Spotlight on Locals: Council 10 Retired

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen (right) recognized Council 10 Retired at their September breakfast for their service in dedication to public education in Wisconsin. Pictured left to right: Council 10 Retired President Marlene Ott, Vivien DeBack, Jim Briselden, Jean Haase, and Cal Wetzel.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

Council 10 Retired – one of 24 local chapters of the statewide WEAC Retired group – is used to honoring others, as it did recently at its annual breakfast. But I had the honor of turning the tables on Council 10 Retired by recognizing it as a WEAC Strong Local Affiliate.

“Thank you to WEAC for recognizing the years of service from our local group of retired educators,” Council 10 Retired President Marlene Ott said in response. “These four (pictured above) were among our founding mothers and fathers who continue to be active retirees.”

As part of the annual breakfast, Council 10 Retired featured speakers from Voces de la Frontera, a young ‘dreamer’ Josue, and Anna Dvorak. The presentation described the impact of immigration policies on families seeking asylum. Marlene shared, “We also honored some of our newly retired members and hope to keep them active in our important work.”

Council 10 Retired does a great job of keeping members and retirees active, and when I asked Marlene how they do it, she said, “There are a number of factors involved in our member involvement. First, people who get involved immediately after retirement are much more likely to stay involved, and we work to get them on a committee right away! Second,  we have had great support from our staff Jim Gibson (who recently passed away) and Ted Kraig have been so supportive attending all of our board meetings, updating us on what’s happening in education and the WEAC world, and including us in all appropriate events such as protests in a district or political actions so that we can help.”

We all know that it is important to stay connected with our members, and Marlene shared, “We have a regular newsletter that goes out including photos of members at social gatherings as well as work sessions. Retirees who have moved away or who can’t always get out stay in touch through the newsletter and have often expressed appreciation to Phyllis Wetzel, our newsletter editor.”

While members of Council 10 Retired aren’t in a school building every day anymore, they certainly stay active. Marlene shared, “As a retiree, social events are very important to our members. We have a summer picnic in one of the Milwaukee parks and a breakfast honoring new retirees. Other activities include getting tickets for plays and concerts, groups meeting for breakfast or lunch, and outings like taking the trolley with a docent to see this summer’s artists’ creations along Wisconsin Avenue.” 

When I asked Marlene about advice to other locals, she said, “I think active involvement in retiree units begins with local engagement in active unit activities. If the same person is always the president and the same person remains chief negotiator for years, lots of talent remains undeveloped. At the association retirement party when I retired, at least a dozen of the teachers in the room had also served as association president as well as chief negotiator. They all had a stake in the organization and knew the ropes.” 

Marlene told me, “We feel very honored that someone noticed the ongoing work of our retired members! We know that our local actives appreciate us. And we have had many members appointed to state WEAC committees and DPI teams as well as chairing our local negotiating cadre and our local association cadre.”  

WEAC is proud to recognize Council 10 Retired for its long-standing support of public education in Wisconsin and its continued advocacy for our students and our profession.  

Have you recently retired or planning to retire? Join WEAC Region 10 / Retired to stay active and informed! Click here for a membership form.

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

Spotlight on Locals: Boyceville Education Association

WEAC President Ron Martin (left) visited the Boyceville Education Association to deliver the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate recognition. Boyceville Education Association members pictured (left to right): Bryor Hellmann, Kelsey Kuehl, Jacob Peterson, Deb Bell, Hannah Downer-Carlson, Kristen Henningfeld, Holly Sweeney, Dianne Vig, Erin Reisimer, and Angie Hellmann.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

“Our work in building relationships with our community has made such a difference for the Boyceville Education Association,” Holly Sweeney, President of the Boyceville Education Association, told me.  “While we have a good relationship with our school board and administration, we needed to build a good relationship with our community.” To do this, the Boyceville Education Association was on the ground floor of a local initiative called “Build a Better Boyceville” which is focused on the economics of their area and improvement of their community. Both Holly and Boyceville Education Association Secretary, Jacob Peterson, see this work as critical for both their local association and their community.  “We are all invested in Boyceville, and we want to be an education partner in this work,” Holly said.  

