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: 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.