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.