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The Mystery Man of the NEA

There is an aura of mystery surrounding incoming NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

At the convention, one of the most anticipated moments is when he will make his acceptance speech, likely on the last day of the RA, July 6. It is the moment, many feel, when they will finally find out more about him and the direction in which he might lead the nation's largest union.

Unlike Randi Weingarten, who will take over the AFT and who has constantly been in the headlines as the president of the United Federation of Teachers for years now, little is known about Van Roekel besides the fact that he is a former teacher from Arizona and a two-term vice president of the NEA.

He looks genial and even approachable, but access to him can be so difficult that one of my Education Week colleagues had to spend days and dozens of phone calls trying to get his photograph for an article earlier this year. He, of course, was not available for comment.

But the entrance of Weingarten, who many see as a reform-friendly unionist like the legendary union leader Al Shanker, is likely to create some strong expectations of Van Roekel to tread a different path from the somewhat more traditional one that his predecessor, Reg Weaver, has taken, especially in what teachers see as trying times, what with NCLB and performance pay.

Will he do it? No one knows...

For now.

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