ATLANTIC CITY — The theme of social justice will continue to dominate the state education convention returning to the city this week, one of the largest trade conventions of its kind in the country and a top trade show for the resort town.
The 165th New Jersey Education Association convention will take place Thursday and Friday at the Atlantic City Convention Center featuring speeches by authors and social activists Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo, and author and Harvard professor Cornel West, as well as professional development and other workshops that reflect the theme “Standing Together: Social Justice = Education Justice = Student Success.”
“My members and my representatives feel this is a very important issue not only for Atlantic County but throughout the NJEA membership itself,” said Erland Chau, a retired Mainland teacher and president of the Atlantic County Council of Education Associations. “Every year we have exciting speakers and really very influential, but also motivating.”
Chau said he represents about 7,500 NJEA members in the county and is hoping for a good showing from his constituents.
“We certainly have some exciting programs that will fit all of our members from both professional, as well as support staff,” he said.
Meet AC, the nonprofit economic development organization that supports conventions and meetings in Atlantic City, said that this year, the NJEA — representing over 200,000 members statewide — has a projected attendance of 15,000 and an economic impact of $6.9 million for this year’s show.
“That’s rooms, dining, transportation. (NJEA is) very excited about the fact that the NJ Transit train is back in service, which will allow those folks who do not want to drive to attend the convention,” said Sandi Harvey, vice president of sales for Meet AC.
Last year, the Atlantic City Rail Line was out of service during the fall and winter while safety upgrades were being installed, but it has been back in service since May.
The projection for this year’s convention are a decrease from previous years’ estimates of 35,000 attendees and nearly $10 million in spending. Harvey said that overall the convention remains one of the top five trade shows for the city (New Jersey School Boards Association, New Jersey State League of Municipalities, Northeast Pool and Spa, and Police Security Expo round out the list).
“The convention itself still offers fantastic professional development for all the teachers, and the organization is working on several initiatives to help drive additional attendance going forward,” Harvey said.
Steven Baker, NJEA spokesman, said they are expecting a good turnout from members from across the state to attend the convention.
“We always have a good representation from around the state, and our members really value the professional development that they get at the convention,” Baker said, adding that this year attendees are excited about the keynote speakers. “You’re going to see of course the usual array of professional development, innovative programs for every discipline and across a lot of job categories.”
Baker also noted that the convention will keep its focus on racial, social and economic justice within education.
“That is an organizational priority, and you see it in things like both of our keynote addresses this year,” he said.
Vulchi and Guo are co-founders of CHOOSE and the authors of a racial literacy handbook for teachers, funded by Princeton University and featured in Teen Vogue. West is a professor at Harvard University and professor emeritus at Princeton University who has lectured to a vast variety of public groups to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
In addition, the convention features a Celebration of Excellence Thursday afternoon to honor NJEA Hipp Foundation grant recipients and the 2019-20 NJ Teacher of the Year Kimberly Dickstein Hughes.
On Friday, NJEA President Marie Blistan and state Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet will share information about a joint initiative related to the state’s Amistad curriculum, including opportunities for educators to travel to sites related to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.