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.