Spotlight on Locals: Manitowoc Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen (fourth from right) presents the Manitowoc Education Association leaders with the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate. Manitowoc Education Association President, Michelle Preussler, holds the certificate.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

“The strength of the Manitowoc Education Association is the dedication of people willing to be involved as officers and building representatives,” Mark Filer told me. Mark is the Vice President of the Manitowoc Education Association and a 9thgrade science teacher at Washington Jr. High. “We have a core group of people who continue to move our local forward.”

Michelle Preussler, 3rdgrade teacher at Stangel Elementary and returning President of the MEA, echoed that sentiment: “Our strong, core group of people get us through because they are dependable, honest, and hardworking. I am so fortunate to work with such a strong group.”

The MEA has maintained its role as an advocate for students and colleagues. “We keep an open dialogue with the school district, and our voices are in the forefront, our ideas are taken into consideration when decisions are made,” Michelle said. “We have worked to stay relevant in the eyes of our school board and upper level administration. We have built relationships with our district, our families, our colleagues, and our community. We speak at school board meetings, and the MEA is certainly not going to fade away.”

Mark pointed out how members and potential members continue to certify their local every year. “We care about education and making Manitowoc a great school district for kids. MEA members understand the big picture of what we are striving for: the importance of public education and how the union gives us a voice in what matters for our students and classrooms. People join the Manitowoc Education Association because they want to be a part of something that is bigger than them.”

One more area of strength in Manitowoc is the local’s history. Michelle said, “I was fortunate enough to be hired in Manitowoc where a strong union exists and learn so much from the leaders who came before me, like Bob Jome. I didn’t know a thing about this work, and, as true teachers do, they taught me. I will forever be grateful for their mentorship.”

When I asked Michelle about advice for a struggling local, she said, “Start small with a core group of people that you trust and build from there. If you can connect with the people you know well and talk with them personally about the work that you are doing, they will buy in. And, remember, you won’t move mountains all at once; set small goals and build from those goals.”

Michelle is most proud of the MEA’s history of representation. “Members can count on us and they trust us. If they call, we’ll have their back. Members of Manitowoc Education Association know that we’ll go to the wall for them because we’ve proven that time and time again. Our members have confidence in us.”

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

Spotlight on Locals: Marshfield Teachers’ Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen (center, left) presents the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate to Marshfield Teachers’ Association President Kathleen Mahoney (center, right) and other members and leaders of the MTA.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

“The teachers in Marshfield have a commitment and a passion for doing what’s best for students,” Linda Lang, Speech Pathologist and Building Representative from Washington Elementary, told me. “And, when your local wants what’s best for students and is organized in its efforts, it’s possible to make positive change to help everyone.”

Linda’s comments hold true to many of the successes this local has been able to achieve, including the development of a supply closet for students in need, coordinated by High School English Teacher and Marshfield Teachers’ Association Secretary Stacy Lavongsa.

“This was a collaborative effort among the Marshfield Teachers’ Association, administration, our students, and the community. Already this year, students in need are being helped with clothing and personal care items with absolute discretion. And through their work, last year’s high school seniors have touched the lives of many through their efforts,” Stacy told me.

In terms of strength, the Marshfield Teachers’ Association has a membership level that hovers right around eighty percent, which continues to be their membership goal. As President Kathleen Mahoney says, “This year, we have replaced each retiree or member who resigned with a new member to the MTA, and we aren’t finished recruiting yet as we are continuing to invite our colleagues to join us through follow-up conversations.”

Don Lang, Past President of the Marshfield Teachers’ Association and High School Math Teacher, mentioned the success in negotiations, noting the role that the MTA played in creating its alternative compensation model and continued predictable salary increases for teachers.

“Our strength also stems from a history of leadership like Vickie Clark, Julie Bratina, Gwen Sisson, Pam Weiss, and Mary Kelly. We have carried on the tradition of maintaining strong leaders,” Don said.

The MTA is actively involved in seeking out and attending trainings offered by WEAC Region 2, WEAC, and the National Education Association. As Kathleen Mahoney, current MTA President, said, “These training opportunities keep us connected, make us stronger, and offer new leaders support and connections across the state and country. The Marshfield Teachers’ Association stays strong because, as leaders, we are trained and engaged.”

When the state climate shifted a few years back, MTA leaders decided to focus their efforts on local issues. According to Don, “We have worked to elect education-friendly school board members because the decisions made by our local school board affect each one of our students and our members.” Don pointed out that talking with community members and parents about the needs of their schools takes time and isn’t always easy work, but it is critically important in making schools better for their students.

