After almost three decades in the classroom, Stone Bridge business teacher David Palanzi is leaving his desk, paper grading and lecture plans to start his new post as president of the Loudoun Education Association (LEA) on Aug. 1.
Palanzi was elected to the position earlier this year by the group’s 3,300 members, moving up from his position as vice president. While LEA’s membership is available to all Loudoun County Public School employees, it’s composed of mostly teachers.
LEA characterizes itself as an “advocacy organization for quality public schools and public school employees where members work collaboratively and organize for action to reach the common goals.” Others simply call LEA the local teachers’ union.
LEA is part of the statewide, 60,000-member Virginia Education Association (VEA) that advocates for educational issues before the General Assembly and state government agencies in Richmond. Its national partner, the National Educational Association, has more than 3.2 million members and targets federal legislative issues like tuition tax credits and school vouchers.
“What we do at LEA is a much more like a grass-roots campaign,” Palanzi said. “We go door-to-door, asking about residents’ concerns about Loudoun’s educational system and what they think needs change.”
Besides advocacy in front of the local school board, the LEA solicits support for educational initiatives from the local business community. These donations fund smaller educational community events, including fairs. Palanzi says the business community is important for reasons other than donations.
“Getting the support of local businesses is important because they know why education is crucial for success,” Palanzi said. “They know that good education benefits the county as it gives us stronger leaders, more informed owners and officials, and other tools necessary to make a business succeed.”
Knowing how to work with businesses is something Palanzi hopes will give him an advantage as LEA’s new leader. He has been teaching Business and Information Technology since 1987, and has a bachelor’s degree in Business Education from Plymouth State College and a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from George Mason University.
Each fall the LEA surveys its members on what issues to bring to the Loudoun School Board, and Palanzi said the same concerns come up every time.
“It’s always been salaries, and more recently classroom sizes,” Palanzi said.
According to Washington Area Boards of Education, the average teacher salary in Loudoun is $65,581, lower than most other local jurisdictions, including Fairfax County ($67,589), Arlington County ($78,002) and Montgomery County ($76,029), but higher than Prince William County ($64,523.)
As Loudoun’s growth continues, so do many of its classrooms, even as new schools are built. As of 2016 there are 73,461 students enrolled in Loudoun County Public Schools, an increase of 3.1 percent since last year. According to Washington Area Boards of Education, Loudoun has the second-highest average high school class size in the Washington area, at 29.7 students per teacher, with only Prince William County having more (30.1).
Palanzi acknowledges that member apathy is one of LEA’s biggest hurdles.
“Engaging millennials and pulling them into leadership roles has been challenging,” Palanzi said. “Younger teachers today often work multiple jobs and are getting married and having children themselves, so this makes their involvement difficult.”
Leaving teaching was a difficult move for Palanzi. He moved to Loudoun County in 2001 and has taught in the Loudoun County Public School system for 15 years after working in Prince William County for 12 years.
“I plan to seek re-election in two years and serve four years as president of LEA,” Palanzi said.
By then he will be 55 and could retire, but thinks he might find himself back in the classroom again.
“I’m interested in teaching middle school keyboarding,” Palanzi said. “It’d be a change but an easier transition into retirement.”