Spotlight on Locals: Tomahawk Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen presents Ann Swenty, Tomahawk EA Co-President, and Jon Marin, Tomahawk EA Treasurer, with a certificate recognizing them as a strong local affiliate.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

I interviewed Co-President Ann Swenty from the Tomahawk Education Association to ask her how her local has maintained strength holding steady with a membership of 77 teachers of their 100 teachers on staff.

“First and foremost, you must have a strong leadership team,” Ann told me. She credited her long-time treasurer Jon Marin for his “conscientious dedication to the union” and Angie McPherson, their local secretary, for her follow-through. “Angie gets things done, and she is always a voice for our members.”

Ann also discussed the local’s decision to switch to a Co-President team, training Allison Shantz to take the reins when Ann steps down. Allison has been teaching in Tomahawk for just a few years and was eager to not only join the mission of the local but to become a leader.

Tomahawk EA has a structure that trains building representatives to be leaders who are informed about policy and legislation that will affect them. Ann said it is part of the mission of their local to develop new members because no one will teach forever. If we can involve our new hires in the work of our local, our future will stay strong.

Ann also discussed local visibility as a key factor in their strength. She discussed how the local needs to be engaged in conversations with colleagues about their work. Ann also mentioned that the Tomahawk EA still meets regularly, one time a month, to discuss what’s happening. The leaders and members know that our union meeting is a place to discuss needs in their classrooms and their school buildings. The members know the regular meeting schedule, which is clearly publicized and shared with them, starting at the opening day luncheon for all teachers, hosted by the Tomahawk EA.  Even if the meeting only lasts 10-20 minutes, it’s a place for listening and information-sharing.

As part of their push for additional visibility in their tight-knit community, the Tomahawk EA launched a shop local campaign this past Fall. Each member of the Tomahawk EA has a card offering special deals to their members. Ann said that teachers are leaders in her community, with many serving as members of their churches and local boards. She said that she is often reminded when shopping locally when business owners say, “Where’s your card?” In this small community, they recognize Ann as a teacher and a supporter of their community.

Finally, Ann discussed the need for unity to maintain strength in her local. She cited the network of other leaders within both the region and the state that she and her fellow leaders can rely on for training and support, noting that leaders of the Tomahawk EA attended the WEAC Summer Leadership Academy this past summer at UW-Eau Claire to connect and broaden their network and to offer further training to Allison, her Co-President.

Ann encourages others who are struggling to reach out and to not go it alone. Ann said it is difficult to do this work as an educator with a full plate, but the support of her colleagues in her local, region, and state keep her going every day to be her best for her students.

96 percent of WEAC local recertifications pass

Ninety-six percent of 2017 fall recertification elections for WEAC locals passed, results released Tuesday by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission show.

The overwhelming support for local unions mirrors similar results in recertification elections since 2011.

“In the local associations that chose recertification elections, educators continue to show tremendous support for the union,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, a middle school social studies teacher. “Unions continue to play a very strong role in their local school districts and partner with parents and their communities to ensure the best public schools for students.”

Recertification is a hoop created by the Legislature to limit employee rights. It requires that an association interested in being named the district “bargaining agent” pay for an annual election and the threshold for victory is half of the eligible voters voting yes, plus one. That’s a bar even the American president doesn’t have to reach to be elected. All educators, union members and non-members, vote in recertification elections and, if an educator does not vote, the state counts it as a vote in opposition.

Local associations across Wisconsin determine whether they will seek recertification based on their own unique circumstances. Whether or not a local chose to participate in recertification, and whatever the outcome of the vote, it’s important to stress that the union still exists. The union exists anywhere educators unite collectively to improve their schools for their students, expand their professional skills, and advocate for shared interests like school safety and opportunities for all children. No legislation can take away that right.

Lighting the SPARK of learning in students

WEAC digital video promotion celebrates Public School Educators

WEAC is welcoming Wisconsin Public School students and educators back to school with the launch of a statewide video promotion reminding parents and everyone in our communities about the critical role teachers and education support professionals play in lighting the spark of learning.

Share the video today and help us
spread the word about the great work
Wisconsin Public School educators do every day!

The video, which will appear on Facebook and other online platforms, also links to WEAC’s other features, highlighting Wisconsin Public School educators doing what they do best: Reaching, Teaching and Inspiring Students. There, you’ll find outstanding educators like Josh Jackson in Milwaukee, Gina Pagel in Waunakee and DJ Huddleston in D.C. Everest. Check them all out, and be sure to share on your own social networks!

WEAC’s SPARK video is reflective of our union – filmed and produced by members, for members. WEAC thanks teachers Katie Mueller and Dave Doering for their work to create the promotion, and to dozens of other educator-members who helped in other ways. Share the video today!

