Menominee Indian High School teacher Benjamin Grignon presented WEAC’s Excellence in Education Award

WEAC President Ron Martin presents WEAC’s Excellence in Education Award to Menominee Indian High School teacher Benjamin Grignon.

WEAC President Ron Martin on Wednesday presented WEAC’s Excellence in Education Award to Menominee Indian High School teacher Benjamin Grignon. The award was presented in Grignon’s classroom, in front of students, family members and colleagues.

In presenting the award, Martin quoted one of Grignon’s nominators who said: “Ben’s role as a teacher is not simply to teach art; rather his is the simultaneous honor and obligation to preserve and teach traditional Menominee arts, culture and language through his classroom. He is more accurately described as an art-informed anthropologist, tasked with keeping Menominee Nation traditions alive through education. I cannot overstate how important this work is as the primary teacher working to insulate his nation’s culture and traditions from being lost through time and diffusion.”

One of Grignon’s students wrote: “He is passionate about his students and values that knowledge as power. He provides his classes great learning opportunities and opens doors for all of us. His ability to spread his teaching is one of the most important resources this community has.”

In accepting the award, Grignon thanked his students and said he is honored to pass on traditions to them and hopes they pass them on from there. “It’s important that those teachings remain, and that we uphold that as the Menominee People,” he said.

Grignon has previously been named a Wisconsin 2019 High School Teacher of the Year, and Martin said the WEAC Excellence in Education Award is in effect WEAC’s own “Teacher of the Year” Award. Fourteen excellent educators from across the state were nominated for the WEAC award this year, and four were selected as award recipients: Grignon; Waukesha teacher Sarahi Monterrey; Joanna Rizzotto, a South Milwaukee alternative learning coordinator/teacher; and Sandra Kowalczyk, a Sun Prairie school reading specialist.

Students, family members and colleagues join Benjamin Grignon as he accepts WEAC’s Excellence in Education Award.

Read Across America unveils new look

Our student populations are ever-changing and evolving and every year there are new children’s books that reflect that diversity. That’s why NEA’s Read Across America is rebranding with a new logo to appeal to students of all ages and backgrounds and a continued mission of “Celebrating a Nation of Diverse Readers.”

Of course, children still love Dr. Seuss, and his birthday on March 2. Also, Read Across America Day is still an ideal time for a school-wide reading event when you can serve green eggs and ham, but with the broadened scope of NEA’s Read Across America, there are activities, resources, and ideas to keep students reading all year long.

A colorful printed calendar and an interactive resource calendar (find it at readacrossamerica.org) offers book suggestions for different age groups and provides ideas for applying lessons from the books to the classroom.

Kicking off this school year, the book for August 2019 was All Are Welcome Here. No matter how you start your day, what you wear, when you play. Or if you come from far away. All are welcome here.

The lively picture book sends a clear message that our public schools are places where every child is welcome. The calendar suggests hosting a community-building back-to-school event that opens opportunities for talking about individual differences, diversity, and how we can learn from each other.

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.

Students need more resources and program support, WEAC President Martin says

The state Department of Public Instruction is reporting that standardized test results for the 2018-19 school year show a slight decline from the previous year.

“Wisconsin Public School educators are working hard every day to educate the whole child – academically, socially and emotionally,” said Ron Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “The annual standardized test scores measure academic achievement at one point in time, and at the start of a new school year educators welcome everyone in our communities to discuss how, together, we can address increasing barriers to learning including strapped school budgets, student poverty, trauma and mental health concerns.”

In addition to successfully advocating for more school funding in the 2019-21 state budget, WEAC has increased the number of programs it offers to help teachers and support professionals understand and teach students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Working toward solutions to the teacher shortage is also key, and WEAC is advancing a series of recommendations from a statewide salary system to improving school climates, all outlined in its 2019-20 white paper, Moving Education Forward.

According to the DPI, four in 10 Wisconsin students were proficient or advanced in the 2018-19 school year. For English, reading and writing, 39.3 percent of students met proficiency standards on the Wisconsin Forward Exam, down from 40.6 percent in 2017-18 and 42.7 percent in 2016-17. In math, 40.1 percent met the proficiency standard, down a point from the previous year. Wisconsin has set the bar high to achieve proficiency, with one of the highest cut scores in the nation which are aligned to National Assessment of Educational Progress scores. 

ACT scores dropped for 11th graders, who had an average of 19.5. That was down from 19.7 in 2018 after the average had been 20 in each of the two prior years. Previously, only students who were preparing for college and those taking college-preparatory courses took the ACT, but in recent years all high school juniors have been given the test, whether or not they are enrolled in college prep courses.

The state’s achievement gap between white and minority students narrowed slightly, but due largely to a decrease in performance by white students. For example, the percentage of white fifth graders who rated proficient or advanced in English dropped 4.6 percentage points, while scores were down 1.6 points for African American fifth graders. Martin noted that educators are organizing in school districts across the state to push back on increasing class sizes that prevent them from giving students the one-on-one attention they deserve. 

The decrease in overall scores is slight, and Martin said the years of defunding public schools under the previous governor have a definite impact.

“Years of defunding public schools take a toll on the resources available for our students,” Martin said. “While a first step toward restoring some of the lost funding has been taken with the 2019-21 state budget, the damage won’t be repaired overnight.”

Martin noted that even with overwhelming public support for more education funding in the just-passed budget, Republicans in the legislative majority made deep cuts to Governor Tony Evers’ initial education budget plan. “The lack of support demonstrated by the legislative majority has a direct impact on general and special education school aids, preventing our most vulnerable students from getting the services and resources they need.”

Private voucher schools, which are increasingly enrolling students from affluent communities under the statewide voucher program, did not test nearly 10 percent of their students, even though they are required to give the state tests and are funded by taxpayers. Public schools, which serve all students no matter where they live or their economic status, posted a 98 percent participation rate.

Together, working through our union, we can ‘reach, teach and inspire the students’

In a video message, WEAC President Ron “Duff” Martin welcomes educators back for another exciting school year and encourages them to continue their outstanding work on behalf of the children of Wisconsin.

“The work you do as public school educators is incredibly important, and I know that you give it your all. We make sure that every kid gets a great public education,” he says.

“WEAC is listening to our members, to educators all across the state. We’re spending time in classrooms, we’re spending time in communities, and we’re coming up with solutions that will help make the job more enjoyable for our educators but more importantly to make sure that everyone thrives in our public schools. 

“This school year, WEAC invites you to be part of the solution. Join our family, the WEAC Team, so that we can reach, teach and inspire students. Wisconsin educators, welcome to a new school year!”

weac.org/Join