By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — Kim Mead of Edmonds smiled with satisfaction at the sight of 1,000 fellow educators singing, chanting and cheering on the steps of the state Capitol.
They arrived in buses early Saturday morning to pressure lawmakers wrestling with how and where to fund the state’s education system to create smaller class sizes and offer decent pay.
That’s long been a battle cry of the Washington Education Association, and it will continue to be after Mead becomes leader of the state’s most powerful union of public school teachers this summer. She won election as the WEA’s president late Friday night.
“My specific goal is to make sure education remains number one in our legislators’ minds,” she said. “The work in front of us is great, but the rewards for our members and our students are worth the hard work.”
Educators want smaller class sizes because they know it will help improve student achievement, she said. They also want cost-of-living adjustments that voters approved with Initiative 732 but lawmakers have not funded in recent years due to budget shortfalls.
If it happens again this year, the WEA will consider going to the ballot to deal with the concern. “It may be something we need to do,” she said.
Mead, the current president of the Everett Education Association, will begin a two-year term in July and earn $145,000 a year. She will succeed Mary Lindquist, who is finishing her third term guiding the 82,000-member association and could not run again because of term limits.
Most WEA members are certificated public school teachers but the union represents noncertificated classified personnel in several districts. Its membership also includes faculty at 10 community and technical colleges, the three regional universities — Western, Central and Eastern — plus Evergreen State College.
She captured the seat in a run-off with WEA Vice President Mike Ragan of Federal Way. Oak Harbor Education Association President Peter Szalai also sought the position but did not advance to the final round of balloting.
Mead inherits an ongoing challenge of keeping educators enthused, mobilized and engaged in constructive conversations with lawmakers who this year are negotiating how to raise and spend an additional $1 billion in elementary and secondary schools.
That won’t be a problem because she is very easy to talk with and she’s a good listener, said Jenny Steele, a middle school counselor and Everett Education Association board member.
“She knows how to put the members’ needs first and make it into a meaningful action,” she said. “It’s just a win for WEA to have Kim be our president-elect.”
Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, a former teacher, led the Everett Education Association for 18 years before handing the baton to Mead. In 1986, he recruited her to take on a more active role in the Everett local. “She’s articulate. She doesn’t hesitate to stand up for what she believes,” he said.
Mead, 53, is a native of Bellingham with family ties in public education and politics.
Her grandfather was a custodian in Bellingham schools and her mom, too, in both Bellingham and Everett school districts. Her father served in the Legislature. And Mead’s husband, Lindsay, is an Everett school teacher.
She taught middle school in Everett before becoming the Everett Education Association president in 2000. She now serves on the WEA executive committee and represents the state on the board of the National Education Association.
Policymaking is only part of the job. Mead will be deeply involved WEA efforts to elect candidates who support their principal concerns and oppose those who do not.
“If you’re in public education it is a political position. There is no choice,” she said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.