Don said, “We approach our school board members, our administrators, and we are involved in our community on issues important to our schools and our profession. The MTA wants to be a part of the solution to the struggles that we are currently facing.” When the community, parents, and the school board are connected closely with educators in the schools, partnerships that are good for students are created.

An overall theme of the advocacy of the MTA can be heard in Linda’s words, “Being in a union doesn’t mean asking for the world, it means looking out for each other and the betterment of your students and one another.”

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

Spotlight on Locals: Verona Area Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen (left) stands with (left to right) Verona Area Education Association Membership Chair Sarah Greenlaw, Grievance Chair Stacy Tremaine (holding the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate), Political Action Chair Barb Winger-Rourke, and Treasurer Tammy Makovec.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

Jill Thronson, who has been active with the Verona Area Education Association for 25 years and is a Building Representative for Stoner Prairie Elementary School, knows what keeps the VAEA strong: “Our tradition of consistent, strong local leadership.”

Jill told me that when her building was undergoing some challenges, she, along with her colleagues, stepped up on behalf of their students. “We worked to solve the concerns in our building by speaking up and working collaboratively with members of our dedicated parent group and our school board. Ultimately, our advocacy resulted in a change in building leadership and a more positive climate for our students, staff, and community.”

These success stories are common among our WEAC strong local affiliates as is the tradition of organizing for the common good in our schools. In fact, according to Sarah Greenlaw, membership chair, “The Verona Area Education Association is instrumental in connecting what is happening in the classroom with administration and keeping that communication present and alive. Our goal is to support our teachers so that they can do the important job of educating students.”

Barb Winger-Rourke, VAEA political action chair, said, “We are involved in local politics, and we endorse education and student-friendly local school board candidates. We also invite our school board members into our classrooms so that they can see first-hand what is happening in our schools.” Clearly, this goes a long way toward building positive relationships with members of the school board and in the community.

When I asked about other success stories, Jill told me, “The Verona Area Education Association also has one of the best retirement systems in the state because of the work of our local association.” Jill went on to say, “Our negotiators maintain a positive relationship with administration and members of our school board and that has led to a strong beginning teacher salary and maintaining strong benefits.”

Students and members are the clear priorities of the Verona Area Education Association. When I attended their new teacher event at the start of this school year where they signed up 24 out of 29 new hires, Sarah said, “As a new teacher, you may feel overwhelmed. It is good to know that smart people are working toward your best interests and providing you with the resources you need. This is what being a union member gives you.” Sarah also reminded us of U.S. history in talking about successes of labor in achieving the 5-day work week, an 8-hour workday, and advocating for pay, benefits, and safety protections for workers. Sarah told us, “In education, teachers gather together to advocate for students and our profession.”

Stacy Tremaine, VAEA grievance chair, said, “We have a handbook, and we offer continual suggestions to make this reflect our needs in the classroom, including a workload grid. Our work in the VAEA also offers a sick leave bank that protects all staff, but particularly new staff, when an unexpected illness strikes them or someone in their family.” Further demonstrating the ways in which the VAEA takes care of its members, Sarah said it best, “The VAEA is your professional family; we are a support system; we are a place to go with questions or for guidance.”

Knowing this to be true, WEAC is proud to call the Verona Area Education Association a WEAC Strong Local Affiliate and grateful to VAEA leaders and members for their hard work and dedication on behalf of their students, families, and community.

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

Spotlight on Locals: Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association

MTEA Vice President Amy Mizialko (left) and MTEA President Kim Schroeder (right) stand with WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen as she presents the MTEA with the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Recognition Certificate.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association President Kim Schroeder told me that strength of the MTEA comes down to two things: “member involvement and members who are ready to act.”

“Our members understand that the union is them,” Kim said.

This was demonstrated clearly this spring as the MTEA asked members to join together in opposition to budget cuts in the Milwaukee Public Schools. Members and supporters turned out in large numbers at school board meetings and to picket in front of the Milwaukee Public Schools Administration building.

Amy Mizialko, Vice President of the MTEA, echoed Kim’s sentiment as she said, “We are constantly pushing and asking our members to do more. We have decided, in this environment, we never give up on each other or on our profession, and we will not quit on our students.”

Ultimately, this approach was successful in creating a budget that put the needs of students and educators first.

