Feb 23

Spotlight on Locals: Beloit Education Association

Stephanie Rapach (left) and Kirah Zeilinger (center), both active leaders of the Beloit Education Association, joined WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen to accept the certificate recognizing the BEA as a Strong Local Affiliate.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

Tim Vedra, President of the Beloit Education Association, is a seasoned, well-respected leader with 16 years of experience as the local president.  When I asked him about the success of the BEA, he touted the association’s ability to create positive relationships with district leadership and members of the school board.

“We are partners in the school district,” Tim said.  “We reach out to one another when issues arise in the school district.”

Kirah Zeilinger shared how this good relationship led to their ability to get just cause language inserted into the district handbook, a recent success story for the BEA. When I asked Tim, he said, “It took months of meetings with the district, and we’ve been working on this for years. The district finally realized that since they have been following proper discipline procedures, just cause wouldn’t be a hindrance to how they were already operating.”

In addition to handbook advocacy, the BEA has been actively involved in school board races, which has resulted in a positive, pro-education school board. “Our school board views teachers and employees as important members in the education community,” Tim said. “They want to listen to what we have to say about making our schools better for our students and all who work with them.”

When I asked Tim about advice to local leaders who don’t have the kind of positive working relationship with their school board or their district leadership, he said, “Open the lines of communication with anyone who will extend the hand. That could be the superintendent, business manager, your building principal, or any member of the school board. Show them that the union isn’t always looking to fight but is here to provide productive, positive solutions that are good for students.”

The Beloit Education Association finds a way to get as many people as possible involved in the work of the association. Tim mentioned the leadership from those with 40 years of experience, to leaders like him with 20 years in the profession, down to those with only a few years. “The pipeline of people continues to help us change and grow with today’s needs,” Tim said. He also pointed out that with so many leaders in training and wanting to help, they have a project for anyone who is interested.

James Hoey, BEA first vice president, echoed this sentiment when he said, “We get many people involved in socials throughout the year. We hold a Back to School event in the fall, a holiday event in December and an event at the end of the year.” James said that personal invites are a key to good attendance at these events and that they invite all the new hires, members and potential members to their socials.

Melissa Rohrbeck, leader in Beloit Education Association, shared how the local uses social events to give back to the community of Beloit. “The BEA partners with the School District of Beloit to sponsor a program which provides a book to each newborn baby born in March,” Melissa said. This program is popular and gets the BEA’s name out to families early on in their child’s education.” Melissa also mentioned the food drives and clothing drives that the BEA sponsors as a part of giving back to the community.

Kirah Zeilinger, another strong Beloit Education Association leader, highlighted the BEA’s role in the WEAC Organizing Institute for Anchor Locals training this past January. At the training, the BEA shared its work in a successful approach to training building representatives in the local. During the training, each local participating was given a block of time to engage in planning for membership growth in the local association during the upcoming spring. Kirah said, “During the planning session at the Anchor Locals training, we took the time to put together a plan for a social event after one of our professional development days for our new hires. It was great to get a jump start on this planning as another way to follow-up with these new educators who we spent a half day with back in August.”

When I asked the BEA leadership about advice they could offer to locals statewide, Melissa said, “We have had times when we felt defeated in our work, but we always found a way to see a small victory and build on it.”

“All important work begins with a plan,” Tim said. Strong locals spend time planning, work their plan, assess the results, and then communicate with members and potential members about their victories. Tim also said, “The Beloit Education Association creates a plan every summer where we set our targets and goals for the upcoming year. We involve the building representatives and the Executive team.”

Melissa said, “The time that we take to prepare for having one-to-one conversations, training our building representatives, and mapping our buildings is time well spent.”

James told me that they have been engaged in this strategic planning process for years, pointing out that they discuss how to have conversations with potential members about, “What does the union mean to us? What’s our story and how do we tell others about why we are members?” James described this planning process as a commitment to one another on what they are going to work on, who is going to be involved, and then an assessment of how things went.

Then, he said, at the end of the year, the association writes a letter to members about what the BEA accomplished. The letter includes the big victories and those goals that are still being worked on.

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