DOWNEY - Lorraine Neal's parents, who have been residents of Downey since 1980 and are both retired, always stressed to her the importance of a good education, that family comes first, and that she should always be a good person. Her dad, who originally came from Tennessee, was a certified grocer and a member of the Teamsters Union, while her mom worked as a nutritionist and cafeteria manager at Bell Gardens High, part of the Montebello Unified School District.Because one of Lorraine's grandfathers worked for North American-Rockwell, while another worked for Bethlehem Steel, she said: "I come from a family of proud union workers." Lorraine has a younger brother who is an Adult School teacher in Whittier. Because Lorraine has taught for 23 years all told since obtaining her BA ('89) in history from Cal State Long Beach, it looks like teaching has also been grafted on the family tree. She obtained all her teaching credentials at Cal State Dominguez Hills: Single Subject (Social Science) in 1992, Special Education (Learning Handicapped) in 1994, and Resource Specialist also in 1994. She had previously attended Cerritos College, earning Associate Arts degrees in history and humanities (1986). She began her career in education in 1990, first serving as a long-term substitute teacher at Montebello Unified for two years (1990-92). This was followed by another two-year stint (1992-94) as a special education teacher at Los Angeles USD. She began her association with Sussman Middle School in 1994, as a resource specialist until 2000. From 2001-present, she has taught 6th and 7th grade history, with focus on ancient and medieval history. "We have a wonderful school," she asserts. "And I enjoy volunteering at my school. I have been the Builders Club advisor, ASB advisor, scholarship advisor, and currently co-sponsor of our Glee Club and our Sussman Talent Show." In her own words, she tells the story of how all this has come to pass: "I've always wanted to be a teacher since I was three years old. My mother bought me my first standing chalk board when I was three. I set up a school in our garage and taught every stuffed animal I owned. As I got older I would make my brother and the neighborhood kids play school all the time. I would help them with their homework and give them assignments. I also had a tendency to even give my family instructions on how to do things properly. I guess you can say I was destined to be a teacher and a leader." Indeed, Lorraine last year became president of Downey Education Association (DEA), DUSD's union representing 1,006 certificated personnel-all the teachers, nurses, counselors, speech pathologists, etc.--at the district. She has been serving on its board for the last 15 years. "I make it a point to go around the schools and see how the district works. I talk to the (union) representatives to see what's going on," she says. "We talk about the budget, things like that. Besides, I enjoy helping people. I let them know there's someone they can talk to. The best part of my route is watching how many teachers we have who inspire the kids [to learn]. I myself am inspired by all the incredible things our teachers do to help our students be successful." "I fly a lot as part of my union work," she goes on. "There are conferences up north in San Francisco, say, or a trip last year to Washington, D.C. for the National Education Association (NEA) annual convention where I was the state representative. The week of July 4 this year, we are going to Atlanta for the NEA convention." "I like to travel, anyway, especially to places of historical interest, to Philadelphia, for example. I liked my trip last year to Washington, D.C., with the Library of Congress and its other attractions. In a couple of years I'll be fifty. I am saving up to travel to Europe for that." A great perk of the DEA presidency, she says, is she gets to go every year to UCLA to attend classes on leadership, along with other union leaders. As DEA union president, she says she seeks to uphold the union's cherished goal of enjoying good working conditions. This means having proper materials, among other things. This means making sure that our teachers can do what they do best, and that's teach." "It's good DUSD is very fiscally solvent," she says. "We're in a good place right now. We're very lucky we didn't have to suffer cuts like the other districts." On the soon-to-depart Superintendent Wendy Doty, Lorraine says, "She has always been an advocate for our students and our teachers. She's always been supportive of us. She's a great leader. We'll definitely miss her." She also notes, "We have an excellent working relationship with the district administration and with the school board." A member of the Norwalk-La Mirada school board as well from 2007 to 2011, she served as its president last year (2010-2011). "My years on the board have enriched my experience and background. It has given me perspective. It has enabled me to look at all sides of a situation." Talking about sports in general, she says, "I was always involved with student council activities and did not have much time for sports. But now I love to watch basketball and football. It doesn't matter who is playing, I enjoy a great game. I am a UCLA fan." To relax, she adds, "I like to read sci-fi books and go see sci-fi movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings-this sort of thing." Current reading: The Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin. Of course, she says she's meanwhile getting deeper and deeper into ancient and medieval history. "In addition to going to the movies and reading a good book, I like cooking for and spending time with my family and friends," she says. Oh, yes. There's her involvement in community service, too: president of the Downey Junior Chamber of Commerce (1995-96); Delta Kappa Gamma Downey Chapter, DEA (since 1995); John F. Kennedy Democratic Club (2007-presdient); Norwalk Chamber of Commerce (2007-present); La Mirada Kiwanis (2007-present; and Downey Rotary Club (2011-present). About Rotary, she says, "I am also enjoying my position on the Downey Rotary board. I have the opportunity to work with the Warren Interact and Downey Interact clubs. We have some incredible students who understand the importance of community service." She has of course received many work/community awards. To mention a few: Sussman's Christa McAuliffe Teacher of the Year Award (1999); PTA Honorary Service Award (2003); WHO Award: Outstanding Leadership Union Award, DEA-CTA (2003); PTA Continued Service Award (2009); and JFK Democratic Club Public Service Award (2011). She also received a proclamation for her years of service to the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District (2011).
********** Published: Febuary 7, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 43