Spotlight on Locals: Port Washington-Saukville Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen delivers the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate to Port Washington-Saukville Education Association (PWSEA) President Brian Borley, joined by PWSEA leaders (L- R) Laura Rashid, Connie Hildebrandt, Nathan Ugoretz, and Tera Rogers.  

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

“It is our strong leaders and their commitment to seeing that we have a voice that makes our local strong. Our leaders bring a sense of unity to our local,” Connie Hildebrandt, middle school teacher, told me.  “Our local works to get young educators on board and involved. We are connected and committed to each other and always working to do our best for kids. I’m so proud of the work that we do and to tell people that I am a part of the Port Washington-Saukville Education Association.” 

Deb Anderson, second grade teacher and past president of PWSEA, said, “There is a tradition of strong leaders in the Port Washington-Saukville Education Association. In our local, we are a team, and everyone has a role.  We understand one another, which allows us to play to one another’s strengths. We welcome new members in the local in baby steps, bringing them in, letting them shadow and learn, and encouraging them to step up when they are ready. Conversely, we allow people an opportunity to take some time away as their lives require, but we keep them engaged and welcome them back into the fold when they are ready to give back again.” This approach allows for history and perspective to be maintained while continuing to move the local association into the future.  

As far as successes, Deb shared with me that the Port Washington-Saukville Education Association has worked collaboratively with District Superintendent Michael Weber and the local school board to maintain a salary structure. Last year, they were once again able to create a career path for all educators to reach the top of their pay scale through experience and taking graduate courses.   

Brian Borley, current president and high school social studies teacher of 14 years, stated, “For a teacher like me, with a master’s degree plus 30 credits beyond it, there are now real financial incentives for me to continue to grow as a professional through additional coursework. This provides our staff with both predictability and stability and makes us want to stay in this district.”  

The local success of an improved salary schedule was highlighted by every PWSEA leader with whom I spoke. Nathan Ugoretz, high school social studies teacher and PWSEA past president, said, “We wanted our members and colleagues to understand this change, so we sat down with them and explained how these improvements in the salary schedule can positively impact them financially if they invest the time and resources in their own professional development.”  

When asked what makes their local strong, Deb shared, “We still have a voice, and we have worked hard for that by building relationships with district leadership, the school board, parents, and the community. We will put ideas out there and plant seeds. Win or lose, we aren’t afraid to discuss what matters to our colleagues and our profession.”

Brian echoed that sentiment saying, “We have a voice because we continue to work collaboratively with district administration and the local school board to present solutions when problems arise. Our leaders continue to attend trainings to keep our local association strong.” 

Nathan mentioned their continued advocacy and organizing, especially through their work as a local in the election last fall. “We understand that elections are important to the work we do in the classroom with our students, and having education friendly lawmakers will make our schools stronger. Because of that, PWSEA was active politically raising both funds and awareness about candidates who pledged to support our public schools and our students. We organized and mobilized our members and, ultimately, prevailed in electing an education-friendly Governor for Wisconsin.”  

Brian concluded our conversation by saying, “PWSEA is a partner in making the Port Washington-Saukville School District strong for students, families, and our community.” Thank you to the Port Washington-Saukville Education Association for your hard work and dedication as a WEAC Strong Local Affiliate. 

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

Spotlight on Locals: Racine Educators United

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen (middle, left) delivers the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate to Racine Educators United President Angelina Cruz (middle, right) at the REU Representative Assembly. Racine Educators United members gather in solidarity with signs demonstrating their activism and commitment to their students and public schools in Racine.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

When I asked Angelina Cruz, 5th and 6th grade English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, currently serving as the President of the Racine Educators United, about the success of their local, she said, “As we have rebuilt over the last couple of years, new people have stepped up.” This engagement can be seen in the photograph taken at the REU Representative Assembly when I presented them with the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate. Angelina also told me, “People are embracing an organizing model of our union.”

That organizing work can be seen in their most recent success in partnership with their Community Coalition, My School My Voice. They worked collaboratively with the City of Racine to include a property tax insert outlining state funding levels for Racine Unified and funding levels for private and voucher schools in Racine.

When I asked how they achieved this, Angelina said, “We gathered over 800 signatures in support of voucher transparency to share with Mayor Cory Mason and the Racine City Council through showings of the documentary film Backpack Full of Cash and with tables at other large events and festivals in Racine. Now, I have educators reaching out to me from the villages of Mount Pleasant and Caledonia asking why their tax bills are not showing this information. For us, our first step was the city, and our next step in this campaign includes lobbying the nearby villages.”

That may not be necessary if Governor-Elect Tony Evers is successful in passing state law that would ensure voucher transparency. Statewide, folks in our communities have a right to know how much money is being siphoned from our public schools, which serve all students, to fund private and voucher schools, which serve a select group of students.