Why millennials should lead the next labor movement

Writer Kashana Cauley, who grew up in a union household in Janesville, recognizes the critical role the union played in her father’s life and, consequently, in her life. It not only helped make sure her father could pay the bills, it provided the family with quality, affordable health care.

But those days of strong unions and good jobs have fallen by the wayside in recent years, she writes in a New York Times column, and the result has “sent the bottom flying out of the middle class.”

We can’t stand by and let it continue, she writes.

“People like me, who have mental museums filled with memories of the stability that came with our parents’ union jobs, could be the perfect leaders of the next labor union renaissance,” she writes.

“We millennials, many of whom entered the work force during the last recession, have borne the brunt of the country’s recent decline in employment quality, with lower wages, diminishing benefits and the presence of noncompete clauses that hurt even entry-level employees from finding subsequent jobs. We show higher support for unions than previous generations, and with good reason: Unionized employees typically enjoy better benefits and have made about 27 percent more than their non-unionized counterparts for roughly the last 15 years.”

Unions still stand for “the value of jobs that provide a fair wage, reasonable conditions and the ability to care for a family,” she writes, and that is “as timely now as it ever was.”

Read her entire column:

Opinion | Why Millennials Should Lead the Next Labor Movement

After years of studying our bathroom’s stack of union publications, I grew enthralled with the existence of union negotiator guys who looked just like my dad, dressed in the Midwestern anti-fashion of workboots and fleeces to guard against our seemingly eternal winters.


WEAC is learning from the past and building for the future, WEAC President says

WEAC President Ron Martin addresses the 2017 WEAC Representative Assembly. Joining him at the head table are Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen and Secretary-Treasurer Arlene Braden.

Inspired by the legacy handed down by our past leaders and encouraged by the incredible promise of our current and aspiring educators, the future of WEAC is very strong, WEAC President Ron Martin said Saturday at the 95th WEAC Representative Assembly.

Despite what some media say, “It’s an exciting time to be a union member,” Martin said at the daylong Assembly in Stevens Point.

Martin cited the overwhelming re-election victory of public school advocate Tony Evers as State Superintendent, who specifically thanked WEAC members in his victory speech on April 4, as well as strong school board and school referendum victories throughout the state.

“Our success in this election shows us that our voices still matter,” Martin said. “Integrity matters. Public schools matter. Give yourselves a shout-out for a Job-Well-Done!”

WEAC members did not stop advocating for public education when the election was over. They have turned their attention to the state budget, fighting for public school students by speaking out at budget hearings throughout the state and submitting testimony to legislators who are making major decisions that affect our schools and students.

While the future for educators – through our union – is promising, there is no question that educators are facing major challenges, Martin noted.

“Nothing tears at my heart more than the increasing number of educators who tell me about the pervasive frustration, the loss of control, over their profession. I am deeply disturbed about the culture of testing and data collection forced down the throats of students and educators … transforming our profession into a scripted job that has no connection with what is best for students,” he said.

“I’m deeply disturbed over the number of educators who feel trapped, with no way out of a profession they once loved – the educators who don’t know what their salary will be next year, or the year after, and surely don’t know if they will ever pay back their student loans, afford a house or buy a car.”

But there is only one way out of this situation, he said: “It’s union, friends. Union is the way out. It’s us, together.”

“We come to this spot, today, to remind each other – in union – of the urgency of Now. This is no time to back off or drag our feet. Now is the time to make real the promise of our union – the promise of public education.”

Now is the time, he said, for less testing and more teaching. Now is the time to stand for racial justice, and now is the time to get politicians out of our classrooms.

The theme for this year’s RA was “Learn From the Past, Build for the Future,” and Martin said he has learned a lot about the incredible odds that those before us faced in forming this great union.

“Our union was in the hands of those before us. They formed WEAC. Not to serve themselves. Not only for a few. But for everyone. To secure the role of public education in Wisconsin. To be a platform for educators to work collectively.”

Successes like we experienced in the April election “are a reason why we choose to belong to this union,” and inspire us to move forward on behalf of quality public education and a strong union, Martin said.

“We care about kids. We care about every single one of them. We care about their families too. Our public schools work for everyone. Parents overwhelmingly choose public schools because they work. And public schools work because you work.”

Beloit teachers confront school board over deteriorating student discipline

Beloit teachers banded together last week and took their collective concerns about student discipline to the school board. According to the Beloit Daily News, hundreds of teachers and staff took turns addressing the board, “with one saying educators are working in ‘a climate of fear’ because of lax student discipline and growing class sizes.”

“Many said teachers who attempt to discipline students are punished and even fear for their jobs,” according to the article.

