Personality: Dr. James J. Fedderman

Spotlight on the incoming president of the Virginia Education Association

6/4/2020, 6 p.m.
When Virginia schools return to some kind of normalcy in the future, its education system will be facing a bevy ...

When Virginia schools return to some kind of normalcy in the future, its education system will be facing a bevy of challenges. With the effects of the coronavirus resulting in cuts in state education spending, localities have turned to cuts in expected pay raises, salary freezes and furloughs that have and will produce struggles for teachers, staff, parents, stu- dents and others.

For those navigating this aspect of a tumultuous period in Virginia, the Virginia Education Association is working to create a path forward alongside its president-elect, Dr. James J. Fedderman.

When Dr. Fedderman takes over the helm of the VEA on Aug. 1, he will be the first African-American man to lead the education union. It is the largest union for educators in the state, with 40,000 members and a focus on educators that extends beyond solely teachers and aims for a wide breadth of inclusiveness.

While others might be daunted by the challenges created by the pandemic, Dr. Fedderman sees it as an opportunity “to redefine the direction of public education for our students and employees who have been the most vulnerable.”

“COVID-19 has magnified many of the inequities that must be addressed to ensure education equity is guaranteed,” says Dr. Fedderman, a choral music teacher in Accomack County. “Whenever a crisis arises in the Commonwealth, education funding is the first to be cut and the last to be restored.”

A native of Nassawadox on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Dr. Fedderman was elected May 6 to a two-year term. He has served as the VEA vice president since 2016. He says he’s ready to meet the challenge of leading the organization through this time.

“In uncertain times, only effective and experienced lead- ership will demonstrate how being tested will become our testimony,” he says. “I will work tirelessly to empower every one of our members with a voice and a platform.”

Currently, he is part of the VEA’ s live presentations, held twice every week on Facebook, talking with special guests and answering questions from VEA members on “technology and equity, safety” and other matters.

VEA staff members, meanwhile, are in contact daily with officials in the governor’s office, the Virginia Department of Education and other state agencies as plans are being made to reopen schools and virtual education continues during the pandemic.

Dr. Fedderman first became involved with the VEA through his work with the Accomack Education Association, which led to an earnest commitment to the organization. He also represented Virginia at the national level as a National Education Association director.

“It’s been a great run and it’s been amazing traveling the entire Commonwealth fighting for right,” Dr. Fedderman says.

Dr. Fedderman is gearing up to hit the ground running when he fully assumes his new role with the VEA. In addition to building his operational framework, he wants to “level the playing field” for individual members who contribute to the VEA, giving them the ability to self-nominate rather than solely relying on the recommendation of local presidents as to who should serve on VEA committees.

He also wants to continue the VEA’s effort to keep public school funds from being diverted to private schools, and has an eye toward policy changes, including collective bargaining; a return to a three-year probationary period for new teachers in school districts; and LGBTQ protections for all.

“Collective bargaining is one of our best ways to advocate for children and for public education,” he says. “Educators deserve a seat at the table when public education policy is made.”

Meet a committed advocate for educators and education and this week’s Personality, Dr. James J. Fedderman:

Occupation: Educator. I am a choral music teacher in Accomack County.

No. 1 volunteer position: President, Virginia Education Association.

Additional community involvement: Trustee and minister of music at African Baptist Church in Cheriton; Virginia High School League volleyball official; and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

Date and place of birth: Sept. 23 in Nassawadox, which is in Northampton County.

Current residence: Painter in Accomack County.

Education: Bachelor’s in music education (choral music), Longwood College; master’s in education in administration and supervision, University of Virginia; Ph.D. in organizational leadership, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore; and post-graduate studies, Harvard University.

Family: Daughter, Jordan Alexandria Fedderman, a senior at Nansemond River High School in Suffolk, who will attend Clark Atlanta University in Georgia to study early childhood education, and son, Jaylen Alexander Fedderman, a junior at Nansemond River High School, who plans to go to college to study kinesiology or medicine.

Virginia Education Association is: The largest union for educators in the Commonwealth.

Number of VEA members: 40,000.

VEA’s mission: A great public school for every child in the Commonwealth.

Services VEA offers: Professional development and leadership development to rank and file educators across the Commonwealth.

Role of teachers in organization: We are NOT just teachers. We are a wall-to-wall union.

What needs to be done: Give a platform for educators to use their voice about decisions that impact working conditions and learning conditions.

Why VEA is needed: VEA is the pre-eminent union leading teaching and learning across the Commonwealth, ensuring educators have a seat at the table.

Challenge of assuming presidency during the COVID-19 pandemic: I believe I have more of an opportunity versus a challenge to redefine the direction of public education for our students and employees who have been the most vulnerable. COVID-19 has magnified many of the inequities that must be addressed to ensure education equity is guaranteed. Whenever a crisis arises in the Commonwealth, education funding is the first to be cut and the last to be restored.

Role of VEA during the COVID-19 pandemic: We’ve been hosting twice-weekly Facebook Live presentations. They are broadcast each Monday and Thursday afternoons at 3 p.m. and also are available for viewing later on VEA’s Facebook page. So far, I’ve had some great special guests, and we’ve answered members’ questions and concerns regarding technology and equity, safety and a host of other issues.

Across the state, local leadership has stepped up to ensure members are informed and protected, too. Some are holding their own Facebook Live updates. Others are communicating with members by email, and many local unions are meeting with school division leadership remotely. Working together, in solidarity, we WILL get through this.

How VEA is assisting members who may not have access to the internet: We are conducting needs assessments to determine which educators are connected and who may require additional support. When possible, some divisions have provided Wi-Fi hotspots, webcams and extended the Wi-Fi capabilities within certain communities.

Three important things parents/ guardians should do to prepare their children for future online/ distance learning: Be willing to learn together; communicate cares and struggles with the teachers to minimize frustration; and have fun by loving each other.

Important lessons beyond the “Three Rs” (reading, writing and arithmetic) during the COVID-19 pandemic: How to respect boundaries of social distancing; creating a family plan of staying healthy; and what the implications could be for future generations. Kindness and respect, with good hygiene, will help flatten the curve.

Favorite subjects in school: English and music.

Outlook at start of the day: Another opportunity to empower and engage an educator or student to realize their potential.

How I unwind: Pray – no TV – and read motivational passages that speak to my existence.

A quote that I am inspired by: “Children are like a credit card. We can pay now or pay later.”

If I had more time, I would: Build a support system for the marginalized across the Commonwealth to address the social and emotional learning need that will make teaching and learning new skills and concepts more meaningful.

Person who influenced me the most: My Uncle Arlie.

Book that influenced me the most: “The Color Purple: A Novel” by Alice Walker.

What I’m reading now: “Voices of Labor: History of the Working Class” by Steve Sears.

My next goal: Become a principal at a school with major opportunities for change.