Ryan Knudson, 8th grade studies teacher and secretary for the Racine Educators United, told me, “We are the only group fighting for public education and our students. When we stand up, together, for our students, good things happen.” Ryan also said, “Our most important successes are when we talk to our colleagues about who we are and the work we are doing, and they see the value in joining with us and fighting for our community. To me, these are the important victories.”

Norma Cortese, 5th grade dual language teacher, said, “The strength of our local is that although we have different roles in our daily lives, our main goal is to do what’s best for students. We continue to work districtwide in collaboration with the school board and the school district toward decisions that are good for kids.”

Cortese also highlighted the history of local strength success in Racine by saying, “Our local has always been committed to our students and our profession whether it was a few years back when the elementary teachers combined forces to advocate for removal of an ineffective reading program or when we rallied with our union brothers and sisters at the Capitol in Madison.”

The Racine Educators United can be counted on as powerful advocates. Cortese also said, “We need to be involved in broad-based community coalitions which is why I am a part of a number of Hispanic community organizations and engaged with my students and their families outside of the classroom.”

Angelina also said, “Another success was protecting our employee handbook when the School Board recently considered changes.” Since Racine, like districts statewide, has staff guidelines outlined in policy within their handbook, it is important to recognize that changes in handbook language can dramatically impact educators’ working conditions, which have eroded over time. It’s local unions like the Racine Educators United who continue to work toward better conditions for all educators. United, we can advocate for improvements like mandatory prep time and just cause language for all employees.

Gwen Shaw-Scott, a dedicated Education Support Professional for Racine Unified School District, reiterated this sentiment saying, “Our strength is our willingness to fight for issues that come up every day. We always stand firm with administration to resolve any issue working to make our students’ and members’ lives better.”

When I asked Angelina for advice to other local leaders in Wisconsin, she said, “While the challenges in public education feel big and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, find issues that matter to your members and your community. When you begin to tackle these one at a time, you can make a difference for your students and your community. This is difficult work, but important work, that no one else is doing.”

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: 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: Holmen Education Association

Members of the Holmen Education Association gather to accept the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate certificate from WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

The strength of the Holmen Education Association was obvious as a large group of members gathered at Holmen Middle School; many were proudly wearing their Holmen EA shirts, made possible through a grant from WEAC Region 4. When I interviewed HEA President Lisa Risch, she made it clear that the local association has been busy advocating for its members and finding success.

According to Lisa, “The Holmen Education Association shares positive news broadly because we know that having visibility is so important. Every month, a benefit slip is given to both members and non-members that shows both NEA and WEAC discounts in addition to sharing our local’s most recent success stories.”

Lisa meets monthly with the District Administrator to discuss topics brought forth by members. Through these conversations, the HEA has been able to enact positive change on topics like handbook language relevant to membership. The association has made steady progress on difficult issues by finding a middle ground on behalf of students.

Tracy Dobkoski, Vice President of the HEA, manages the group’s Facebook page, which most recently posted information about the National Board Certification and the supports that are available. Tracy contributed her personal experiences about what these supports have meant to her as a professional and how they have helped her be an even better educator for her students.  The HEA has also made members aware of other professional supports offered by WEAC Region 4, highlighting the course offering called Love and Logic. “We need to share all of the opportunities that are available to our HEA members.”

When I asked Lisa about her advice to other locals, she said, “Doing positive work in your community is so important. The HEA values education and giving back to our students. We typically sponsor three to four scholarships for graduating seniors, sponsor the clean-up of the local bike trail, and HEA most recently voted to donate $1,000 to the building of the Holmen Community Center.”

She also told me that they take time to bring people together not only through meetings but also through social events. “By engaging in many conversations at events and by listening to our members and potential members, we are able to get our colleagues to join with us. Our voices are being heard.”

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

Spotlight on Locals: Cudahy Education Association

Cudahy Education Association Members (Left to Right) Teri Cianciola, Miranda Beninger, Christine Janusiak (CEA Co-President), Kerry Beamon (CEA Secretary), and Curtis Kadow (CEA Co-President) accept the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate presented by WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

It was clear from my conversation with leaders of the Cudahy Education Association that much of the credit for their success is the ability of their local to reframe their work in a positive light over the past few years.  Co-President Curtis Kadow said, “We have spent the last two years focusing on building relationships with administration, our superintendent, our members, and our potential members.” And, clearly, this approach has paid off. Teri Cianciola spoke about the engagement from their building representatives, saying, “Our old school approach wasn’t working. There is a new focus on relationships and membership – and people are joining.”

These leaders made a conscious effort to change the culture of their local. Kerry Beamon, CEA Secretary, said, “Curtis and Christine, as new leadership and Co-Presidents, have moved us to a shared focus and doing this work differently. Having a structure with Co-Presidents seems to be a welcomed change. Our focus is on clear, upbeat communication with members and potential members about the work that is happening and the victories of the CEA.”

