May 17

Spotlight on Locals: Freedom Education Association

Freedom Education Association President Mike Fogarty (center) receives the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate certificate from WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, with Freedom EA leaders (left to right) Sarah Kolakowski, Jen Fogarty, Margo Fox, Jonathon Awe, and Meredith Johnston-King.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

When I met with the members of the Freedom Education Association, they credited much of their current success to attending the WEAC Region 3 Listening Project. There, FEA leadership asked themselves where they wished to go as a local and made specific decisions about how to get there. At the Listening Project, their goals were two-fold: re-establish their local’s good name in the community and reinvigorate their members for positive relationships with administration.

Freedom EA President Mike Fogarty, said, “We knew that we had work to do in terms of public relations with our community, and we recommitted to funding our student scholarships through an event that benefitted the community.”

Middle School Building Representative Sarah Kolakowski said, “We had gone to funding our local scholarships through our members’ dues and lost the outreach with our members and the community in contributing to this valuable cause. Two years ago, we created the FEA Color Fund Run, and it was a clear success.” In terms of local promotion, “the FEA Color Fund Run shirts included our logo,” Jen Fogarty, FEA Secretary, said. “This is a fundraiser for students in our school district, and people want to do something fun to support students.”

Elementary Building Representative Margo Fox pointed out, “We had lost our voice on a number of items, including the calendar.” It was important for the FEA to bring in the broader voice of our teachers. So, we worked to create committees and involve our members on issues about which they were passionate. They have been able to enact positive change on professional development, where members are working toward becoming Google certified at the request of the FEA. Additionally, Jen said, “Through our collaborative efforts, we worked with administration on adjusting the Educator Effectiveness evaluation to be manageable for educators and administrators.”

Also critically important, Mike said, “We’ve been active in maintaining an open dialogue with the Board about our compensation model, so that it remains fair and teachers can see education as a viable career.”

Through its work with the Listening Project, the association also challenged another nearby local, the New London Education Association, to a friendly competition over participation in events like the Higher Education Day. Here, staff promoted an institution of higher learning by wearing T-shirts or sweatshirts from their alma mater or a school their child attends and made a $5 charitable donation. Another competition between these two locals was over the sale of “We Love Our Public Schools” bracelets at sporting events where the two high school rival teams played one another.

Not surprisingly, this work has paid off for the Freedom Education Association in other ways. Membership has increased from around 50 percent to close to 70 percent.  Additionally, FEA leaders are excited because their member recruits are other teachers who want to accomplish good things for their students and who want to be a part of positive change in the school district.

High School Building Representative Meredith Johnston-King attributed much of the success to the association’s student focus. “The work we do is about the kids,” she said. “We get our community and our members involved in projects that benefit our kids.”

Margo echoed that sentiment: “The Freedom EA makes our schools better for all students.”

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