I asked these leaders about MTEA success stories, and Kim said, “Our beating back of the MPS school takeover after it passed into law was one of our successes. It was our members at each building who stood up and said, ‘You’re not taking my building.’  The communities surrounding these schools stood against the takeover and, ultimately, the number of schools taken over in MPS was zero. This victory showed our members, the community, and our parents that when we stand up, we can win.”

Amy said, “Wisconsin educators are writing labor history. Scott Walker doesn’t write the last chapter. We write the last chapter with our parents, our students, our members, and our community.”

Amy shared another victory which happened a year ago when the Milwaukee Public Schools became a sanctuary school district for undocumented students and their families. She said, “It was a proud moment when the MTEA, MPS administration, and the school board declared solidarity with our undocumented students and their families after hearing over two and a half hours of student testimony.”

When I asked about their advice to leaders who are struggling, Kim pointed out, “There are activists in every local and every building. You have to find them and help them to build a team. As a local president, you can’t do it alone. You also can’t be afraid to fail sometimes. Everything that we try doesn’t work, but we learn from it and move on.”

In Milwaukee, there are 137 buildings, and the MTEA is working to locate activists in every building and train them to be leaders in their local. “We are the only organization in this city fighting for the public schools that all of our students deserve,” Kim said.

Amy’s advice: “The MTEA never fights and wins alone. When we fight and win, it is with our local coalition of Schools and Communities United who has grown to become a mighty force in Milwaukee.”

The MTEA has worked closely with many community groups and community partners on behalf of students and families. These partnerships have helped them to create powerful coalitions and, as Amy said, “United, we fight and win.”

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

Spotlight on Locals: Dodgeville Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen (right) presents the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate to Dodgeville Education Association’s Leadership Team (left to right), DEA Treasurer Joan Davis, DEA Communication Lead Joe Stodola, DEA President Dennis Baumann (Center), DEA Chief Negotiator Jeff Bradley. DEA Leadership Team Members Gerri Jumbeck and Erin Bavery were unavailable for the photo.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

When asked what makes the Dodgeville Education Association strong, the answer was clear — relationships. DEA President and 5th grade teacher Dennis Baumann said, “We have a strong relationship with the school board and members of the administration. We can talk to them and move on issues through casual conversation. Our relationship was built over years.”

Dodgeville EA Treasurer Joan Davis credits the local’s success with working collaboratively with their pro-education and pro-educator school board. “There’s a small town part of this,” she said. “We know each other, we talk with one another outside of school, and school board members ask us for our input.”

She went on to say, “Having fair, reasonable, and intelligent people making decisions on behalf of your students and colleagues is so helpful.”

“We know that our colleagues value the work that the DEA does, and we are working to get them to join us,” she added. Last fall, the Dodgeville Education Association recruited six new members by asking and engaging them at a new teacher event, and they are planning to continue this approach.

Additionally, the DEA has focused on increasing its visibility. The DEA created local polo shirts this year available for all as a part of fundraising efforts for the local scholarship, which provides funding for one graduating senior who is entering college and planning to study education. The DEA is a part of the community, participating in the roadside clean-up every year, and Dennis wants the community to recognize the DEA as the education association that continues to give back.

Other strengths of the Dodgeville Education Association include the leadership team approach to the local association. Joe Stodola, who serves as a co-chair in member communication, said, “We delegate responsibilities, and we each serve our roles well. That means that we work to put our leaders into the right places by assessing their skills and strengths, and then having them work to those strengths.”

Finally, the Dodgeville Education Association leaders credited some of their success in recruiting new hires to their members who were involved in the university chapters of the Aspiring Educators of Wisconsin. Joan said, “These young leaders have helped us to redefine what it means to be a member in a local association.” And, recruiting has been a challenge for the DEA, as DEA Chief Negotiator Jeff Bradley pointed out, because, “We’ve been hurt by the free agency approach to education. As a rural district, we can’t keep teachers.”

The DEA continues to work on this issue with members of the school board and administration, but hopes that solutions can come at the state level. Despite challenges, which are common struggles across Wisconsin, the Dodgeville Education Association is making steady progress by redefining itself and reaching out to a new generation of educators.

“We do the work (of the association) because of our passion for the profession,” Joan said. “We believe in educators.”

