Spotlight on Locals: Verona Area Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen (left) stands with (left to right) Verona Area Education Association Membership Chair Sarah Greenlaw, Grievance Chair Stacy Tremaine (holding the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate), Political Action Chair Barb Winger-Rourke, and Treasurer Tammy Makovec.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

Jill Thronson, who has been active with the Verona Area Education Association for 25 years and is a Building Representative for Stoner Prairie Elementary School, knows what keeps the VAEA strong: “Our tradition of consistent, strong local leadership.”

Jill told me that when her building was undergoing some challenges, she, along with her colleagues, stepped up on behalf of their students. “We worked to solve the concerns in our building by speaking up and working collaboratively with members of our dedicated parent group and our school board. Ultimately, our advocacy resulted in a change in building leadership and a more positive climate for our students, staff, and community.”

These success stories are common among our WEAC strong local affiliates as is the tradition of organizing for the common good in our schools. In fact, according to Sarah Greenlaw, membership chair, “The Verona Area Education Association is instrumental in connecting what is happening in the classroom with administration and keeping that communication present and alive. Our goal is to support our teachers so that they can do the important job of educating students.”

Barb Winger-Rourke, VAEA political action chair, said, “We are involved in local politics, and we endorse education and student-friendly local school board candidates. We also invite our school board members into our classrooms so that they can see first-hand what is happening in our schools.” Clearly, this goes a long way toward building positive relationships with members of the school board and in the community.

When I asked about other success stories, Jill told me, “The Verona Area Education Association also has one of the best retirement systems in the state because of the work of our local association.” Jill went on to say, “Our negotiators maintain a positive relationship with administration and members of our school board and that has led to a strong beginning teacher salary and maintaining strong benefits.”

Students and members are the clear priorities of the Verona Area Education Association. When I attended their new teacher event at the start of this school year where they signed up 24 out of 29 new hires, Sarah said, “As a new teacher, you may feel overwhelmed. It is good to know that smart people are working toward your best interests and providing you with the resources you need. This is what being a union member gives you.” Sarah also reminded us of U.S. history in talking about successes of labor in achieving the 5-day work week, an 8-hour workday, and advocating for pay, benefits, and safety protections for workers. Sarah told us, “In education, teachers gather together to advocate for students and our profession.”

Stacy Tremaine, VAEA grievance chair, said, “We have a handbook, and we offer continual suggestions to make this reflect our needs in the classroom, including a workload grid. Our work in the VAEA also offers a sick leave bank that protects all staff, but particularly new staff, when an unexpected illness strikes them or someone in their family.” Further demonstrating the ways in which the VAEA takes care of its members, Sarah said it best, “The VAEA is your professional family; we are a support system; we are a place to go with questions or for guidance.”

Knowing this to be true, WEAC is proud to call the Verona Area Education Association a WEAC Strong Local Affiliate and grateful to VAEA leaders and members for their hard work and dedication on behalf of their students, families, and community.

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