MUKILTEO — The new leader of the Mukilteo School District is all for having a life beyond the classroom.
Just ask her about a recent trip to Las Vegas to rock out to Def Leppard.
Alison Brynelson, 49, will take over as superintendent of the 15,000-student district Jan. 1.
The appointment comes only three weeks after Marci Larsen announced her retirement from leading the district the past 16 years.
Brynelson is an insider, with 22 of her 27 years of education experience in the district. Positions include Voyager Middle School principal and district student services director. She has been deputy superintendent since 2016.
“What I loved about being a teacher was connecting with students,” she said.
She stays connected. Tuesday was spent at Pathfinder Kindergarten Center, hanging out with a new crop of kids. The day before, she visited classrooms at Challenger Elementary.
The school board president, Michael Simmons, said Brynelson was part of the succession plan for a superintendent.
“We did not conduct a search. There were no other (internal) candidates. We’re sitting on a treasure of talent with Dr. Brynelson,” Simmons said. “She understands the schools.”
Quoting a letter of recommendation, he said, “She has the ability to chat with the custodian, comfort the homeless parent or debate a college president.”
The superintendent’s role includes overseeing negotiations with the 1,100-member Mukilteo Education Association.
“Our most recent contract, she was very instrumental in driving that negotiation to where it went,” Simmons said. “Our relationship with the (Mukilteo Education Association) today is far different than it was a year ago.”
At that time, there were talks of a strike by the union over salary and how the district would spend an infusion of state dollars as a result of the McCleary school funding lawsuit. In July, the school board unanimously approved a three-year contract that makes the district’s teachers among the best paid in the state.
“She is visible and active in our classrooms, places a high value on relationships, and engages with community members, students and staff,” Mukilteo teacher union president Dana Wiebe said by email. “I am counting on her to work collectively with Mukilteo Education Association, and to play a critical role in leading the Mukilteo School District through systemic changes to advance inclusiveness, equity, and racial and social justice in our schools.”
Larsen’s base salary was $257,104 for the 2018-2019 school year. The terms of Brynelson’s agreement are not yet finalized.
Her biggest challenge?
“Space and capacity,” she said. “It’s a good problem to have student growth, but we have to plan for it.”
Brynelson grew up on a small island in southeast Alaska. She discovered rock concerts as a student at Western Washington University. “I wasn’t exposed to those until I went to college,” she said.
She earned a master’s degree from the University of Puget Sound. She earned a superintendent’s certificate in 2005 and a doctorate in executive leadership from Seattle Pacific University in 2014.
She comes from a family of educators and married into one. Her dad and brother are retired teachers. Her mother-in-law is a retired principal and her father-in-law a retired superintendent.
Her husband, Bryan, is a math teacher at Olympic View Middle School. The couple married in Las Vegas almost 21 years ago.
They have two daughters, Bailey Vegas, 18, a Washington State University freshman, and Ashlyn Nevada, 12, an Olympic View seventh grader.
Brynelson still enjoys going to concerts.
“Earlier this summer I took Bailey Vegas and her friend to the Tacoma Dome and we saw Queen. That’s the type of music that we like,” she said.
She took Bryan the next time.
“We flew out of Paine Field a couple weeks ago to try it,” she said of their Def Leppard trip to Las Vegas.
She looks forward to learning the ropes from Larsen over the next four months.
The women have the same birthday — July 23. So, too, do two others in the district: Jama Wahl, an administrative assistant in the district office, and Beverly Moore, assistant principal of Olympic View.
Larsen is the foursome’s ringleader of celebrations for cheap.
“We went to Denny’s to get our free (Grand Slam birthday) breakfast one year, ” Brynelson said, “and then Marci somehow found us free car washes.”