By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President
When I sat down with Madison Teachers Inc. President Andy Waity, he told me that MTI’s history of strong member leadership is its major source of strength. Andy made it clear that there is no shortage of folks who will step up and take on roles as needed in their local.
He gave the example of MTI’s work with the Community Schools Taskforce. This past fall, following a Community Schools training in Milwaukee, 14 members stepped up to ensure member voice in this focus for Madison schools.
The Madison Metropolitan School District has four Community Schools, and Andy referenced a few of the pillars of community schools that fit so well with their work in MTI. For example, if they are able to focus on equity and social justice as well as culturally responsive practices within a model of shared leadership, then so many conversations in the school buildings lead to actions and policies that benefit students. “We are part of building a collaborative, problem-solving process where the principal and administrative representatives collaborate with union leadership,” Andy said.
Working through this transition hasn’t been an easy road because the relationship between the local and the school district has had an “us-versus-them mentality,” Andy said. As leaders and members together, they are actively working to change the relationship and seeing positive results.
Andy pointed out that in this time without contracts, member voice is so important. Members need to be engaged in important discussions about their students and their schools without fear of repercussion. We both agreed that there is a negative impact on students when educators are silenced in their school buildings.
“Madison is a progressive place where community members rally around educators,” Andy said. He recognized how fortunate Madison educators are, and that due to their good fortune, they need to continue to take the lead on education related issues. “In this difficult time, it is our responsibility to leverage the role of educators in the community,” Andy said. “We need to be a strong voice to help with public schools across the country.”
When I asked him about what makes MTI unique, Andy indicated that the union’s structure is less hierarchical, which allows for flexibility. MTI has a collaborative problem-solving process in which every faculty rep gets training at his or her school. In having to make cuts, Building Representatives are empowered to handle building issues. I asked how they do this, and Andy said, “We provide trainings for our members and give strategies for success when advocating with administration.” And this is making quite a difference.
We all can agree MTI has a long history of strength as a local. Andy mentioned the culture of being a teacher in Madison means that you are an MTI member, especially because MTI has always been a force for public education.
Today, he refers to his local as “an evolving force that builds its strength within the membership.”
“We are not just one person or one entity,” Andy said. “We continue to build power as a collective when, as a group of members, we come together to change and evolve to our new circumstances.”
Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.