St. Maries EA Sees Encouraging Signs
Tucked into the hills of North Idaho about an hour’s drive south of Coeur d/Alene, St. Maries is a quintessential timber town. With a population of roughly 2,400, it is home to many of the kind of people you might expect—hard-working, salt-of-the-earth, looking-out-for-their-neighbors kind of folks. Those traits manifest themselves in the local education association as well, and the resilience of the SMEA is starting to pay dividends after both the community, and the local, faced some difficult times during the recession.
Kathy Davis is the co-president of the St. Maries Education Association, sharing those duties with colleague Mike Noyes. “We’ve had a long tradition of membership, but the combination of tough economic times and the Luna Laws made it a struggle,” Davis says. “Fortunately, we have seen some really positive gains in both membership numbers and in the engagement level of our members. We have also been able to work through some previous animosity and develop a good relationship with the St. Maries school board.”
Davis has seen first-hand the ebbs and flows of economic prosperity and the health of public education in St. Maries. She grew up in St. Maries and currently teaches Language Arts at St. Maries Middle School—the same school that she attended as a child. For good measure, both of her daughters, Kimberly and Megan, also matriculated through the local public school system. In fact, Megan has followed in her mother’s footsteps and is an English and Speech teacher at St. Maries High School.
Davis and Noyes have bolstered membership numbers and association activity through social events, by planning fundraisers in connection with parent-teacher conferences, and by emphasizing the broad range of benefits that come with membership. A local SMEA scholarship, the IEA Children’s Fund and increasing professional development opportunities are just some of the concepts that have resonated with members in the local association. This multi-layered approach to membership represents a bit of a paradigm shift for some members who have viewed bargaining as the foremost role of the association. “Bargaining is an important piece, but it is not why I’m a member,” says Davis. “No one else advocates for public education like the IEA and the local association. And the networking piece is terrific as well.”
To further professional development in the local and throughout the region, Davis has taken on an additional role as an IEA trainer relating to Idaho’s Master Teacher Premiums. “The state doesn’t really provide the answers, so it is important that we step in and make sure that our members know how to prepare a portfolio that can get them their maximum compensation,” she says. “I’m excited to assist our members with these trainings, and it is also a great way for local associations to connect with teachers.”
As the tide has turned somewhat in state funding for local school districts and enrollment has seen an upturn, St. Maries has been able to bring back two teaching positions at the elementary school that had been lost during the recession. Historically, the community has also been very supportive of local levies, although a recent large maintenance levy did not pass.
The community’s rich logging tradition is evident everywhere around St. Maries. The high school team is nicknamed the Lumberjacks, and in front of Heyburn Elementary School is an iconic symbol that represent the pride St. Maries has in its timber heritage—and in its teachers and students. Standing more than 20 feet tall and sporting the school colors of green and white, the Lumberjack has been a fixture at Heyburn since the late 1960’s. (He was originally slated to be a “Texaco Friend” at a nearby gas station. Stories differ as to how he found his way to the schoolyard.)