Holly credits the success of the local to a plan that was developed at WEAC’s Summer Leadership Academy back in 2018. Holly and Jacob attended and worked with long-time Summer Leadership Academy trainer Deb Bell to develop a plan for growing and strengthening the Boyceville Education Association. Since then, their local has attended all school board meetings bringing a positive outlook, wearing their purple Boyceville Education Association shirts, and telling their colleagues about what’s happening in their district and their community. 

Jacob, 5thgrade teacher, said, “We need to be present at our school board meetings not just in a crisis, but always. We are members of our community, and we need to work to get our name out there.”   

That led to the Boyceville Education Association applying for a grant to be a part of the annual summer community gathering and walking in the Cucumber/Pickle Fest parade. There, their members gave books to students in the crowd. Jacob said the students were thrilled to receive new books as the school year was ready to begin; one local grandmother told him, “My granddaughter was so excited about the book you gave her that we had to ask her to put it away so that she would watch the parade.”  

Holly said, “We set goals for membership growth and are systematically inviting all of our new educators to join us as members of the Boyceville Education Association. Since our locals are small, we are partnering our events with nearby Glenwood City.”

Jacob shared, “We have to ask our colleagues to join with us so that we can grow, and our work can have a broader impact. Our local dues fund programs like our local scholarship presented to a graduating senior who plans to join the field of education. We also partner with the girls’ basketball event Coaches vs. Cancer by donating raffle prizes.”  

Elementary Special Education teacher Kristen Henningfeld shared that, “We are a small group, but very committed to our profession and our community. We offer professional support through the Educator Effectiveness process with our members. At our most recent meeting, we voted to join the Adopt-a-Highway program cleaning up along roadways in our community.”   

Jacob credits his predecessors who have been active in their union locally, statewide, and nationally. “My colleagues like Deb Bell and Kristen Henningfeld, who are experienced teachers and union leaders, are a wealth of knowledge for our local,” he said. Both Deb and Kristen serve on statewide committees bringing these experiences back to engage members in their local.  

Deb Bell, third grade teacher, advised, “When recruiting members, don’t ask just once – keep asking, and don’t give up; people’s circumstances change, and they may be ready to join now when they weren’t last year.”  

Jacob also advised other local leaders across Wisconsin to take time to welcome new educators into the profession. Jacob suggested, “Get to know your new colleagues immediately by reaching out to them. Invite them to a potluck or other event and listen to their needs. This is how you can grow your local union.”  

It’s clear that the members of the Boyceville Education Association are invested in their community not only through their work in the classroom, but also through their service and engagement in making Boyceville a great place to live for their students and their families. Thank you for your dedication and service.  

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

Spotlight on Locals: Siren Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen (center, right) and WEAC President Ron Martin (back, right) present Polly Imme (center, left), President of the Siren Education Association, with the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate at the WEAC Region 1 Learning and Growing Conference in Eau Claire. They are joined by (left to right) Aspiring Educator Autumn Tinman and Siren Education Association members John Tinman, Andrea Meyer, Sheryl Stiemann, Cadi Whyte, and Jill Tinman.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

Siren Education Association President Polly Imme said, “We have a small local in one K-12 building which is conducive to good communication and easy access to leaders. Our members are unified in our commitment to our students and recognize the roles for WEAC and NEA to assure that we have access to due process in the event of conflict. We rely on WEAC and NEA for professional development opportunities, updates on current educational policies, and information at our fingertips to keep us up to date on educational issues and trends nationwide.”  

Jackie Eggers, special education teacher, told me, “Our school in Siren is about camaraderie. People care about each other.  We want to stand strong together; that’s just who we are.”  

