they're developed. Either because of opportunity or necessity, someone takes charge and leads the way.


The photos were taken at the NEA 2010 Leaders for Tomorrow graduation.


How would you define leadership?

"A true leader is someone who helps pull the others along and is not afraid to get dirty. It is someone who is not demanding but sets an example for others to follow.".....

"We, ESP’s are not “just an ESP”. We are Professionals. You don’t have to have a title to be a leader. Our job is just as important as anyone else who works in the school system and we deserve to be paid and treated as such."     Marian O'Neal is a member of the Nassau Educational Support Professionals Association. She has been working to expand her horizons by developing her leadership skills. Recently, she participated in the 2010 Leaders for Tomorrow Program offered by the NEA.  Marian shares her experience below:


NEA Leaders for Tomorrow Class of 2010

A Diary By Marian P. O’Neal


In March of 2009, I filled out an application for the NEA Leaders for Tomorrow (LFT) program and mailed it with all the necessary requirements. On April 1, NEA contacted me and requested a phone interview with Lisa Connor, Senior Program Specialist-NEA; Dr Hazel Loucks, Organizational Specialist-NEA; and three others. During this phone conference, they asked me a lot of questions, but the one I remember the most was “what is my definition of a leader?” The first thing that came to mind was my first job experience when I was 20 yearrs old at K-Mart. Several managers had come and gone, but we finally got a new manager willing to work with us and show us how things should be done. He told us that he would never give us a job that he would not do and if we had a large truck come in, he would help get the work done. I shared this story with them and that I felt a true leader was someone who helps pull the others along and is not afraid to get dirty. A leader is someone who is not demanding but sets an example for others to follow. When the phone conversation ended, they advised me that I would hear in early May if I was selected. The first Friday in May, I received a call from Lisa informing me that I had been chosen. 


I had no idea that I was the only member from Florida that was selected. I was so excited. Nineteen fellow Education Support Proffessionals from all over the nation would be meeting me for this new adventure in Minnesota. On July 22,  I boarded a plane for Minneapolis. I was picked up at the airport and taken to the hotel where the rest of the LFT members were gathered for dinner that evening. One by one, we all came into the room, each one not knowing the other.  We all had a feeling that we were connected by uniqueness. We each introduced ourselves and began our training. The national president of the National Council for Education Support Professionals (NCESP), Laura Montgomery, greeted each of us.  Laura is from Little Rock, Arkansas and was instrumental in getting this program for ESP’s.

I soon met Shundra Byron, ESP from Atlanta, Georgia.  We connected right away as we were the only southerners in the group.  She is a secretary at a school in Atlanta.  We all soon found out that this is a very intense training. We were up at 6 AM, ate breakfast at 8 AM, attended class until noon, had lunch, then some more class, followed by dinner at 7 PM, and more learning until 9 or 10 PM.

The next morning we started all over again and this continued all week. One thing we all learned at this first session was how we fit in as a leader according to our birth order, and we also found out if we were assertive, aggressive, passive or submissive by filling out a questionnaire.  This was quite interesting.  But what is really neat is to see how we had all grown from that first session to the last. I think Hazel and Lisa had already figured most of us out from the phone interviews. We were all given 2 books, "Out Learning the Wolves", by David Hucthens and "FISH", by Stephen C. Lundin, PhD. 


We were tired by the end of the week, but we all bonded and formed a unique friendship that we will carry for a lifetime.  We were able to go shopping for a few hours at the Mall of America. I had never seen anything that big.  Minneapolis is a really nice place, and I wish I could have seen more of it. 



I bonded with another one of my fellow classmates, Hedi Morris, a secretary from Minnesota. We learned a lot that first week and were sent home to find a mentor. Some of us had to work on being less aggressive and more assertive or less passive and more aggressive in our relationships.


The day we left for the airport we all started planning our November trip to Washington, DC. We all agreed to stay in touch on Facebook and post our pictures from the trip. In just a few short days, all of us had formed a very close bond.