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

Spotlight on Locals: United Lakewood Educators-Muskego

United Lakewood Educators-Muskego Co-Presidents Anna Wendt (left) and Kathy Humke (right) accept the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate from WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

When I sat down with United Lakewood Educators-Muskego Co-Presidents Anna Wendt and Kathy Humke, they told me that their relationship with administration has helped to keep their local association strong. Of her Co-President, Kathy Humke said, “Anna has a gifted way of speaking with our administration where she finds a way to be heard because she is pro-active and works to solve problems.”

During our conversation, Anna told me, “A change in the law has curtailed our ability to negotiate, but we continue to advocate on behalf of our members’ financial needs, and we are clear with the district about inequity and injustice.”

For example, ULE-Muskego organized its membership into action when the district intended to back out of paying educators who had attained their master’s degrees, and they were successful. Anna said, “Our local continues to maintain a clear and amicable relationship with the district administration and school board. We’re not here to cause problems; on behalf of our students and colleagues, we have provided stability and continue to share the rich history. ULE-Muskego has been a level-headed support network and a voice of reason.”

When the Educator Effectiveness evaluation system went into effect, ULE-Muskego worked with the district on implementation and ways to help build plans so as not to be punitive. This spring, they were at the table during conversations about a new building configuration in their school district. Anna said, “We come with good questions, and we offer help and support.” This applies to their work with their members and their work with members of administration and the school board.

As far as advice to other locals, Kathy said, “Surround yourself with people you trust and with whom you can work effectively. And, don’t get isolated — reach out to others in your network. WEAC Region 7 has been a helpful support network for us. They have offered valuable trainings in member recruitment, and given us good ideas for our next steps.”

United Lakewood Educators-Muskego has a history of strength that it is maintaining through its calm and measured approach. Kathy said, “We know that we have the support of so many in our district, as our yearly recertification numbers are between 70 and 80 percent. Our colleagues, members and non-members alike, value what we do.”

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

Spotlight on Locals: Monona Grove Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen (left) presents Co -Presidents Brian Frederick and Janice Stone with the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Recognition at the Monona Grove Education Association Spring Fling Event.

 

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

When I asked leaders of the Monona Grove Education Association about what makes them strong, many said the same thing, relationships. Jennifer Klotzbach, MGEA Secretary, said, “Our ability to work with the district, the school board and to communicate with our administration makes us strong.”

Jennifer referenced a past need for broader district-wide communication saying, “The MGEA stayed ahead of the issue by initiating a successful Community Forum.” To struggling locals out there, Jennifer said, “Start at the ground floor, and talk with your members. Get a pulse of what’s going on and make sure your members know that you are there for them. It will have a positive snowball effect.”

On the topic of MGEA’s strength, Kelly Sullivan, English Language Arts teacher and MGEA Action Chair said, “We have a good relationship with our administrators, school board, our community, and our families. We also work to have an open line of communication in our buildings with our members and colleagues.  No one likes surprises, so we work to share out about what the MGEA is doing and ways that they can be involved in this work.” Kelly will again serve as a trainer at this year’s WEAC Summer Leadership Academy.

Brian Frederick, Co-President of the MGEA, said the association’s strength comes down to a strong history of excellent teachers who have served and continue to serve the MGEA. Brian said, “A number of our past leaders continue to be strong advocates for our local, and are legends in our community.”

Brian pointed out that this helps to maintain the association’s strength as these veterans are able to share their stories with the new hires about why membership is important, and this approach works. Last year, MGEA signed up 30 of their 37 new hires at their opening meeting. Brian also said, “Whether we like it or not, we have a political job, and one way to fight for our children is to join our union.” Brian also credits MGEA’s success to collaboration with and guidance from WEAC Region 6 Director, Mendy Dorris.

MGEA’s strength can also be seen in its recertification success as the local continues to recertify the bargaining unit with 95% to 97% support. Brian also discussed how the Monona Grove EA is removing negative stereotypes about what a union is. Brian said, “We work with the district to improve student learning. We are here fighting for kids every day. That means offering relevant professional development opportunities and supports for our colleagues who are pursuing National Board Certification.”

The Monona Grove Education Association was involved during a recent book challenge of the inclusion of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee in the district’s English curriculum. The MGEA believes that teachers are professionals who should be given authority to make decisions regarding curriculum. The association also is working to bring true equity for all students in the school district by partnering with WEAC to take the lead on racial and social justice on behalf of all of the students, families, and the communities of Monona Grove and Cottage Grove.