“Up until the last three years, we saw a high turnover in administration, which made school life frequently difficult due to conflicting expectations during those transitions. We struggled with top-down leadership and a lack of free expression and communication that took several years to overcome and culminated with a clear resolution to flip our board. Our local was committed to making life for our educators better, and we found ways to do that,” Polly shared.  

“When I started teaching in Siren, I was invited to join the Siren Education Association right away. I felt welcomed as I walked through the door, and I felt like I was given the option to join and be supported by my colleagues. I have always felt that if I needed help or support or answers, my union was there for me. It is why I stay a member,” Jackie said.

According to Polly, “Some of our successful initiatives include peer education and support surrounding Educator Effectiveness through work nights, funding for RIF books for our elementary students, sponsoring scholarships annually for students entering the field of education, and most recently sponsoring our members’ adult children in Aspiring Educators.   We currently sponsor students from UW-Green Bay (Autumn Tinman, pictured), UW-Stevens Point (Riley Anderson), and UW-Lacrosse (Emily Stiemann).”

Jackie shared with me, “When I started, part-way through the school year, we were able to work through the complexities of Educator Effectiveness. Both my colleagues and district administration were helpful and supportive as we navigated the process.”  This important collaboration is made possible because of the advocacy of the Siren Education Association.  

Polly’s advice to other locals is, “Approach every new person offering them the benefits and support of the association, listen to every member’s thoughts and concerns, and work diligently to have open dialogue with your administrators. Our work is a two-way street and takes honesty, respect, and trust.”

Jackie shared a belief that is clear and quite refreshing: “In Siren, we put people first above all else.” 

Thank you to the Siren Education Association and congratulations on your WEAC Strong Local Affiliate designation.  

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

Spotlight on Locals: Onalaska Education Association

Molly Baker, Onalaska Education Association Secretary, proudly displays the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate presented to her by WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen. They are joined by DJ Ehrike, Onalaska Education Association (OEA) President.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

“Good people with strong ethics who believe in contributing to the greater good are what makes the Onalaska Education Association strong,” President of the Onalaska Education Association, DJ Ehrike, told me.  DJ also touted the OEA’s membership growth over the last two years saying, “We have been actively recruiting using the one-to-one conversation model with our building leaders who have strong relationships with their colleagues.” Additionally, DJ told me, “We also have been able to recruit a positive building representative in every one of our buildings.”  

Molly Baker, elementary art teacher and OEA Secretary, echoed DJ’s sentiments saying, “We’ve established building reps in every building and strong communication between the building representatives, the executive board, and the members. We’ve also worked diligently to build communication between the OEA and district administration. When we start with common ground like promoting public education, it’s easier to build support. Our work in the Onalaska Education Association is often around things that we can all agree on, which helps others to recognize that the work of our union benefits everyone.”

Christiana Martin, elementary music teacher, told me, “A key to our success has been to be a positive influence in the school district and the community.  We’ve worked to build a positive image for the Onalaska Education Association in our community through OEA’s local scholarships which are creatively funded through collecting payment from educators for wearing jeans on designated days. The OEA also founded the annual turkey drive around the holidays, which has now expanded as a collaborative effort with the school district to feed families in need during the holidays. Our colleagues see all of the positive work that the OEA is doing, the influence that we have, and what we offer that is helpful to new teachers starting out, and they join.”  

When I asked for advice, DJ mentioned, “Leaders can’t do this work alone. Every local President needs to grow a team of positive and passionate colleagues who believe in our students and our public schools, and then find a way to delegate.”  

Christiana said, “As advice goes, emails from someone you don’t know are easy to delete, and fliers of information are easy to throw away, but face-to-face contact with a colleague in your building is difficult to walk away from.  When we make the effort to talk with our colleagues with whom we have influence about the Onalaska Education Association, they listen.”

