The passion that Idaho Falls EA President Angela Gillman has for her students, her profession and her association is impossible to miss. The Westside Elementary School teacher excels in making learning enjoyable and interesting for her second graders, and has experienced growth in and out of the classroom as a result of her expanding role with her local association and the IEA.
“The association has given me such inner strength and empowered me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined,” says Gillman. “I always wanted to be a teacher, and now I have a chance to share what I have learned with colleagues.”
Gillman grew up in Twin Falls and earned her degree in education from Lewis Clark State College. She returned to Twin Falls to begin her teaching career before moving to Idaho Falls. In recent years she has taken an even more active role with the IEA and the IFEA, serving two years as president-elect before taking the reigns as president last year. “I did it somewhat reluctantly at first and I had some big shoes to fill,” she says. “I learned so much from people like Nancy Caldwell, John Conquergood, Gerry Gripper and Mitzi Ellingson, who laid a strong foundation for the rest of us.”
She has also taken advantage of opportunities through the National Education Association. “My first NEA Representative Assembly in Washington, D.C. three years ago was a real eye-opener,” Gillman notes. “I have learned so much about organizing from attending the RAs, as well as useful strategies for engaging with our members and with the community.”
Beage Atwater, the IEA’s Region Director for Region Six in Eastern Idaho, has been amazed by Gillman’s enthusiasm and effectiveness. “Angela just brings so much energy and commitment to the association, and really to everything she does,” says Atwater. “Her experience and passion for education have helped her earn the respect of her peers, and she has done a tremendous job leading the IFEA.”
One of the successful tactics that Gillman has used in Idaho Falls’ 18 public schools has been moving away from the traditional building representative model and morphing into an approach utilizing “building teams”. “I look at it as guiding leadership rather than being leadership,” she says. “We are stronger together and this way we are able to delegate more and give all of our members a sense of ownership.”
Gillman’s passion for education is also profoundly evident in her second grade classroom at Westside Elementary. She controls the classroom with precision and a firm, yet affectionate presence. Her students pay rapt attention as they move almost seamlessly from activity to activity and subject to subject. Ask them what they like about having Ms. Gillman as their teacher and you hear things like “she’s really cool—best teacher in the world” and “she’s really organized and helps us double check our notebooks” and “she’s super good at the Daily Five”.
The woman who always wanted to be teacher has fulfilled her dream and continues to put her passion to work—for her students in the classroom and for her colleagues as the president of the Idaho Falls Education Association.
Tom VanDeren spent several years as a teacher and IEA member before deciding to embrace the challenges and opportunities that come with being a local association president. Now in his 19th year of teaching, but his first as president of the Pocatello Education Association, VanDeren is working hard to develop an active, engaged membership in Pocatello’s 26 public school buildings.
“We need to have a larger presence and be more visible,” VanDeren says. To that end, the PEA has partnered with area businesses for a series of Educators Night Out events. An insurance agency and a financial institution are among several local businesses that make donations of money or services that are included in a raffle. That is an added incentive for teachers and educators to attend the event, which also includes information about career advancement and professional development, IEA membership, IEA Member Benefits and more.
“Professional development is potentially a very powerful resource, both for educators and the association,” VanDeren says. With the Idaho Core Standards and the ISAT by SBAC both a part of the landscape for professional educators in the state, the IEA and many local associations have stepped in to provide information and training for members. VanDeren is in his second year helping teachers understand the Idaho Core Standards, serving as a state core coach.
Wearing multiple hats is nothing new for VanDeren. He started his teaching career in Richfield, Idaho, which had a total enrollment of 200 students. Early on in his career he did-it-all and saw-it-all, including far too many unfortunate cases of students from disadvantaged backgrounds struggling to keep their heads above water. VanDeren’s passionate testimony to the State Board of Education about the potential impacts that the new Tiered Certification rule could have on underprivileged children was heartfelt and powerful. VanDeren also worked in the Bear Lake and Preston school districts before settling in a Highland High School in Pocatello, where he has been for the last seven years.
Connecting with younger and early-career teachers is also a priority for the Pocatello Education Association. “Many of the newer educators take things for granted and don’t have a good understanding of how the profession is better as a result of the work done for many years by their professional association,” VanDeren says. “It is also essential that we make them aware of the necessity of having a thriving, strong association.”
Collaborating with Districts has Positive Results
Both the Idaho Falls Education Association and the Pocatello Education Association have seen the benefits of working in a collaborative fashion with their district leadership. While every local situation is different, and sometimes the relationship between the local association and the district can be adversarial, the two largest cities in Eastern Idaho have managed to build relationships that help everyone concerned.
- “The district appreciates the fact that the IFEA can put out fires and run interference, which makes their job easier.” Angela Gillman, IFEA President
- “This relationship developed over time and like any relationship, you have to work at it. Our school board has been supportive and we check our egos at the door. We have set up monthly meetings and stress open communication and a collaborative culture, even at the building level. Angela is great to work with—she doesn’t overreact, but asks questions and gathers information to help us find solutions to problems.” George Boland, Idaho Falls School District Superintendent
- “We have a very good relationship with Superintendent Mary Vagner and district leadership. I meet with the superintendent for lunch twice a month and we are able to be open and honest with each other. They include me on their budget committee and value the role that we can play as “good cop” on a variety of issues.” Tom VanDeren, PEA President