Brian said, “We need to address the opportunity gap. It is our job, and we’re going to be leaders on this.”

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

Spotlight on Locals: Freedom Education Association

Freedom Education Association President Mike Fogarty (center) receives the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate certificate from WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, with Freedom EA leaders (left to right) Sarah Kolakowski, Jen Fogarty, Margo Fox, Jonathon Awe, and Meredith Johnston-King.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

When I met with the members of the Freedom Education Association, they credited much of their current success to attending the WEAC Region 3 Listening Project. There, FEA leadership asked themselves where they wished to go as a local and made specific decisions about how to get there. At the Listening Project, their goals were two-fold: re-establish their local’s good name in the community and reinvigorate their members for positive relationships with administration.

Freedom EA President Mike Fogarty, said, “We knew that we had work to do in terms of public relations with our community, and we recommitted to funding our student scholarships through an event that benefitted the community.”

Middle School Building Representative Sarah Kolakowski said, “We had gone to funding our local scholarships through our members’ dues and lost the outreach with our members and the community in contributing to this valuable cause. Two years ago, we created the FEA Color Fund Run, and it was a clear success.” In terms of local promotion, “the FEA Color Fund Run shirts included our logo,” Jen Fogarty, FEA Secretary, said. “This is a fundraiser for students in our school district, and people want to do something fun to support students.”

Elementary Building Representative Margo Fox pointed out, “We had lost our voice on a number of items, including the calendar.” It was important for the FEA to bring in the broader voice of our teachers. So, we worked to create committees and involve our members on issues about which they were passionate. They have been able to enact positive change on professional development, where members are working toward becoming Google certified at the request of the FEA. Additionally, Jen said, “Through our collaborative efforts, we worked with administration on adjusting the Educator Effectiveness evaluation to be manageable for educators and administrators.”

Also critically important, Mike said, “We’ve been active in maintaining an open dialogue with the Board about our compensation model, so that it remains fair and teachers can see education as a viable career.”

Through its work with the Listening Project, the association also challenged another nearby local, the New London Education Association, to a friendly competition over participation in events like the Higher Education Day. Here, staff promoted an institution of higher learning by wearing T-shirts or sweatshirts from their alma mater or a school their child attends and made a $5 charitable donation. Another competition between these two locals was over the sale of “We Love Our Public Schools” bracelets at sporting events where the two high school rival teams played one another.

Not surprisingly, this work has paid off for the Freedom Education Association in other ways. Membership has increased from around 50 percent to close to 70 percent.  Additionally, FEA leaders are excited because their member recruits are other teachers who want to accomplish good things for their students and who want to be a part of positive change in the school district.

High School Building Representative Meredith Johnston-King attributed much of the success to the association’s student focus. “The work we do is about the kids,” she said. “We get our community and our members involved in projects that benefit our kids.”

Margo echoed that sentiment: “The Freedom EA makes our schools better for all students.”

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

Spotlight on Locals: Northern Educational Support Team

Northern Educational Support Team President Sue Schemberger (left), Secretary/Treasurer Kayla Cottrell (holding certificate), and Vice President Mike Hartzheim (right) accept the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate recognition from WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

The Northern Educational Support Team (NEST) is a local with committed leaders and a unique structure built around the philosophy that we can build power when we join together and combine our efforts. This local is made up of education support professional units from multiple districts: Arbor Vitae-Woodruff, Chequamegon, Hurley, Lac du Flambeau, Lakeland, Mercer, Minocqua, North Lakeland, Phelps, Phillips, Rib Lake, CESA 9, Northland Pines, Nicolet Maintenance, and Tomahawk. These locals join together to have a larger governance structure in NEST with a Secretary/Treasurer, Vice President, President and one director per bargaining unit.

Kayla Cottrell, NEST Secretary Treasurer and President of the Tomahawk Support Staff, told me, “Having joined forces gives us numbers and collective power. It also connects us to members in surrounding districts who are in similar roles and can help and support our needs.”

When I attended a recent meeting of the NEST Executive Board, one thing was clear, this group is committed to rebuilding locals around them who are struggling. Kayla said, “Regional Director Josh Skubal helped us put our structure back together, and now, we have plans to go out into our schools to tell them your union is still here. We want you to help us to grow.”

When I spoke with Mike Hartzheim, NEST Vice President, he told me, “This structure provides focus to our groups. We are connected and as support staff, can discuss our needs and address concerns.”

