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By Julian Peeples

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS — with students as a campus supervisor at Ventura’s Buena High School and with fellow members of Ventura Education Support Professionals Association (VESPA) as their president — is a big part of Carol Peek’s success, which includes being named the 2023 CTA Paula J. Monroe ESP of the Year.

“I’m just so honored and humbled,” Peek says. “This is not just my honor. It’s for all ESPs.”

Peek’s advocacy for her fellow ESPs began when she first started working at the high school in 2005 and escalated until she was elected VESPA president in 2019, where she is released from her job duties to work full-time on behalf of the local. Peek says she misses working with students on campus every day — having forged many special relationships with students over the years while working the school gates. As an ESP, she has unique opportunities to interact one on-one with students, and offer support, encouragement and guidance.

“Carol is very well known and well-respected as a campus supervisor, and her rapport with the students, faculty and admin is amazing,” says fellow VESPA member Kendall Griffin. “She treats the kids with love, respect and discipline, and they treat her like a mother — one who will listen and help guide them.”

Peek’s interest in union leadership springboarded in 2016 with her participation in the NEA Leaders for Tomorrow program, now called the NEA ESP Leadership Institute, which “pulled out leadership qualities I never knew I had,” she says. Peek was elected VESPA vice president and then president, working to provide honesty, transparency and accuracy to all members.

“As an ESP, I love my job and I know I make a difference,” she says. “But I never felt like we had the respect we truly deserve, so when I became president, I made that a priority.”

The fight for respect reached a crescendo last year when VESPA and Ventura Unified Education Association (VUEA) were locked in a lengthy and difficult bargain with the district. Peek worked to rebuild VESPA’s relationship with VUEA, and the two presented a united front against district management that pushed them to the limits. She said the fight for respect meant standing together for each other.

“It wasn’t enough to be angry — we needed to organize,” Peek says. “The members were fantastic. We all knew we deserved respect, and we were fighting for it!”

The combined efforts of VESPA and VUEA resulted in a major victory for all educators and students in Ventura. Peek has since invited Ventura Unified administrators to meet with VESPA to hear about the needs of ESPs and build together.

“We have a better relationship with the district than before and it’s because they saw our strength,” Peek says. “When you have a puzzle, every piece is important. If one is missing you can’t complete the puzzle. You can’t run a school without ESPs!”

As VESPA president, Peek has regular meetings with management to discuss potential issues and ensure ESPs have what they need to provide the services students deserve. She’s excited to be able
to continue sharing all the ways ESPs are the backbone of public schools with a louder voice, as the ESP of the Year.

“This honor gives me the forum to advocate for each and every ESP, not just in California but across the country,” Peek says. “I appreciate that so much because we deserve to be heard.”

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