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Wisconsin Association Of School Councils

Educating, Engaging, and Empowering Young Leaders in Wisconsin

WASC History

Throughout the years, many individuals have donated their time and talents to assure the continuance of a viable state student council organization in Wisconsin. Without their support and contributions, the WASC would not have developed into one of the strongest student leadership development programs in the nation.

During this century, the WASC is anticipating continued success in meeting the leadership development needs of students and staff members in Wisconsin’s elementary and secondary schools.

Group of students posing on stage at WASC Conference

Click on each dropdown to learn more about WASC's history.

The Wisconsin Association of School Councils originated at the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1935 as the Wisconsin High School Student Council Association (WHSSCA).

For the first eleven years, the state conference was sponsored by and held at UW-Madison. During the eleventh state conference, while at a sponsors breakfast, Gerald Van Pool expressed his concern about the state organization and his disappointment about how the state conference and Association were being run. As a result he agreed to serve as the Executive Secretary to strengthen the loose-knit organization.

Van Pool served for one year (1946-47) before accepting a job at the National Student Council Association based in Washington, D.C. In 1947 the first state conference held away from the University was in Oshkosh. During this conference, Van Pool convinced the WHSSCA to join the national association.

The next major change in the Association happened in January of 1948 under the direction of Bernard A. Kennedy, Prairie du Chien, when the name of the Association changed from the WHSSCA to the Wisconsin Association of Student Councils (WASC) and the responsibility of publicizing the Association was turned over to the Executive Secretary. Term of office, 1947-1951.

The Association’s third Executive Secretary was George Heatherington who served this position for six years before becoming the postmaster of LaCrosse, 1951-1957. Ralph Mitby, Janesville, who served as Executive Secretary from 1957-1959, succeeded Heatherington. He retired at the end of 1959 to help take care of the 1960 National Conference that was going to be held at Janesville Junior and Senior High School.

In 1959, Donald A. Wendt, Madison, became Executive Secretary and would serve the Association for the next 13 years. The 1960’s proved to be difficult times for the WASC as protest were common and the demand for change was constant. But the WASC survived.

During this time span the monthly WASC Newsletter was created and the job as editor become the Executive Secretary’s responsibility. Another big change occurred in 1961 when the first WASC Summer Leadership Workshop was organized by Gerald Van Pool and Donald A. Wendt and held in Stevens Point.

In 1972, Larry Hanson, Plainfield, was elected the 6th Executive Secretary. During his one-year term, WASC achieved sponsorship by the Wisconsin Secondary School Administrators Association (WSSAA). This was accomplished after the development of a new constitution and by-laws for the organization. Ratification of the new constitution in October of 1973, bringing about major changes including the creation of a State Governing Board and Executive Committee consisting of an equal number of students and adults elected from six regions, with equal representation between the JAM schools (junior high and middle school) and the high schools; changing the state conference from fall to spring; and requiring each region to have two annual meetings. This change made the WASC the only student council organization in the country in which students and adults have an equal number of voting delegates. The Association established a monthly publication called NEWS NOTES in 1973.

The new constitution for the WASC and the subsequent sponsorship by WSSAA resulted in hiring Donald C. Larsen in the fall of 1973 as the first shared WSSAA/WASC Executive, serving the sponsoring organization as their Associate Executive Director and WASC as Executive Director, a position name change. In addition, the word “Student” was replaced with “School” in the organizational name, a term which more accurately described school membership organizations. The first WASC State Office was established in Stevens Point and moved to Madison in 1979. Several programs were started in the 1970s for students and advisors to improve their leadership skills.

1973 – Annual WASC Advisor Conference

1975 – Cheer/Pom Camps

1977 – Annual National Honor Society State Conference

1979 – Annual Elementary School State Conference

During the eighties, the State Conference reached the site capacity of 1300 delegates; advanced summer leadership camps were begun, association membership surpassed 400 schools, and an affiliate membership program for elementary schools was added; WASC sponsored the first Wisconsin Association of Cheer/Pom Coaches (WACPC) in 1988; initiated the State Advisor of the Year Program; and presented seminars on Student Handbooks and All-School Activity Codes.

The golden anniversary state conference in 1985, co-hosted by Madison LaFollette High School and Milwaukee Bay View High School, was a highlight of the decade. In 1988-89, the Warren E. Shull National Advisor of the Year program was started.

