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In Andy Waity’s first year as Madison Teachers Inc. president, he and Madison Metropolitan School District officials worked to establish an employee handbook.
The process took major collaboration just a few years after Act 10, which prohibited the collectively bargained agreements of years past.
Six years later, Waity’s tenure came to an end amid a series of confrontations with district officials, from parameters to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic to a major change in that same employee handbook, when the School Board voted to limit the importance of tenure in staff layoff decisions.
Those and other disputes played out publicly. Waity said this demonstrated the complicated nature of education.
“There's always going to be conflict, because you've got a lot of folks who are trying to do what they think is right,” Waity said. “If there was an easy answer to educating, then everybody would be doing it and we wouldn't be having any of these (disagreements).”
Waity has passed the reins to Michael Jones, who was most recently the dean of students at West High School. Waity will remain with MTI as a professional staff representative. Jones steps into the role at a critical time for both MTI and MMSD, with a new executive director at the former and superintendent at the latter, both having started in those positions in 2020.
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Jones was elected by MTI’s members this spring among a field of three candidates. He said he’s felt a good sense of collaboration.
“Our education system should demand transparency and honesty at all times,” Jones said. “Not just catering to making people feel good all the time. We've taken some very positive steps, both in terms of how we're collaborating with the district, and also how we're holding the district accountable for things they are doing, or said they would do and then didn't do.”
Each term for MTI president is two years, and a bylaw change in 2017 created a two-term limit for any president.
Waity recalled two goals when he began as president in 2015. One was writing the handbook, which they accomplished almost immediately. The other was a much broader project: “to make every school a place where I would want to work and where I would want my children to attend.”
“We want our district, our schools to be that place where every student, every family, every staff member feels valued, feels important and gets what they need,” Waity said. “There's things that went well and things that didn't go as well, but overall I'm thankful and impressed with the members that I work with every day.”
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Jones hopes to continue the work of recent years, particularly the focus on social justice and making MTI an anti-racist organization. But, Jones stressed, “no one person makes everything happen within MTI.” He hopes that by the time his two- or four-year tenure ends, he’ll see more diverse representation among the district’s staff and union’s leadership.
Instead of saying “we did this 30 years ago and if it ain't broke, don't fix it,” Jones said, he wants to encourage change because it's the right thing to do, to help students and members alike, and to "help our community feel empowered."
“It’s lifelong work,” Jones said. “But hopefully we can empower and help the people that come behind us to do a better job than the ones we did. That’s what it’s all about.”