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.