Spotlight on Locals: West Salem Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen presents Ryan Waldhart and Heather Jehn, Co-Presidents of the West Salem Education Association, with the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate, as members of the West Salem Education Association gather proudly wearing their Red for Ed shirts.  

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

When asked what makes the West Salem Education Association (WSEA) strong, Terri Martinson, 7th grade English Language Arts teacher who has been teaching for 34 years, said, “We have strong, honest leadership who communicate well with our members. Ryan Waldhart has done a great job getting out the word about what the WSEA does for educators and our district.”  The West Salem Education Association has put together updates about their successes in postcard format and taped those to classroom doors throughout the building.  

Ryan Waldhart, 6th- through 8th-grade instrumental music teacher and co-president of the WSEA, shared, “Our strength is the open dialogue we have in our district. We openly voice our concerns with members of leadership and the school board, and they will listen to us.”

Heather Jehn, 6th-grade math teacher and co-president of the WSEA, echoed Ryan’s sentiments saying, “Our strength is we can have face-to-face conversations to address our concerns, and we can see immediate results due to our small size. It helps us to continue to build membership when educators see good changes happening here.”  

As far as local level advocacy, Susi Holm, high school math teacher in her 25th year, told me, “Our leaders and members of our WSEA Executive Board are not afraid to address situations with district leadership and with our local school board. We also have building representatives share out news from WEAC Region 4 via their newsletter through hand delivery. This personal contact helps members know what their union is doing, keeps them involved, and allows for a chance to bring forward any advocacy needs.” 

At the beginning of the school year, the West Salem Education Association was invited to address the entire staff at the all district in-service. Susi said, “We haven’t had this opportunity since 2011, and having us back at this event with all returning staff and our new teachers is so important.” 

In terms of membership growth, WSEA signed up three new members already this fall. “WSEA is advocating for students, for smaller class sizes, and for relevant professional development opportunities. We are headed in the right direction and have positive momentum in our local,” Ryan told me.  

Terri shared, “It takes face-to-face conversation with our new hires to help them understand why being a WSEA member is important because they just don’t have a union history. When we are patient, many join our local in their second and third years in the profession.”  

“We meet people where they are. We get to know their needs and connect with them,” Heather pointed out.   

Ryan said, “In the West Salem Education Association, we provide opportunities for all educators to grow. We are working to introduce ourselves to our young educators, to share the good work we are doing, and to invite them to grow stronger with us.”

WEAC says thank you to the West Salem Education Association, a growing local, building camaraderie among their colleagues and unified on behalf of their students.

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.