On November 12th, I boarded a plane for Washington, DC. I was excited. I had never been to DC and have always wanted to see the city.  I was reluctant to ride in a taxi and luckily I realized that a friend I grew up with in Fernandina Beach now lived in DC. We hadn't seen each other in 30 years. He picked me up from the airport and took me sightseeing. Being a photographer, I was in heaven.  It was cold and raining, but I could not wait to see the city and photograph my next adventure.   

At the hotel, I met up with all of my LFT friends for lunch. We planned out our week and what to do if we got some free time.  Each of us was so happy to see one another and had many stories to share from our first few months back at work.  Many of us had faced serious education issues on the job and wanted to share so we could brainstorm and come up with solutions to help one another.  We are from all over the country, but the issues we share are all the same.  Public education is in dire straits. 


During the session that week, we walked to the National Education Association headquarters and toured the building. Most of our meetings were held at the NEA Headquarters.  We met a lot of intricate people who worked behind the scenes at NEA. We learned the history of unions in America and how men and women sacrificed and died for unions. I learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Company sewing factory fire of 1911 where 275 women were locked in a building to work and a fire broke out. They were unable to escape the fire.  Women were forced to jump to their deaths. A total of one hundred and forty-six women died. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire helped to solidify support for workers' unions like the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.


We learned how to dress for success. We gave a speech on the person we admired the most.  This was interesting as they were preparing us to give a speech where we would be video-taped.  We also were given lots of information on organizing and how to recruit new members.  We received lots of information to share with our locals.  While in Minnesota, we all decided to bring something from our hometown or state to give each member. I received Alaskan smoked salmon and fire weed jelly, wild rice from Minnesota, buckeye from Ohio, peanuts from Georgia, and corn from Iowa, just to name a few items.  I shared beach sand and shark teeth with a video of Amelia Island. This was a nice treat to receive all of these things from all over the country. 


The person I selected as my mentor is Vanessa Harrell, president of Baker County Support Professionals. Vanessa has been assisting me as a leader. She has years of experience in the union, and I plan to stay in touch with her as I continue on my journey as a leader. Laura Montgomery was at all our trainings and spoke to us each day. She sat in on our classes and talked about becoming a member of the NCESP and being evolved at our local and state levels. She encouraged us as leaders to continue on our journeys and become the best we can be in our unions. She offered her support and said that she would monitor our progress and help us in any way she could.


it was time for us to return home and leaving was hard as we knew that the next gathering would be the last time for most of us to see each other again.  Some of us had late flights so we decided to tour Washington in the three or so hours we had to wait.  My most memorable account was being able to see the Lincoln Memorial.  I knew that I had to see it as Lincoln was my favorite president. It was a sight I will never forget. We walked the Mall and went inside the Washington Monument. This was breathtaking. It is amazing how this structure was built so long ago and is still standing to this day. 


Once we all returned home, we made our plans for our graduation and the NEA ESP convention in Vegas since we were all headed there in March. We stayed in touch on Facebook and continued to share our stories and many pictures from the Washington trip. Some of us were still having major issues at our schools and we all listened and offered help.


On March 6th, I boarded my plane from Jacksonville to Las Vegas. Two of my LFT friends and I made plans to see the Hoover Dam.  Margie Warner from Alaska and Paula Renzel from Iowa rented a van. They picked me up from the airport and off we went.  Initially, I was not excited about seeing the Dam, but I am really glad that I got to take the tour. Oh gosh, it was amazing!  We were able to go inside the Dam through the tunnels and learn about how it was built.  I would recommend this sight if you ever go to Vegas. Take the time and see the Hoover Dam. I took a lot of pictures and have wonderful memories of that trip.  We returned to the hotel in time for dinner where we caught up with the rest of our LFT friends.  Like I said, we met and attended class until late in the evening.  It was 6 PM, Vegas time, which was 9 PM Florida time. I had been up since 4 in the morning Florida time.  I was tired and ready for bed, even though we met until 9 PM.