The Daily News quotes Beloit Education Association and WEAC Region 6 member Dustin Slusser, a teacher at Fruzen and Aldrich Intermediate schools, saying he does more interventions and reprimanding than teaching because of the challenges presented by deteriorating student discipline.

Slusser said the respect by students toward staff and administration continues to plummet. He cited the example of students not removing headphones or taking off hats. When he has repeatedly tried to deal with that, Slusser said he has been met with disrespect, profanity or flatly being ignored.

Slusser said high teacher turnover in the district will become the norm if discipline is not restored in the schools.

Read the entire article:

Beloit teachers hammer behavioral issues

BELOIT – Dustin Slusser, a teacher at Fruzen and Aldrich Intermediate schools, said he does more interventions and reprimanding than teaching because of deteriorating student discipline in the School District of Beloit. He and hundreds of teachers and staff district-wide gathered with dozens speaking out at a town hall-style meeting held at Beloit Memorial High School Friday morning.

96 percent of recertifications pass

Ninety-six percent – 240 of 251 – of 2016 recertification elections for WEAC locals passed this fall, results released Wednesday by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission show.

The overwhelming support for local unions to be recognized by the state as the bargaining agent in their districts mirrors similar results in these elections since 2011.

“In the local associations that chose recertification elections, we saw a tremendous support for the role of the union in supporting educators so they can better help their students,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, a middle school social studies teacher. “This support signals the strong role unions still play in their local school districts to partner with parents and their communities on ensuring the best public schools for students.”

Laws aimed at limiting employee rights passed in 2011 require associations to jump through a series of legal hoops to be recognized in the limited capacity of bargaining agent, including requiring the local association to pay for an election and setting a 51 percent threshold for victory — a bar that even the president doesn’t have to reach to be elected. Additionally, members of the association and non-members vote for recertification and, should an employee not cast a ballot, that is considered a ‘no’ vote.

Local associations across Wisconsin determine whether they will seek recertification based on their own unique circumstances. Whether or not a local chose to participate in recertification, the union still exists and consists of members who work together to improve their schools for their students, expand their professional skills, and advocate for shared interests like school safety and opportunities for all children, no matter where they live in Wisconsin.

WEAC kicks off new school year with salute to educator-members

With the school year in full-swing now, local associations are all-in with plans for connecting educators with each other for success. From member events like networking socials in Beloit and Eau Claire, to rallies for public schools in Milwaukee and Racine, teachers and education support professionals are getting the word out that the union is a family where every educator belongs. WEAC is on-the-job with our members, highlighting their work in and out of school.

Here’s what WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, a high school English teacher, discovered on her visit to the Port Washington-Saukville School District in WEAC Region 3, where members are inspiring their students and sharing what’s working in their classrooms:


Laura Rashid, Seventh Grade Teacher, and Sandy Daevel, Eighth Grade Teacher

Connecting with students in a comfortable classroom

A comfortable classroom isn’t just for elementary schools anymore. Seventh grade teacher Laura Rashid and eighth grade teacher Sandy Daevel work with their students while gathered on the carpet in the front of their classrooms. “This was the best decision we could have made in teaching English this year,” Rashid says. “Students look forward to time spent sharing about our lives and our life experiences sitting together on the carpet.” A local business donor partnered with the public school to provide rugs in each classroom, another welcome connection.

Tera Rogers, Seventh Grade Business Education Teacher

Tera Rogers, Seventh Grade Business Education Teacher

An adaptable classroom to meet the needs of the whole student

Tera Rogers, a seventh grade business education teacher, relies on her cart of laptops when it comes to teaching her students. In addition to the cart, she uses tables that are easily modifiable so students can easily group together, partner seamlessly and work independently. “I believe in having a room that is adaptable for all kinds of student learning that happens at the middle school level,” she said. “I love the energy and enthusiasm of middle school students, and want to provide them with the tools for learning today – which means a modifiable classroom space.”

Lori Large, Fourth Grade Teacher

Lori Large, Fourth Grade Teacher

Introduce yourselves, please

Fourth grade teacher Lori Large uses her lunch hour to display All About Me pieces students wrote to introduce themselves to their classmates and teacher.  “I love teaching fourth graders,” Large says.

Rebecca Lehnert, Kindergarten Teacher, and Deb Anderson, Second Grade Teacher

Rebecca Lehnert, Kindergarten Teacher, and Deb Anderson, Second Grade Teacher

The power of a smile and clear expectations

Rebecca Lehnert loves teaching kindergartners. She greets her students with a smile every day and takes time to listen to their stories before gathering on the carpet for a learning activity. Second grade teacher Deb Anderson uses the same enthusiasm to inspire her students to want to learn. “Much of the start of the school year is setting up expectations in your classroom and in the school building,” she says. “Once students know the expectations and routines, it is easier for them to relax and to learn.”

