Don Ash, former Executive Director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association (NLTA), was “quite surprised and honoured” to be named a 2018 Special Recognition Award recipient by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF).
Ash’s public education journey began when he earned a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Education from Memorial University, specializing in Mathematics. Ash later obtained an MBA from York University’s Schulich School of Business, as well as a Certificate in Industrial Relations from Queen’s University. The St. John’s native returned to his home province to pursue a career in teaching.
“The inspiration to teach goes back to my own school days,” recalled Ash, “it’s extremely fulfilling to assist other students in their learning.”
Ash spent 17 years as a classroom teacher, mathematics department head, and high school administrator before joining the professional staff of the NLTA, where he stayed for 17 more years. Beginning with the Association in 1999, Ash served as the Conception Bay South Branch president and member on the elected Provincial Executive Council of teachers. Ash began as an Administrative Officer overseeing teacher welfare, group insurance, and pensions, prior to his selection as Assistant Executive Director in 2008 and Executive Director in 2013.
When asked to reflect on the highlights of his career, Ash pointed to his role as the NLTA’s Chief Negotiator and Spokesperson in a 2015 pension reform. His key role helped reach the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Pension Plan Joint Sponsorship Agreement (JSA) with the provincial government. The JSA put the plan on a path to full funding, and led to the creation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Pension Plan Corporation, which is now responsible for the plan’s administration and the investment of the pension fund.
“This Agreement is mutually beneficial to teachers, government, and the province as a whole,” he stated, “and was achieved through a collaborative rational approach to problem solving – an approach I have tried to bring to all issues.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge of Ash’s career was combatting the impact of the growth of ultra-conservatism to the detriment of social justice and programs.
“Right-wing views which promote individual pursuit of wealth and opportunity for the few presents a threat to properly funded education,” he proclaimed. “It has been a real battle – not only in Newfoundland and Labrador, but all across Canada.”
Ash insists that the system should be founded on fairness and equity.
“I believe public education is necessary to level the playing field,” he opined, “and to provide more equal opportunity for a productive life across different socioeconomic, ethnic, and gender lines.”
Ash’s retirement in 2016 has provided an opportunity to continue a pursuit of lifelong learning through travel, reading, and spending time with his grandchildren Molly and Milo. In addition, Ash has continued his commitment to defined pension plans as a Director on the Board of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Pension Plan Corporation.
“I spent the first half of my career working in the best interests of students, and the second half working in the best interests of teachers,” Ash reminisced, “I find these two aspects as totally compatible.
“After all, the working conditions of teachers are the learning conditions for students, and I have done my best to promote both.”