“Our members are what make our local strong,” shared Alexandra Agar-Pratt, President of the United Lakewood Educators-Watertown Chapter and middle school science teacher in the STEM program. “We have veteran teachers who have been members for their entire career and newer members who are just entering the profession who want to get involved with our local. We are working to provide opportunities for all members to engage in our local and to work together to make our union strong.”
Tressa Smail, a fourteen-year veteran and English teacher for grades 6-8 in the STEM program, credits their strength with the culture of their local. Tressa shared, “it’s the feeling that people are looking out for each other. While we may not always agree, we want our colleagues to be strong and our schools to be strong. In our local, we listen to one another, we respect one another, and all voices are heard.”
“ULE-Watertown is so strong because of the dedicated leadership and the members staying informed. We also maintain a mutually respectful relationship with our administration that involves most importantly, good communication,” high school teacher Tim Suski shared with me.
ULE-Watertown has been actively engaged in membership recruitment and has seen consistent membership growth. When asked how they have accomplished this, Alexandra shared, “we have made communication with our members a priority. For a local with 132 members, we are seeing 100+ views of our newsletter each month.”
Tressa echoed this sentiment, saying “after attending WEAC’s Summer Leadership Academy last year, our team set a goal of better communication with our members. We asked ourselves how we could be a better voice and how we could best share out the work that our union is doing, which led to a monthly newsletter. We’ve also made 10-minute meetings a priority, holding them every other month, which gives us a chance to share local, state, and national topics, opportunities, and to listen to members’ needs.” In the buildings without a building lead, other ULE-Watertown members volunteer to host the meeting to ensure all buildings are involved and engaged.
This local has also been powerful advocates for all educator colleagues in the district. ULE-Watertown has secured consistent cost of living increases yearly and no health insurance premium increases last year, despite the district’s initial plan to impose dramatic changes to their health insurance. “We have a good working relationship with school district administration and are able to recommend members to serve on important district committees like educator and extra-curricular compensation and school calendar. Having our members at those tables as a part of the conversation is important to all of us,” Alexandra told me. They are also currently actively engaged in making handbook language changes that their members have identified as important.
ULE-Watertown also believes that having the best equipped educators in the classroom benefits everyone in their schools and community. This view leads their local to actively seek out professional development. Alexandra shared, “We have an active National Board Teacher Certification Cohort in Watertown with new members stepping up to be a part of strengthening the profession.”
As far as advice to other locals, Alexandra recommended, “local leaders should be constantly looking for opportunities for member involvement. Members want to be involved in a variety of ways, and leaders must figure out how to utilize differing experiences and differing passions of their members to provide opportunities to grow and strengthen the collective.”
According to Tim, “to maintain a strong union you have to keep bragging to everyone, union or not, about all of the accomplishments you achieve.” You also need to invite your colleagues, new and experienced, to join with you.
Tressa shared, “other locals needs to attend WEAC’s Summer Leadership Academy. We had the opportunity to spend quality time together as a leadership team, to learn, and to get fired up about our work in the coming year. Our local has been able to build on that throughout the year as we fight the good fight for our school and our students.”
One other piece of advice from Alexandra, “local leaders need to create avenues for increasing educator voice in their school districts. We have found that building on our positive relationships and being strong and clear with administration and the public that we are the people in classrooms with students all day, every day, therefore we should be part of the decisions in the district.”
WEAC says Thank You to the United Lakewood Educators-Watertown Chapter for their continued advocacy and strong leadership in maintaining educator voice.