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Life on the board

April 7, 2012
By Stacey Kukkonen ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - When an individual joins a school board, he or she takes an oath to serve the district to the best of his or her ability.

That's what school board members aim to do, keeping themselves up to date on policy issues, spending countless hours working with committees and meeting every month to make critical decisions for the district. There's actually a lot of behind-the-scenes work school board members take on when running for a seat on the school board.

Nels Christopherson, who serves on the Houghton-Portage Township Schools Board of Education and the Copper Country Intermediate School District board, calls the experience time-consuming and highly rewarding. Christopherson has been a school board member for more than 20 years now and decided to run years ago to fulfill his civil obligation.

Article Photos

Daily Mining Gazette/Stacey Kukkonen
The Adams Township School District Board of Education meets in March.

"I was interested in the schools and I wanted to help maintain some good schools to begin with," he said.

It wasn't about "changing anything," Christopherson said. School board members are required to have the school's best interests in mind, monitoring activity at the district, making the best possible choices for the students and being the direct superior to the superintendent.

"The role of the school board is not to micromanage the school," he said. "The most important purpose is to hire the superintendent."

The rest of the board's responsibility is to set a philosophy and strategy to achieve that philosophy, he said. The school board also makes financial decisions and makes sure the superintendent is doing his or her job correctly.

"We try to make sure that what they're doing matches the needs and the desires of the community," he said. "The school board's job isn't to tell anyone who to teach or coach."

School board's usually meets publicly at least once, or perhaps on multiple occasions, to discuss important issues at the district. At some districts, school board members are involved in committees ranging from athletics and finance to education and personnel. In Christopherson's case, he is required to be a part of three committees for the Houghton-Portage Township School District - a task he happily takes on.

"The challenge is to keep up with current laws and what may be coming out of Lansing and understand them," he said.

Although it takes a lot of time and effort, Christopherson said he would encourage someone to get involved because it's a way to assist the local school systems and the community.

"You make it a better place to live," he said. "You have one of seven votes - you are one of seven people who get together to try to make the school district a better place."

John Pastore has been on the Adams Township School District Board of Education for 18 years running and first decided to join the board because he wanted to give back to the community.

"There was an opening and I decided to try for it," he said.

Pastore said school board members can spend hours a month at school board and committee meetings, and also readying policy and reviewing documentation.

"It varies how much time you spend," he said.

Pastore said working with the students, faculty and administration is a rewarding experience and it one that cannot be matched.

"It's very fulfilling," he said.

Additionally, school boards are recognized once a year during School Board Appreciation Week and near the end of April, get together to host a banquet to show appreciation to outstanding students, faculty and community members. This year's Copper Country Association of School Boards is April 25.

To learn more about school boards, visit the Michigan Association of School Boards online at



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