Jay grew up in Amarillo, TX and is a proud product of the public-school system there. His grandmother was a teacher and his parents instilled in him a love of learning from a young age.
Not knowing exactly what career he wanted to pursue, Jay ended up substitute teaching before moving to the Czech Republic for two years to teach English. He learned a lot about himself during that time—and one of the key realizations was that he loved teaching. After moving back to the states, he attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a Master’s in secondary education.
Since then, his wife’s work has taken them across the county and he's taught English and Social Studies at schools in California, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Jay has seen well-funded public schools with large amounts of parent involvement, but most of his experience has been in high-poverty schools. Jay believes that all children want to learn, but not all children have the support they need.
Unfortunately, we’re living in a time where many people, including the current US Secretary of Education, would rather privatize and defund public schools than support them.
Our unions must lead the charge in fighting back.
Jay has been a member of WVEA since he moved to West Virginia, and the Kanawha County Education Association’s treasurer since 2016. When Jay moved to Charleston, he was surprised by how centralized the K-12 education system was and how there were multiple unions representing educators. Seeing that division only benefits those who would like us to have less power, and Jay has worked hard to bridge that gap and get teachers and service personnel communicating with each other—regardless of union or county.
In October of 2017, Jay created a Facebook group called “West Virginia Teachers United” as a place for teachers to work together across unions to strengthen our profession.
As it became clear that PEIA was undergoing significant cuts that would affect thousands of people, the name of the group was changed to “West Virginia Public Employees UNITED” and ended up serving as the main organizing hub for the West Virginia teachers and service personnel strike of 2018. The strike showed that when we come together, listen to each other, and decide to fight—we can win.
After the strike, Jay helped found the West Virginia United Caucus to keep the fire going. The nationwide movement we ignited showed that we can’t go back to the pre-strike days; we have to continue to be united, and led by the rank-and-file teachers and service personnel.
Since the 2018 strike, Jay has had the privilege of speaking to groups of educators across the country and around the globe. They always want to know how we did it. "How did West Virginia education workers shut down schools across the state and get everyone out on strike?" Jay's answer is always really simple: we talked to each other.
We didn’t have some grand plan; we simply talked to each other, realized we weren’t alone, and made a plan together. Jay believes that’s the way forward for WVEA—listening to rank-and-file teachers and service personnel, learning from each other, and strengthening our union together.
Op-Eds authored by Jay
Lessons from teacher strike apply to pandemic
Will legislators side with the people or profits?
Articles featuring Jay
Time Magazine's 2019 100 Most Influential People of the Year: Jay O'Neal
O'Neal, major voice in 2018 school strike, challenging Lee for union presidency
WV Teacher Strike Goes Worldwide
The Faces of the Teacher Revolt
Contact Jay: email-- jayoneal [AT] outlook.com