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
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
"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
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
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
"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.