Minnesota teachers have a new leader.
Denise Specht, Education Minnesota's secretary-treasurer for the past six years, wrested the union's top job from current president Tom Dooher in a Saturday morning vote.
She will begin her three-year term as president July 1.
Specht, 47, said that she intends to focus on rebuilding sagging spirits.
"Teachers' morale is very low," she said. "Educators are looking for respect and a degree of autonomy in addressing major issues," starting with big class sizes.
She said she hopes to do that by bringing a more collaborative style to leadership of the state's largest union, which has about 70,000 members.
"Strong leaders make connections, and we have relationships to repair," Specht said, "but we will not weaken on our core values and we will bring the educator's voice back to the debate."
She said that her defeat of Dooher does not represent a major upheaval in the union.
"Tom and I agree on the practical core values and on our mission," she said. Citing her six years as secretary-treasurer, she added, "I ran [for president] because I wanted to continue my strong support" of those issues.
Specht is a second-generation Minnesota teacher; her parents were both teachers in Buffalo. Before joining the teachers' union governing board, she was an elementary schoolteacher for 18 years, working in Texas and then in the Forest Lake and Centennial school districts.
She is the former president of the Centennial Education Association, the union representing educators from the Centennial school district, which serves the communities of Circle Pines, Lino Lakes, Lexington and Centerville.
At Education Minnesota, Specht has served as chairwoman of the budget and finance committee and the policy development committee. She also has served as a representative on the National Education Association's resolutions committee.
Dooher has led Education Minnesota since 2007, when he replaced longtime president Judy Schaubach. He ran unopposed in the 2010 election. Before his election as state president, Dooher served as president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers for 10 years.
Education Minnesota's officers are elected every three years by delegates to the annual Representative Convention, the union's highest governing body. Delegates, in turn, are elected by local educators unions and Education Minnesota's statewide affiliates in numbers proportional to their membership. Officers and voting members of the Education Minnesota governing board also serve as delegates.