“Build a core group that you can count on to spread your message,” Molly told me. “We can all work to promote an excellent public education system.”  

DJ’s positive attitude about the work is evident as he ended our conversation with, “Even with our success, we see room for improvement. We will continue this work until every one of our colleagues is a member.”

Thank you to DJ, Molly, Christiana, and all of the members of the Onalaska Education Association for your hard work and dedication, and congratulations on being named a WEAC Strong Local Affiliate.  

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

Spotlight on Locals: Owen-Withee Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen presents Deb Smith, President of the Owen-Withee Education Association (OWEA), with the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate as members gather in support. Owen-Withee Education Association members (pictured from left to right): Gayle Baehr, Mary Meyer, Jeffer Scheuer, Ryan Gutsch, Jona Hatlestad, Mary Miami, Julie Plautz, Chad Eichstadt, Jodi Rahn, Pete Devine, Julie Kodl, Russ Weiler, Marilyn Jaskot, Denice Poetzl, and Sara Koller.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

According to teacher Russ Weiler, the strength of the Owen-Withee Education Association comes down to the focus on “students first and advocacy that puts students at the center of what we do.” “In the Owen-Withee Education Association,” Russ told me, “we have a lot of home-grown teachers who are involved in our community. We see our students in school and out of school, and we are always working to keep our schools and our community strong for our students.”   

Jodi Rahn, fifth-grade teacher, said strong communication is what makes the local so effective. Jodi said, “It’s easy for the membership and our leaders to connect with one another because we have leaders who are accessible to members as a whole. We run face-to-face meetings regularly, and we have building groups comprised of members and non-members where we work to discuss big ideas of what’s happening in the district.”  

When I asked Russ about a success story, he said, “The Owen-Withee Education Association is a wall-to-wall unit with members from the teacher ranks and the education support professionals ranks. I’m proud to have our ESP members with us in our local and that they have continued to re-certify, seeing the value in our union.” When I asked about membership numbers, Russ said, “We are around 60% membership for teachers and education support professionals. We’d like to reach the 65-70% membership threshold, and we keep working toward that.”  

“Our rapport with the school board has been another success story. Through our meet-and-confer efforts, we have seen movement on issues that matter to our colleagues and our students. Not everything that we discuss happens immediately, but through these conversations, we’ve been able to improve aspects of our school over time which really matter,” according to Russ.  

As far as successes, Jodi cited the association’s advocacy for compensation for hours beyond the regular school day. “We have been working to re-align payment scales for extracurricular activities, coaching and advising to remain competitive with nearby districts. We’ve also worked to fairly compensate educators for working summer school to continue to offer an excellent quality for our students and families. This was well-received by staff and really a win-win for all involved.”

Jodi offered this advice to other locals across Wisconsin: “Keep the lines of communication open with your members and make sure that you are honest and clear with them. Part of our success is that we have built a trusting environment. Also, listening is an under-rated skill. Leaders need to listen first and hear their members out, and then do their best to address their needs.”  

Russ said, “It only takes one person to get some important work happening in your local, then, you can recruit two, then four, through building connections with your colleagues. Locals need to lean on leaders for help like asking WEAC leadership, Regional leadership, and even nearby locals for advice and mentorship. We have been so fortunate to have strong leaders nearby in Loyal and Neillsville who have mentored us. I am very grateful to be a part of our union family.”

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

Spotlight on Locals: Beaver Dam Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen presents the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate to members of the Beaver Dam Education Association (BDEA). Pictured from Left to Right are Ali Bohl, Kris Schumacher-Rasmussen, Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, Lisa Schleicher, Mark Lefeber, Jen Vinz, Betsy Ramsdale, and Glen Milleville. 

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

“Communication and outreach are keys,” Lisa Schleicher, President of the Beaver Dam Education Association (BDEA), told me when asked about the success of the BDEA. “We readily share information with our building representatives from our six elementary buildings, middle school, high school, and alternative school. It is important to keep people knowledgeable at all levels of our association. We work to ensure that our home email addresses are up to date and that we are sharing information on our BDEA Facebook page because if our members aren’t informed of the work that we are doing, it can all fall apart.”

