By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President
“Good people with strong ethics who believe in contributing to the greater good are what makes the Onalaska Education Association strong,” President of the Onalaska Education Association, DJ Ehrike, told me. DJ also touted the OEA’s membership growth over the last two years saying, “We have been actively recruiting using the one-to-one conversation model with our building leaders who have strong relationships with their colleagues.” Additionally, DJ told me, “We also have been able to recruit a positive building representative in every one of our buildings.”
Molly Baker, elementary art teacher and OEA Secretary, echoed DJ’s sentiments saying, “We’ve established building reps in every building and strong communication between the building representatives, the executive board, and the members. We’ve also worked diligently to build communication between the OEA and district administration. When we start with common ground like promoting public education, it’s easier to build support. Our work in the Onalaska Education Association is often around things that we can all agree on, which helps others to recognize that the work of our union benefits everyone.”
Christiana Martin, elementary music teacher, told me, “A key to our success has been to be a positive influence in the school district and the community. We’ve worked to build a positive image for the Onalaska Education Association in our community through OEA’s local scholarships which are creatively funded through collecting payment from educators for wearing jeans on designated days. The OEA also founded the annual turkey drive around the holidays, which has now expanded as a collaborative effort with the school district to feed families in need during the holidays. Our colleagues see all of the positive work that the OEA is doing, the influence that we have, and what we offer that is helpful to new teachers starting out, and they join.”
When I asked for advice, DJ mentioned, “Leaders can’t do this work alone. Every local President needs to grow a team of positive and passionate colleagues who believe in our students and our public schools, and then find a way to delegate.”
Christiana said, “As advice goes, emails from someone you don’t know are easy to delete, and fliers of information are easy to throw away, but face-to-face contact with a colleague in your building is difficult to walk away from. When we make the effort to talk with our colleagues with whom we have influence about the Onalaska Education Association, they listen.”
“Build a core group that you can count on to spread your message,” Molly told me. “We can all work to promote an excellent public education system.”
DJ’s positive attitude about the work is evident as he ended our conversation with, “Even with our success, we see room for improvement. We will continue this work until every one of our colleagues is a member.”
Thank you to DJ, Molly, Christiana, and all of the members of the Onalaska Education Association for your hard work and dedication, and congratulations on being named a WEAC Strong Local Affiliate.
Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.