Cody Brown, Fourth Grade Teacher, and Amy Greisch, Seventh Grade Teacher

Cody Brown, Fourth Grade Teacher, and Amy Greisch, Seventh Grade Teacher

A family where everyone belongs

Sharing ideas and supporting each other are natural parts of a union, and educators are spreading the word. Fourth grade teacher Cody Brown says his local union has always helped and supported him in times of strength and struggle. “My union strengthens my school because we put students at the center of the work we do while working with the school district administration to do what is best for kids,” he says. Seventh grade teacher Amy Greisch agrees. After 25 years of teaching and raising her own family in the community, she is still proud to belong to her union and gets excited when she sees former students – including her oldest daughter – entering the teaching profession and joining WEAC. “We are an organization of professionals,” she says.

WEAC campaign promotes key role of union for public school educators

Back_To_School_Video_350pxNationally, public schools will see about 250,000 new hires this school year. Wisconsin is part of that influx of new educators, and WEAC is welcoming all of them with a digital campaign that promotes the key role of union for public school educators. The videos are featured during the back-to-school season, and promoted on social media sites frequented by educators.

“WEAC is proud to promote the link between our union and excellence in the education professions,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, an eighth grade social studies teacher. “I’m sharing these videos on my Facebook page and with all the new educators I meet, and I hope all WEAC members do the same.”

Featuring new and longtime educators, the digital videos created in partnership with the NEA take a glimpse into how belonging to our union improves professional practice and makes a difference in the lives of our students. See the 90-second spots at, and share the shorter versions that are appearing on your social media networks to help spread the word.

The video series feature Josh Jackson, a fifth grade teacher; Patricia Ryan, a special education teacher; Tamara Schick, a sixth grade teacher; and Jeremy Pagel, a technical college instructor.

“I have been a WEAC member for three years and I joined because WEAC is on the front lines fighting for educators and the environment educators have in their classrooms,” Jackson says in the video ads.

“I joined WEAC because of the great opportunities and professional development they offer,” Ryan offers.

“As an educator, growth is important and WEAC supports that with whatever professional development an educator may need to continue to grow,” Schick says. “WEAC has made me a better teacher. WEAC is there to help you do a very tough job, every day.”

“I wouldn’t have survived my first few years without my fellow teachers, those veteran teachers who were there to advise me and help me grow,” Pagel adds.

We’re all in this together, and that means sharing the good work of union with our colleagues. If you know a WEAC member who would be a great fit for our video campaign in the future, email

View the 90-second videos here:

New WEAC President wants to raise level of respect for the education professions


Eau Claire teacher Ron Martin, who takes over as WEAC President on Monday, feels strongly that we must restore respect to the education professions and create an environment that makes young people want to become educators.

“We have to figure out ways to encourage people to go in the profession and bring people back to what is an admirable profession,” Martin said in an interview this week with WISC News. He said it’s also important to lift up school support staff – paraprofessionals, bus drivers, secretaries, cooks and others – who are an extremely valuable part to everyday school life.

Martin, a social studies teacher and former president of the Eau Claire Association of Educators, has been an educator for more than 20 years. He succeeds Racine teacher Betsy Kippers, who is retiring. Marshfield High School English teacher Peggy Wirtz-Olsen will take over Monday as WEAC Vice President, a position held by Martin for the last three years.

Martin is a longtime student council advisor for Eau Claire’s South Middle School and was the Altoona High School head volleyball coach for more than a decade as well an advisor for the Where Everybody Belongs orientation program for sixth-graders.

He has directed faith-based youth programs and ministries was a member of the Board of Directors for the Greater Eau Claire United Way. He has been the president of the Eau Claire Patriotic Council for over a decade, spearheading Memorial Day celebrations and more in the area.

When he was elected WEAC President at the WEAC Representative Assembly this spring, Martin told delegates he is honored to be elected WEAC President.

“Like you I believe wholeheartedly in the profession and what we do,” he said. “I believe in our union and the power we have to transform public education and to continue to serve as its guardians.

“I truly believe our organization will be a new exciting organization that represents the voices of tens of thousands of educators all across this state. We will be known all over this state as the premiere association of educators who advocate for a diverse democratic society and quality public education. We will be known by educators as the union that promotes and advances professional practice, personal growth, as well as the economic welfare and rights of our members.”

Read the entire WISC News article:

WEAC head learns some lessons in Mauston

It’s no secret that Wisconsin, like many states in the nation, is facing a teacher shortage. Ron Martin, the Eau Claire Middle School teacher set to take over as the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) Aug. 1, wants to help – and he received some inspiration from a Juneau County teacher.

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