Kris Schumacher, middle school art teacher and past president of the Beaver Dam Education Association, echoed that sentiment saying, “Constant communication is so important between BDEA leaders and our members. It is also important among our group of leaders who reach out to each other often. We are also actively engaged with the BDEA Facebook page. We use this as a space for communication about relevant events and professional articles on education from local, state, and national perspectives. We also share out information from attending our local school board meetings. We work to educate our members on how to be an active member and how to get involved on the district level.”

Lisa said, “Last year, we needed to quickly mobilize when the BDEA was made aware of a substantial school schedule change right before summer break began. Since this change would impact our students, families, and members for the following school year, the Beaver Dam Education Association educated parents and members about the proposal. In response, over twenty people spoke at the school board meeting, putting this change on hold for a year and allowing more conversation to find a solution that was a better fit for the school district.” 

There were other victories that resulted from this organizing work. Lisa shared: “A parent advisory committee was formed that continues to meet with the district superintendent, and a candidate for the local school board also emerged.” Again, showing that the BDEA is not only lifting up its members’ voices, but also helping parents and members of the community find their voices to keep their schools strong for students and families.

Kris also pointed to the BDEA’s organizing success last year saying, “Our local was able to reconnect on advocacy, working with parents for shared goals and opportunities for students. We also have been advocates on the legislative front hosting a BDEA member meet-and-greet with Elisha Barudin, candidate for State Assembly back in September.”

As far as successes, Betsy Ramsdale, Beaver Dam Education Association’s president-elect, shared, “Our recertification election results have been excellent with 82% of our colleagues supporting the Beaver Dam Education Association and our work.” Betsy also highlighted the supportive members in the BDEA and their ability to quickly mobilize. 

Lisa is planning to retire at the end of this school year, and she shared with me that Betsy, the vice president and also the president-elect, is ready to step in as the next president.  “The BDEA is in good hands considering Betsy’s experience as an organized leader who motivates others and has served 10 years in the district,” Lisa said. Again, demonstrating the strength of the BDEA in having other educators who are stepping into smaller roles and attending trainings to ensure that there is a team of leaders working together on behalf of the students and members in their community.  

Betsy said, “While I am new to this role, I am continuing to learn. Attending the WEAC Organizing Institute for Anchor Locals in January was a great opportunity to meet and learn from other leaders across the state. I want to keep learning and growing as a leader.”

Lisa’s advice to other local leaders across Wisconsin: “Keep one-to-one conversations going with members and potential members. When people know you, know what you represent, who you represent, then they understand what the union can do. That’s how they learn to join with us.”

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

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: Reedsburg Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen presents Reedsburg Education Association President Rachel Burkel with the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Recognition Certificate. They are joined by Reedsburg Education Association leaders (left to right) Corrine Fish, Ann Schmitt, Chris Christensen, Debbie Schell, Trista Henke, Sarah Speich, and Jenny Fish.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

Trista Henke, seventh-grade social studies teacher and Reedsburg Education Association past president, told me, “The strength of the Reedsburg Education Association is its foundation. Labor conflicts between the Reedsburg School Board and the Reedsburg Education Association dating back to the 1960s and 1970s built the base of our union. Leaders before me, like Bill Gronley and Joe Ketter, deserve credit for building this solid foundation. Now, it’s up to us to keep it strong.”

“We stay strong as a local because we support each other,” said Ann Schmitt who has had many roles in the district in her 28 years there, but currently serves as an interventionist; she is also the Reedsburg Education Association’s current treasurer. “While we may not be the largest local in Wisconsin, we continue to support one another, which keeps us strong,” Ann told me.