The importance of this was obvious in northern Wisconsin with so many small, rural districts. Mike also said, “NEST provides us with resources to inform and help to identify political and legislative events affecting the education budgets and our workplace environments. We often assume that those in power have our best interest at heart, but that’s not always the case. We are all busy, but we need to stay informed, and this gives us a way to do that.”

I asked Kayla about her advice for struggling locals, and she said, “We’ve all struggled a bit since 2011, but if you take time to identify leaders and sit down to develop a plan, it is possible to rebuild or restructure for our students and our colleagues.”

It is obvious that the group of NEST leaders knows that a better future in our schools across Wisconsin starts with our members being connected to one another. They are working to build those connections and strengthen each of their locals in NEST. I asked Kayla about her vision for the future, and she said, “I want to see a strong NEST and strong locals everywhere.”

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

Spotlight on Locals: Green Bay Education Association

Members of the Green Bay Education Association stand with Justin Delfosse, GBEA President (center), as he holds the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate certificate presented by WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

When I asked Green Bay Education Association President Justin Delfosse what he believed to be the greatest strength of the GBEA, he said, “Our Emerging Voices Program is definitely our greatest strength because it helps us to recruit young leaders into our local association.” Justin mentioned how so many leaders join in all areas of association work in Green Bay after attending Emerging Voices, which is a two-day retreat/training which has a “grow your own” philosophy of leadership development.

Jessica Galarneau is one of those leaders who became engaged in the GBEA after attending Emerging Voices and now serves as a trainer for the program. Jessica told me, “I was so honored to be nominated by a colleague who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. I grew up in a non-union household and prior to teaching in Green Bay, I taught in a private school. I had no idea what the union was or how I could contribute until I attended Emerging Voices. In the training, I learned about who the Green Bay Education Association is and about what they do, along with learning about WEAC and NEA.” Jessica’s advice to local leaders out there: “People need to be asked to join us. I didn’t think that I had the skills for this work until I was asked. Now, I’m loving this work.”

Green Bay Education Association Treasurer Dan Gage told me, “The greatest strength of the GBEA is that our members understand the value of unions — locally, statewide, and nationwide.” Dan echoed others’ sentiments about Green Bay’s robust leadership development program in Emerging Voices. He also said, “The strength of your local union starts at the building level — when you train people and help them to succeed, your building becomes stronger. Our building representatives continually identify people who have the potential to lead, and we engage them in our work.”

Other investments being made by the Green Bay Education Association include a new program called the Early Career Learning Labs. Rachael Poppe, GBEA coordinator for the project, told me, “We connected 10 new educators who were willing to participate in the nine-week program with virtual coaches. The group met face to face twice, once at the beginning and again at the end. Primarily, their meeting space was via the online meeting platform Zoom, where they met once a week on topics ranging from classroom management to planning and preparation. It was a safe space for sharing ideas and resources with their coach, especially since the coach wasn’t a teacher in the Green Bay School District. They could offer advice and an outside perspective. Participants were asked to implement new ideas into practice and then report out on their findings to the group the following week.”

It was clear from Rachael that the project was a success. “Our participants felt that they were part of something bigger,” she said. “They really enjoyed the professional learning opportunities offered to them by the union to be better classroom practitioners for their students.”

The Green Bay Education Association is also offering supports to their new hires through the Early Career Leadership Fellowship. I spoke with Ellie Hinz-Radue, the GBEA Coordinator, a teacher for 28 years who is leading a cohort of six early career educators on making the profession better for those in their first years. Ellie told me, “The Green Bay Early Career Leadership Fellows are working to create the ideal conditions for their colleagues as they enter the profession. That means that they are confronting a reality that better mentorship possibilities need to exist.”

Ellie’s cohort has spent the year working together and reaching actionable conclusions. Ellie said, “The profession isn’t as welcoming as they’d like it to be. They are working on understanding district policy, because they seek to operate within the system to change it for the better. My group worked to create an ideal of how teachers can help other teachers be better without administrative boundaries.”

Finally, the Green Bay Education Association in partnership with WEAC and Region 3, is making a commitment to support candidates seeking National Board Certification. Ellie is one of those candidates and spoke of her personal journey and her gratitude for the support. “This is a difficult process, and I am grateful for the organized work days and the patient support. I’ve spent many years in the classroom, but working through this process has given me both knowledge and skill regarding the teaching standards. For the first time ever, instead of just believing this idea, I can prove that every student can learn.”

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.