I submitted this letter today, with tears in my eyes and hope in my heart. I am sharing it with you because I am truly saddened by what things have come to in Wisconsin and because I think as we deal with contracts, and are often caught up in their financial components, we shouldn’t lose sight of how public education is about students and successful communities.
Dear members of the Janesville Board of Education:
I am writing you today to encourage you to negotiate new contracts with your employees. Alternatively, as a minimum, I am writing to ask that you provide clear and binding guidance to teachers at or approaching retirement age so that they can make a decision as to whether to submit their retirement by your April 15 deadline.
Some might say this letter is biased, as once you read my last name, it will be fairly obvious that I have a parent in the district who is at or approaching retirement eligibility. And I will openly admit that this letter is biased, but not for the reasons one might conclude from my last name.
It is biased because I am a product of the Janesville public schools and, more specifically, Janesville teachers. My success is in large part their success. In kindergarten, as I struggled to learn to read, my teacher told my parents I would be an average student. As years went on, I loved school. I loved my teachers and the excitement of discovering new adventures with every new piece of knowledge. I became an A student. In 1999, I was valedictorian of my class, because of the hard work and encouragement of my parents, but also because of my teachers.
Today, as I serve on the Dane County Board of Supervisors representing my constituents, I remember how Mr. Eyster, whose passion for civics and government were at times intense but always contagious, taught me to research both sides of an issue. When writing legal briefs, advocacy letters, and research memos, I think of Mrs. Szemraj’s and Ms. Adams’ thoughtful comments on my writing assignments and all I learned from them about framing a message. I think of Mr. Kerbel, who patiently explained so many topics to me – including labor history – despite my relentless questions. I think of Ms. Wilcox, whose class was a burst of sounds juxtaposed against other classes where students more quietly put pen to paper instead of bow to strings. Whenever I see a sandhill crane, I think of Mr. Eicher, whose biology class taught me to appreciate the world around us. I think of Mr. Madden, who taught me math and critical thinking and whose lessons I use nearly every week in analyzing finances and budgets and spreadsheets – and who told me that I could be anything I want. I could name numerous other teachers to this list who shaped me into who I am.
Today, however, I think about how every teacher whose name I just listed – every single one – is a teacher who dedicated many years of their lives to Janesville’s students, and how Janesville’s history of collaboration instead of confrontation and of rewarding longevity as part of its contract is probably one reason why I was so fortunate to have experienced, energetic teachers. I want to protect that. I want to say I grew up in a great community whose values are in the right place. I want to have a community of well-educated, engaged students who have learned so much from their teachers, the way I did. I want those students to not only be prepared to go out into our community and do great things but to also believe that they can because their own version of Dan Madden told them so. I want those students to succeed, to contribute to our tax base, to contribute to our community, and to make sure that despite inevitable change, Janesville remains the vibrant community where I grew up.
So, I suppose you would be right to call this letter biased. Because I am very personally invested in making sure that the knowledge and values I acquired don’t go by the wayside just because some legislators and a governor decided to push collective bargaining to the side.
You have the opportunity to do the right thing, not just for teachers who have served the district well, but for all of the current and future students who, like me, will benefit from an amazing education from even more amazing teachers.