CRANSTON — Long-time East Providence School District teacher and State Senator Val Lawson was elected as the National Education Association Rhode Island's newest president during the …
CRANSTON — Long-time East Providence School District teacher and State Senator Val Lawson was elected as the National Education Association Rhode Island's newest president during the organization's annual meeting held Monday, May 15.
Lawson was elected to her first full, three-year term after serving in an interim capacity over the last several months. She is a 33-year veteran of classroom instruction. Lawson was previously vice president, rising to the top of the organization when former president Larry Purtill announced his retirement late in 2022.
“I am a true believer. I believe in public education. I believe in the power of advocacy. I believe in the good in government. These institutions are the foundation of our society and together their success positively impacts our quality of life,” said Lawson, who promised delegates that the union would continue to improve efforts to engage and support its membership, noting that the organization’s influence “rests in your engagement and activism.”
“Whether you’re a classroom teacher, an Educational Support Professional, a higher education member, a state or a municipal worker: our work begins today to provide the very best outcomes for the students and the Rhode Islanders we serve every day," she added.
Lawson, a Democrat and a resident of the Rumford section of the city, is in the midst of her third term as the state senator for District 14, representing a majority of East Providence's 48,000 residents in the upper chamber of the General Assembly. She was previous cleared of any conflict of interest claims made against her by the Rhode Island Republican Party in front of the state ethics commission.
The State Ethics Commission voted 5-1 to dismiss the complaint filed in 2019 during Lawson's first senatorial term, claiming the teacher and NEARI executive board member had a conflict of interest while legislating on matters pertaining to education.
The RIGOP complaint stemmed from Sen. Lawson’s sponsorship of legislation about teacher contracts as well as that of municipal employees. The first-term senator did so earlier this year as part of the General Assembly’s 2019 session. Lawson was already vice president of NEARI at the time.
Of note as well locally, Kristin Chase, of the East Providence Secretaries bargaining unit, was selected as the new NEARI treasurer.
In total, NEARI elected 15 officers at its annual meeting, making official the recent transition in leadership at Rhode Island’s largest labor union. Its top positions — president, vice president, treasurer and secretary — are all filled by women with current experience both inside and outside of the classroom.
NEARI is the state’s largest union with some 12,000 members. Its membership includes public school teachers; clerical and custodial staff at K-12 public schools (often referred to within the union as “education support professionals” or ESPs); full and part-time faculty at CCRI, Roger Williams University, and RISD; professional and support staff at Rhode Island’s public colleges and universities along with Roger Williams and RISD; and local municipal employees and workers at the RI Department of Health. Additionally, many retired workers choose to maintain membership with the union.
The officers of NEARI for the 2023-2026 term are:
President: Valarie Lawson
Vice President: Amy Mullen, NEA Tiverton
Secretary: Sue Warburton, NEA North Kingstown
Assistant Secretary: Jamie Grissom, Scituate Paraprofessionals
Treasurer: Kristin Chase, East Providence Secretaries
Assistant Treasurer: Brian Nelson, NEA South Kingstown
NEA Director (not elected this term): Vin Levcowich, NEA Chariho
Area Vice Presidents:
Nick Shattuck, East Providence Education Association
Lisa Wood, NEA Middletown
Bridget Gonsalves, NEA South Kingstown
Scott Conley, Davies Career and Tech
Angela Boisclair, NEA North Kingstown
Mary Parrillo, CCRI PSA
Robert Antonson, CCRI ESPA
Sue Allienello, East Providence Secretaries
Raymond Pouliot, Retired