By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President
When I asked Brian Schils, President of the River Falls Education Association, what he believes has contributed to the RFEA’s success and strength as a local, he said, “It’s our core group of committed union members who believe in working on the issues that are important to our educators.”
Brian talked with me about the structure in the River Falls Education Association, noting that leaders meet monthly as a team. Brian also talked about the time that the River Falls EA spends meeting with district-level and building-level administration on behalf of students and colleagues. “Our core group meets consistently about issues that matter to educators, and we get back to our members about what’s decided,” he said,
Christine Muenich, one of the River Falls EA Co-Vice Presidents, said the key to their success is simple, “Persistence.” While that sounds simple, we all know that it isn’t. Building a schedule for your local association at the start of the year, including dedicated time to meet as a team and having the opportunity to sit down with administration to share concerns, are critically important pieces of success, but not giving up is the key to success.
“In this work, you don’t always get what you want,” Christine said. “You have to keep bringing it back around because some people don’t connect the dots right away. You have to help them to see the needs you are expressing.”
The River Falls Education Association has a history of strength. The RFEA has an open relationship with the local school board, and leaders have worked to cultivate relationships with both building-level and district-level administration. Members remain actively engaged in the political process, with a school board election coming up this April. The RFEA takes time to give each candidate a questionnaire and then interviews the candidates who are seeking a post on the school board. Through their process, the members make decisions about the candidates and vote to endorse the candidates that they believe will represent their students, families, and members, as well as work well with other school board members. “We can’t always control what happens politically on the state and national level, but what happens here in River Falls is so close to all of us. We work to educate on the issues and to get out the vote” Christine said.
Brian mentioned the RFEA’s involvement last spring in the Teacher Voice Project. The association sent a middle school team last year to be a part of the Teacher Voice Project, a project in conjunction with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction that seeks to give real voice in decision-making to educators. The RFEA team, working with a supportive middle school principal, built a framework for shared decision-making based off of the model that they were using building-wide. Their project sought to formalize the model of shared decision-making and to move it district-wide in River Falls. Brian was excited by the Teacher Voice Project, and is actively engaged in a similar initiative of a Teacher Voice Project in WEAC Region 1 this spring.
In our conversation, both Christine and Brian mentioned the RFEA’s strong results in their recertification efforts over the past few years, with well over 70% of those eligible voting in favor of recertification for the River Falls Education Association.
“It is clear that our members and potential members support our work,” Brian told me. “We have been able, through our work, to remain viable to our members because we listen to their needs and concerns.”
When I asked Christine about advice she would offer to other locals struggling in Wisconsin, she said, “Make time to listen to your colleagues. Don’t assume you already know how they feel or what is on their minds. Ask them.”
Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.