“Our membership is just over 50%,” Trista said, “and there is room for us to grow as a local association.” The Reedsburg Education Association recognizes that membership growth requires trained leaders, and they have taken advantage of free trainings offered by WEAC by attending WEAC’s Organizing Institute for Anchor Locals last January. They are building plans for their future and finding ways to create membership growth.

As far as successes for the Reedsburg Education Association go, Trista said that maintaining their seat at the table is important.  Trista shared, “We continue to meet monthly with our administration to discuss our needs and concerns, and they listen.”

Ann echoed that sentiment saying, “We have a good relationship with administration and our school board. They listen to us. And while we don’t always see eye to eye, they hear us. Many of our members who teach here, also live here. Many of us grew up in this community or nearby. We care about our students and this community.”

Another strength of the Reedsburg Education Association is its connection to the community. During recent flooding, Ann said, “The members volunteered their time in the areas surrounding Reedsburg by helping local businesses and the library in filling sandbags and removing books and other items before the waters rose. This led to much less damage in many areas.”

“In our area, the school is the core of the community,” Ann added, “and it extends out from there. Our teachers are known and recognized in our community as an integral part.”

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

Spotlight on Locals: Bayfield Education Association

WEAC President Ron Martin, presents the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate certificate to Eric Iverson, President of the Bayfield Education Association. Other Bayfield Education Association leaders gather in support (left to right) Pat Kinney, Rick Erickson, Lorie Erickson, Kathy Smith, and David Doering.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

“Our camaraderie and our strong union participation is the greatest strength of the Bayfield Education Association,” Rick Erickson, High School Alternative Education/Science Teacher, former President of the Bayfield Education Association (BEA), and a former Wisconsin Teacher of the Year told me.

“The reason for our strong participation is that people see the BEA as a collective teacher voice for the district, and our voice is focused on kids, families, and our community. We want to make our school district the best place it can be.”

When I asked about membership, Rick said, “Participation in the Bayfield Education Association is high. About 92% of our teachers are members.”

Eric Iverson, Middle School Social Studies teacher and current President of the Bayfield Education Association, told me, “We’re all part of a community, and we stick together.” Eric also mentioned how past leaders helped to create a culture of camaraderie and solidarity through social events and being a part of events in the community.

It’s clear that the BEA is there for the kids and the community. According to Lorie Erickson, Early Childhood teacher, the efforts of BEA members in the community are an important part of their success.

“We did an event this fall at a nearby casino where we roasted 250 hot dogs and gave them to our families who attended.  Continuing to build relationships with our students and their families is important to us.” Lorie went on to say, “At the event, parents shared with us struggles of some of our former students who just graduated and were transitioning into life after high school at two-year, four-year, or tech college campuses. This prompted the Bayfield Education Association to write letters and make care packages for these former students in transition.”

The BEA is also involved in advocacy, as Rick discussed the struggles of the school district to recognize that arbitrary pay plans exacerbate their struggles in recruiting and retaining of quality teachers, which harms students. “We are working to have the best compensation and the best environment to keep our teachers here and our district strong.”

Another strength of the Bayfield Education Association is its ability to maintain a positive relationship with administration. Eric shared, “Despite challenges, we have leadership that pulls people together to address the issues to do what’s best for their students.”

Liz Bodin, Bayfield teacher and former student in the district, said, “I feel supported by my colleagues. As a student, I didn’t recognize the many ways that my teachers went above and beyond to support me. Now that I am an adult and a fellow educator, I recognize what they did to make my educational experience special, and I want to do the same for my students.”

Liz was most proud of the work of the Bayfield Education Association did for the scholarship that they award to a student who plans to be a teacher. “In a time with a shortage of students wanting to be teachers, we are doing our part to give back and encourage our students to join us in the profession and to keep high quality teachers in every classroom,” Liz said.

Rick ended our conversation by saying, “The Bayfield Education Association is a positive force with our focus on our kids, our families, and our community.”

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