Association growth and change continued in the nineties. Two additional state offices were added to the Association representing JAM schools. Due to site capacity limits, the state conference was split into two separate conferences in 1992-93, High School and JAM. Mukwonago Parkview hosted the first JAM state conference. The fall WASC Officer/Advisor Conference, started in 1989, was expanded to two programs held at different sites in 1994.

The WASC Governing Board ratified the WASC FOUNDATION and ENDOWMENT organization on December 15, 1997. On the same date, the WASC TORCH BEARERS, an organization for individuals who have been affected by, involved with and interested in continued involvement with the WASC, came into existence. In 1999 the fifth level of leadership camp was started. On January 1, 1998, the shared executive officer position with the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA), the organization succeeding the Wisconsin Secondary School Administrators Association (WSSAA), was terminated due to the retirement of Donald C. Larsen from the role of AWSA Associate Director. However, he continued to serve WASC as their Executive Director until June 30, 2000.

Roger L. Chambers succeeded Donald Larsen as Executive Director in 2000, and Michelle McGrath succeeded Roger Chambers as Executive Director on July 1, 2005. Michelle McGrath took over as Executive Director in 2005, following 5 years of Roger Chambers’ leadership after Donald Larsen retired in 2000.

Once again, prior to McGrath's hiring, the association was struggling financially. The financial burden of becoming its own 501(c)(3), along with some of the budget cuts in schools led to financial hardship for the organization. However, with some creative problem solving and fiscally conservative budgeting, the association pulled through and within 3 years, came back stronger.

New programs were added to serve young people. In 2007, in collaboration with the WIAA, WADA, and UW-Madison, the IGNITE Student Leadership Summit was created. This conference brings all student leaders together including captains of sports teams, other co-curricular leadership, potential leaders, and more.

In 2009, in collaboration with the WIAA, AWSA, WADA, WAMLE, and the Milwaukee Bucks, the Spirit of Excellence Award was created to honor schools across Wisconsin for achieving excellence in leadership development, sportsmanship, and service. Schools that receive this award are honored on the court at a game by the Bucks and in a vignette that is aired state-wide during the WIAA Boys Basketball Tournament. This is the first time in history that the WASC and its member schools, on an annual basis, are showcased statewide in this capacity.

In 2010, the WASC partnered with Rotary District 6250 to co-facilitate RYLA- Rotary Youth Leadership Awards Program Camp, serving 150 students annually, a dramatic increase from their current numbers.

In 2014, Leadership Day with the Bucks was created. It includes a day of leadership development and learning provided by the WASC and then the opportunity to watch an evening Bucks game. It soon became the largest event serving young people for both the WASC and the Milwaukee Bucks.

In 2012, the WASC State Conference moved back to Madison, and in 2014 it reached record highs. Also in 2014, the State Conferences made the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal for our groundbreaking student leadership rally. Thousands of student leaders filled the Capitol Rotunda and front steps of the Capitol.

Another monumental moment for the WASC occurred in 2016, when the WASC won the bid and hosted the National Conference on Student Activities, the only time it's ever been in Wisconsin.

At the recommendation of students, Project Delta was created, a 3-day camp, to meet the needs of students unable to commit to our regular 5 -day camps. Unfortunately, after 3 years, in 2020, the program was eliminated due to lack of interest.

In 2018, the WASC hosted its first Day at the Capitol in conjunction with the Leadership Institute.

In 2018, student leadership positions were added. A Chief of Staff position to the Governing Board was added. This role serves as a liaison to the National Board and to the Executive Committee. The WASC also had its first student elected to serve at the state level in the Department of Justice Office of School Safety.

In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual State Conferences and Summer Leadership Camps were cancelled. A virtual State Conference was held in place of the typical in-person event. In the summer of 2020, the association brought alumni, partners, parents, administrators, students and advisors together to plan for the future of the WASC given the circumstances.

After 15 years in the role, Michelle McGrath stepped down in early 2021. Due the complexities of the position and the uniqueness of the situation, the organization struggled to find a long-term successor. On September 1, 2021, Bjorn Berg became Executive Director. Due to the impact of COVID, the creation of a Board of Directors, and years of changes in schools, the WASC found itself in one of the most challenging times in its history. The summer of 2021 saw the return of in-person SHS Summer Leadership Camp. WASC introduced the 3-day virtual summer program LeadX and hosted its first session with JAM students accross the state.

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