[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                     March 14, 2008

State Superintendent speaks 
at Women's History luncheon

By Rob Schuette, The Real McCoy Staff

      Education and public service go hand-in-hand for the guest speaker at the Fort McCoy Women's History Month observance.

      Elizabeth Burmaster, the Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said when she saw the invitation to speak at Fort McCoy she told her staff they had to make the event work with her schedule.

Photo: Elizabeth Burmaster addresses a Fort McCoy Women's History Month audience. (Photo by Allan Harding)
Elizabeth Burmaster addresses a Fort McCoy Women's History Month audience. (Photo by Allan Harding)

      Her father grew up on a farm near Sparta and always told the children stories about Camp McCoy.

      He was in the National Guard and eventually was called to service during World War II. After World War II, he went to work in the biochemistry field.

      Students in the state of Wisconsin school system are likewise supposed to become knowledgeable and skilled, but need corresponding service to correctly use that education, she said.

      "Your work in defending the country is the greatest service," she said to the people in the audience. "Take time to share your stories with students, talk to them and connect."

      The students will grow up in an era where the Global War on Terror is an important factor in their lives. Burmaster said she has a great appreciation for this because of her father.

      Burmaster's mother and grandmothers helped shape her current way of life as a third generation teacher. Her mother went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she majored in music as Burmaster did.

      "In those days, women couldn't be part of the marching band," Burmaster said. "So my mother and some of her female friends formed their own band."

      Burmaster took her mother's spirit to heart and didn't let the stereotypes that still existed in her early days of administration restrict her career. She noticed that some of the students in her musical classes did well in those classes but not in other classes, such as English or mathematics, or were otherwise truants.

      That eventually led her to apply for an assistant principal position in a middle school that had a number of similar students.

      "I may not have been the 6-foot-6-inch, male disciplinarian-type candidate they were looking for, but that became my first administrative job."       

      The district hired her in March on an interim basis until the end of the school year.  "The students rose to the occasion and turned the trend around," she said.

      Eventually, that led to Burmaster serving as the first woman principal at Madison West High School for almost 10 years. She worked to raise achievement for all students and close the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students, students of color, and their peers.

      When the state superintendent of schools retired, her friends encouraged her to run for the position, Burmaster said. She could bring a perspective to the position from right out of the schools.

      She prevailed over a field of nine candidates in a primary to win election to the nonpartisan office in 2001 and became the second woman State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Wisconsin. She was re-elected in 2005.

      In this role, Burmaster oversees more than 420 school districts with more than 2,100 schools and the state's public library system, which are at the foundations of a democracy, she said.

      "Politics can seem scary," Burmaster said. "But if you're not in it to be a career politician worrying about the next re-election, you can enjoy the office and do good things. I've surrounded myself with good people, the most important thing is they are good educators."

      Students have to be prepared for life because they will face a lifelong learning curve, she said.

      Master Sgt. Eric Doré, the Fort McCoy Equal Opportunity adviser, said he appreciated in the five years he has served in his current position that he had brought a number of speakers to the installation to help show the diversity that exists in the state.

      This was  his final event in the position.

      In his search of history, he found that history often has been written by white males.

      Doré said the guest speakers had brought many interesting stories to the installation, including Tammy Koening, a professional hunter.

      "Her hero was Annie Oakley, whose actions spoke louder than her words," Doré said. "I challenge all of you to let your actions speak louder than your words."

      The next Fort McCoy observance is Tuesday, April 29, the Days of Remembrance Observance (Holocaust) Luncheon, from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at McCoy's, building 1571.


[ Top of Page ]

[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]