LaVerne Harvey, Camden teacher and union leader

LaVerne Harvey
LaVerne Harvey
Posted: February 20, 2014

LaVerne Harvey, 63, of Glassboro, a teacher for nearly 40 years and acting president of Camden's teachers' union, died Monday, Feb. 17, after a brief illness.

Ms. Harvey headed the Camden Education Association for four years and taught elementary-age children at Lanning Square and Cooper's Poynt Schools for 36 years.

"She was so young, and she gave everything to the district," said Karen Borrelli, an officer with the union and a teacher at Brimm Medical Arts High School who had known Harvey since the mid-1990s. "We're all very heavyhearted today."

Ms. Harvey was born and raised in Camden, and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School and Glassboro State College, now Rowan University.

Robert Farmer, first vice president of the union, ran it during Ms. Harvey's sick leave. He said he understood that she had respiratory problems but said that in his last conversation with her, she talked about returning.

"We talked last week, and she was telling me she was on her way back, rehabbing, and due back in March. I'm just in shock. She was a very, very good president," he said.

Farmer said that although Ms. Harvey often disagreed with the school board or the state, she did so with diplomacy. She opposed charter schools, wanted to keep public education funding in public schools, and pushed for improved teacher-development programs.

"Her style was different from what the CEA had been known for, which was to fight battles in public," Farmer said. "She was a silent warrior. She believed you can get more results with honey than vinegar, and she was a brilliant negotiator."

Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard and advisory school board President Kathryn Blackshear issued a joint statement Tuesday saying, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Harvey family and the Camden Education Association members as Camden Public Schools joins them in mourning the passing of Ms. LaVerne Harvey. . . . Ms. Harvey was steadfastly committed to improving public education in the city and advocated to ensure that teachers had the resources and support they needed to be successful."

As acting president, Ms. Harvey saved nearly 60 jobs in her first contract negotiation, Farmer said, instituted an "advocate academy" to educate representatives on contracts, worked with the multicultural center on HopeFest, an annual community picnic, and established a college scholarship program for graduating seniors.

Colleagues said Ms. Harvey was the first person to call or show up at the doorstep of a teacher who was suspended or sick.

When Borrelli was suspended from teaching several years ago, an action that was overturned, she said, she received daily text messages from Ms. Harvey reading "Smile today" or "The sun will shine brighter tomorrow."

Mary Anne Alexander, a guidance counselor at Cooper's Poynt, met Ms. Harvey in 1996 when Ms. Harvey sent some misbehaving students her way. Alexander said the two quickly became best friends.

"She was an awesome leader, very vivacious, always looking for the new ideas," she said, "never missing a meeting or a conference in Trenton."

Alexander said her friend was a mentor to fellow union officers and had a deep love for family and for reading, as well as a goofy sense of humor and a propensity to break into dance.

"She always used to say, 'Everybody's journey's not the same,' " Alexander said. " 'Live one day at a time. It'll be alright all right in the end.' "

She is survived by her husband, Charles II; two sons; and seven grandchildren.

A viewing for the district is scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, at the May Funeral Home, 4522 Westfield Ave., Pennsauken. A second viewing will be from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, followed by a service, at Emmanuel Baptist Church, 300 Higgins Dr., Glassboro.

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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