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Teacher-coach hopes to avoid strike in District 304

GENEVA – Rob Wicinski is one teacher in Geneva School District 304 who hopes officials and the teachers union can agree on a new contract without a strike.

Talks have broken down and the teachers union has filed an intent to strike notice. But the 49-year-old earth science teacher and football coach at Geneva High School is one teacher who has actually been through a strike.

“If you go to strike, shame on everybody,” Wicinski said. “There is always room to move; you can always talk. What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Wicinski taught earth science and was football coach at Niles North in Niles Township High School District 219 when the teachers went on strike for 14 days in November 1996 in a dispute over salaries.

“The first day was hunky-dory,” Wicinski said. “We had hot chocolate. After a while, we started hating administrators, but we kept plodding away. The next thing, you start hating the [school] board. Then you start hating your fellow teachers. The next day, you start hating yourself. It was just a bad scene.”

Wicinski was married with two small children and a wife at home, so between intervals of picketing, he and other teachers painted houses to have income. By the time the strike ended, Wicinski’s spirit was battered and he was ready to leave.

“I had a young buck in my department who had an interview at Geneva,” Wicinski said. “He comes back and he says, ‘This town, this place – this is right in your wheelhouse.’ ”

And he was right. Wicinski took a job in Geneva as an interim teacher for a woman on maternity leave. He sold his house and left his coaching position without the guarantee of a job beyond one year.

“I went without a safety net, and they ended up hiring me,” Wicinski said. “I love this place.”

The difference between the atmosphere at Niles and Geneva was day and night, he said.

“It was Shangri-La in Geneva – everybody got along,” Wicinski said. “At Niles, it was them against us. We are all a team, all in this together in Geneva. At Geneva, it was all us.”

Wicinski said he is not a member of the Geneva Education Association. He has not worn a green T-shirt of solidarity, never been to a school board meeting, not joined the informational pickets – and did not even know the union had teachers wearing buttons promoting a contract.

If teachers strike, Wicinski said he is not sure he would picket, but he would not cross the picket line. Still, Wicinski holds out hope that a settlement will happen without a strike.

“It’s a lose-lose for everybody,” Wicinski said. “I have got a lot of faith in Geneva. I believe that cooler minds will prevail.”

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