Most notably, the Cudahy EA is proud of a school board victory in recent years that has changed the make-up of the school board, and, ultimately, the direction of the district. The association is currently working on the upcoming election for school board on April 3.  A second victory is within their salary structure, which was a merit-based system with arbitrary measurements for wage increases. Curtis and Christine were determined to find a way to change this. When the district convened a salary committee, the CEA was involved and engaged in the process. Ultimately, this led to favorable changes and the removal of the Educator Effectiveness scores as a part of the compensation system.

These leaders expressed gratitude for the assistance provided by WEAC Region 7 through their membership chair, Rachel Swick, along with the support network provided through WEAC’s Organizing Institute for Anchor Locals, citing the importance of collaboration. Co-President Christine Janusiak said, “We’ve branched out to connect with others. We’ve started attending meetings with a grassroots organizing group in Cudahy.”

All of this has helped them with their work in the community and on their school board races but, most importantly, as Curtis said, “We are not alone. We are connected to surrounding locals, and we can tap into a network to help us.”

When I asked about advice that the Cudahy Education Association had for other locals out there, Curtis said, “While history is important, we have to find a way to move our association forward in a positive way today.” Christine said, “Our success comes down to three things — persistence, continual communication, and positive collaboration.”

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

Spotlight on Locals: Beloit Education Association

Stephanie Rapach (left) and Kirah Zeilinger (center), both active leaders of the Beloit Education Association, joined WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen to accept the certificate recognizing the BEA as a Strong Local Affiliate.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

Tim Vedra, President of the Beloit Education Association, is a seasoned, well-respected leader with 16 years of experience as the local president.  When I asked him about the success of the BEA, he touted the association’s ability to create positive relationships with district leadership and members of the school board.

“We are partners in the school district,” Tim said.  “We reach out to one another when issues arise in the school district.”

Kirah Zeilinger shared how this good relationship led to their ability to get just cause language inserted into the district handbook, a recent success story for the BEA. When I asked Tim, he said, “It took months of meetings with the district, and we’ve been working on this for years. The district finally realized that since they have been following proper discipline procedures, just cause wouldn’t be a hindrance to how they were already operating.”

In addition to handbook advocacy, the BEA has been actively involved in school board races, which has resulted in a positive, pro-education school board. “Our school board views teachers and employees as important members in the education community,” Tim said. “They want to listen to what we have to say about making our schools better for our students and all who work with them.”

When I asked Tim about advice to local leaders who don’t have the kind of positive working relationship with their school board or their district leadership, he said, “Open the lines of communication with anyone who will extend the hand. That could be the superintendent, business manager, your building principal, or any member of the school board. Show them that the union isn’t always looking to fight but is here to provide productive, positive solutions that are good for students.”

The Beloit Education Association finds a way to get as many people as possible involved in the work of the association. Tim mentioned the leadership from those with 40 years of experience, to leaders like him with 20 years in the profession, down to those with only a few years. “The pipeline of people continues to help us change and grow with today’s needs,” Tim said. He also pointed out that with so many leaders in training and wanting to help, they have a project for anyone who is interested.

James Hoey, BEA first vice president, echoed this sentiment when he said, “We get many people involved in socials throughout the year. We hold a Back to School event in the fall, a holiday event in December and an event at the end of the year.” James said that personal invites are a key to good attendance at these events and that they invite all the new hires, members and potential members to their socials.

Melissa Rohrbeck, leader in Beloit Education Association, shared how the local uses social events to give back to the community of Beloit. “The BEA partners with the School District of Beloit to sponsor a program which provides a book to each newborn baby born in March,” Melissa said. This program is popular and gets the BEA’s name out to families early on in their child’s education.” Melissa also mentioned the food drives and clothing drives that the BEA sponsors as a part of giving back to the community.

Kirah Zeilinger, another strong Beloit Education Association leader, highlighted the BEA’s role in the WEAC Organizing Institute for Anchor Locals training this past January. At the training, the BEA shared its work in a successful approach to training building representatives in the local. During the training, each local participating was given a block of time to engage in planning for membership growth in the local association during the upcoming spring. Kirah said, “During the planning session at the Anchor Locals training, we took the time to put together a plan for a social event after one of our professional development days for our new hires. It was great to get a jump start on this planning as another way to follow-up with these new educators who we spent a half day with back in August.”

When I asked the BEA leadership about advice they could offer to locals statewide, Melissa said, “We have had times when we felt defeated in our work, but we always found a way to see a small victory and build on it.”

