In Meridian School District — the melting pot of Whatcom County — four are vying for the District 5 school board director position. Riley Sweeney, Michelle Simmons, Craig Mitchell and Malia Pickett will race in the primary, but just two will continue on to the general election.
School board directors for Meridian are elected officials who serve on the board for four years, overseeing district operations, the superintendent, budget and curriculum. They each serve as representatives of the five geographic areas within the district. The Meridian district comprises northern Bellingham, southern Lynden and the area in between.
Mitchell, 49, of Lynden is the incumbent in the race and has served since 2017. He has two daughters, one who graduated in 2020 from Meridian High School, the other a sophomore.
In his role, he said he aims to support early childhood education and to ensure that children come to school prepared to learn at a young age.
“If you’ve got a good solid base to start with, it makes everything in the later years so much easier,” Mitchell said.
He said his main goal is to help provide a good education to the youth, so they can enter post-graduation life prepared for whichever path they choose.
For Sweeney, 36, of Lynden, serving on the school board is about supporting teachers through higher wages and increasing paraeducators. He also spoke to the importance of arts programs and libraries.
“I’m running because good schools don’t happen by accident,” Sweeney said. “Our schools need help. Our teachers are hanging on by their fingertips and they need a school board that supports them.”
Sweeney is also looking to the future — the continued growth of the community, the need for more schools and the importance of making families, new and old, feel welcome.
Sweeney works as communications officer and recreation coordinator for the City of Ferndale. He has a son who attends Irene Reither Elementary.
Pickett, 41, of Bellingham advocates for safe staffing and extracurricular programs in schools.
Pickett is the director of the nursing program at Skagit Valley College and an emergency room nurse at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center. She spoke to the issues of polarization in the Meridian community, something she experienced firsthand while serving on the task force that picked the sex education curriculum for the district last year.
“The task force really highlighted the misinformation,” she said. “It’s so important to alleviate fears with accurate information.”
If she were elected to the board, Pickett said she would operate with a lens of equity and use evidence-based information.
Pickett is a graduate of Meridian High School and has two kids in the district.
The final candidate, Simmons, 50, of Lynden, declined Cascadia Daily News’ request for an interview.
Simmons has a history of speaking at public comment sessions and communicating with the school board. In a July 2021 presentation to the school board, Simmons, serving as a representative for the Meridian Parent Coalition, asked the board and district to improve transparency, communication and accountability.
Her presentation included issues she and other parents had with the district making “changes to restroom and locker room practices to include gender diverse students,” allegedly without communication with parents. She voiced frustration with teachers for “creating unsafe learning conditions for those who may think differently than they do,” and denounced the use of Critical Race Theory as an educational framework.
At school board meetings in January and February 2022, Simmons requested information on the district’s process for picking a sex education curriculum and requested the date for opting out be provided to parents.
Ballots will be mailed Wednesday, July 12 for the Tuesday, Aug. 1 primary election. Washington residents may register to vote online or by mail until July 24 for the primary election. Voter registration is available in person until 8 p.m. Aug. 1 The general election is Nov. 7.