The first morning we were video-taped with the speeches that we had prepared. My speech was titled “The Transformation of a Leader.”  In my speech, I spoke about how a butterfly is formed.  It begins its journey as a caterpillar, crawling on the ground and then it decides to become a butterfly so it wraps itself in a cocoon and the transformation takes place.  It is a slow process. I also used the analogy of a grain of sand and how it tucks itself inside an oyster and transforms into a beautiful pearl.  I created a powerpoint presentation and used several other analogies, but I also went back to my phone conference with Lisa and Hazel and spoke about my K-Mart boss, Mr. Wheeler, who set an example for me of what a true leader was. I spoke about other leaders in my life who have set examples for me to follow. My grandmother who gave me spiritual values, and two other bosses, Mrs. Deighan and Mrs. Coleman, who had given me wings to fly and sore like the butterfly.  Every one of us who gave a speech did an outstanding job and NEA will send us a video of the speech so we can review our presentations and work to improve our public speaking, an important part of being a leader.


The graduation day, March 12th, we all got to meet Mr. Dennis Van Roekel, the President of the NEA. He gave each of us our certificate and pin, then congratulated us on successfully completing the 91 hour program. Photos were taken with Mr. Van Roekel with our certificates as well as group photos.  George Williams, President of the American Association Of Classified School Employees (AACSE), Madison County Educational Support Professionals, and a NEA Board of Director, was attending the convention and I invited him to attend the graduation. Having a fellow FEA member and a familiar face attend this special day meant a lot to me.  

We were given a little free time to see the sites in Vegas later that day and spend time in fellowship with one another.  I made it to Freemont Street one night to take pictures of the lights and see the casinos. Vegas is sure not Florida I can tell you that.  I took a lot of nice photos and have plenty of memories to share for a lifetime. At the convention, the National ESP of the Year accepted her check from Chris Gardner, the son of Christopher Gardner portrayed in the movie "The Pursuit of Happiness"  staring Will Smith. The lady who won was from Kentucky and the charity she donated the money to was the Kidney Foundation. Her son was scheduled to get a kidney that week from his sister. 


Laura and others who sit on the board of directors will be watching all of us as we become leaders at our local & state levels. A lot of time and money went in to this program and in helping us to become better leaders. The knowledge that we have obtained is invaluable. I am not sure what my leadership role will be. I do know that I am a leader. One important thing was stressed at the conference and training that week: We, ESPs are not “just an ESP”.  We are professionals.  You don’t have to have a title to be a leader. Our job is just as important as anyone else who works in the school system and we deserve to be paid and treated as such! NEA saw the potential leadership skills in all 20 participants of this class, as well as, the two other classes that graduated before us.  Now, it is up to us to take what we have learned and apply it at our local and state levels.  Hopefully, opportunities will come my way and when they do, I will grab hold and move forward.


I am thankful for the opportunity that I have been given to participate in this program, and I encourage those of you who are thinking about applying to do so.  It is a lot of hard work and a commitment.  Once you agree to be in the program, you must  attend all of the trainings.  You commit yourself to this training and those who support you.


Where will I go and what will I be doing?  Who knows, but one thing is for sure, I am a Leader for Today and Tomorrow.


Marian P. O’Neal

Accomplishments:  Union Member since 2001

  • Graduate of The NEA Leaders For Tomorrow Program 2009-2010
  • Vice President Nassau Educational Support Professionals

               (NESPA) 2007-present

  • NESPA  - Membership Chairperson 2004 – present
  • Nassau County School Board Insurance Committee member 2008-2010
  • Member of  Bargaining Unit and Team NESPA 2001-present
  • NESPA - Building Representative 2001 - 2008
  • Winter Leadership Conference attendee 8 yrs
  •  FEA Delegate to Delegate Assembly 2007, 2008
  • Liaison to State Attorney’s Office (Attendance Assistant)

               Nassau County School Board 2004 – present

  • AFLCIO Delegate 2004
  • School Volunteer 1992-2001
  • PTO President Southside Elementary School, 1992-1993
  • Member of the Order of Eastern Star 1998 – present
  • Worthy Advisor International Order of Rainbow for Girls 1979
  • Graduating Class of 1979 Class Reunion Coordinator 1985-2010
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