“All important work begins with a plan,” Tim said. Strong locals spend time planning, work their plan, assess the results, and then communicate with members and potential members about their victories. Tim also said, “The Beloit Education Association creates a plan every summer where we set our targets and goals for the upcoming year. We involve the building representatives and the Executive team.”

Melissa said, “The time that we take to prepare for having one-to-one conversations, training our building representatives, and mapping our buildings is time well spent.”

James told me that they have been engaged in this strategic planning process for years, pointing out that they discuss how to have conversations with potential members about, “What does the union mean to us? What’s our story and how do we tell others about why we are members?” James described this planning process as a commitment to one another on what they are going to work on, who is going to be involved, and then an assessment of how things went.

Then, he said, at the end of the year, the association writes a letter to members about what the BEA accomplished. The letter includes the big victories and those goals that are still being worked on.

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

Spotlight on Locals: La Crosse Education Association

Members of the La Crosse Education Association, advocates for students and the teaching profession, gathered together to be recognized as a Strong Local Affiliate by WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen. All members pictured attended the Department of Public Instruction’s public hearing on licensure changes with most testifying. Displaying the Strong Local Affiliate certificate is John Havlicek (center), President of the La Crosse Education Association, and Teri Kendhammer (left center), Vice President of the La Crosse Education Association.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

It didn’t take long to determine that one element of strength in the La Crosse Education Association is its collective advocacy on behalf of students and public education. When LEA President John Havlicek put out the notice to his members to attend DPI’s public hearing on changes to licensure, more than a dozen of them turned out, including Sammie, one of the school’s trained therapy dogs accompanying LEA member Heather Stern. They addressed a gamut of concerns from boundary violations to the impact of broadening licensure, speaking with passion for their profession.

This kind of collective action isn’t surprising from the La Crosse Education Association. LEA members have never been afraid to act collectively and to speak up when changes in legislation that will affect their students and their profession are proposed.

Scott Graham, veteran educator and LEA’s teacher rights representative, credits many legislation changes over the past years with pushing their local to be stronger.

“We’re not going to let our local go away,” Scott told me. Scott mentioned strong leadership who worked to create a nucleus of educator members pushing for evolution in their local over the past few years. He is working to mentor co-leads to take over the teacher rights representative role for next year, quick to point out that the future leaders of the association need training and engagement in this work now.

The La Crosse Education Association is part of the NEA’s Early Career Leadership Fellows, a project dedicated to engaging the 35 and under group in La Crosse. LEA Vice President Teri Kendhammer is the lead on this project. She is proud of the excitement and empowerment that has come from this group of 5-7 who have been working together since August. Teri said that they have been busy interviewing those 35 and under about their passions in the education field and asking them what they want from their local association. Jesse Martinez, seventh grade science and social studies teacher and one of the Early Career fellows, said, “The main goal is to respond the needs of our early career educators.”  He said that as themes have emerged from these conversations, the early career fellows are developing their approach with the district.

John Havlicek, LEA President, and Scott Graham agreed that their local remains strong because the La Crosse Education Association works collaboratively with the school district. John said that, “We work hard to build and maintain a professional working relationship that is supportive. It takes time to build that trust and continued conversations at all levels to keep the relationships strong.”

La Crosse employs a Joint Leadership model that allows for working together on behalf of students and staff. Scott said that the LEA surveys its members at the beginning of the year about concerns and then uses that information to bring forward suggestions with the district throughout the school year. In working on items that come to the surface, Scott said, “The district sees us as partners.” And, when their members saw a need for more consistency in dealing with challenging student behaviors, it was the LEA that pressed on this issue to find solutions. Scott pointed out, “By building relationships with administration, the LEA is able to ultimately do what’s best for kids.”

In a spirit of true collaboration, the School District of La Crosse has partnered with the La Crosse Education Association to co-host the Western Wisconsin Education Conference. This regional conference includes training that is “by teachers and for teachers,” John told me.

The La Crosse Education Association believes that high-quality professional development most relevant to educators happens when educators are engaged in the planning and presenting. John shared with me details regarding the conference, including the three strands to the training: technology, social and racial justice, and trauma-informed teaching. Over 750 people signed up to attend, many from La Crosse, but including other districts in Western Wisconsin, like Gale Ettrick Trempealeau and Holmen. This partnership between the LEA and the School District of La Crosse is a benefit to the students across Western Wisconsin.

Given all of this, it is no surprise that membership levels in the La Crosse Education Association remain high, hovering right around 80 percent. Teri Kendhammer, VP of the LEA and membership chair,  works systematically on recruitment and retention, viewing this as a year-round task.

“Every building rep takes membership seriously,” Teri said.  Her philosophy on recruitment is, “A no today may not be a no tomorrow. We just haven’t given some of our potential members the reason to join us, yet.”

Teri went on to say, “In the LEA, we will keep doing what’s best for kids and inviting our colleagues to join with us in our efforts.”