It’s almost 7:30 a.m. on the first day of school at Northview High School, and students are buzzing around the warm and muggy front hall: opening their lockers, chatting and laughing, comparing their schedules and checking their phones.
Scott Korpak stands near a wall and takes it all in. It’s his first school day, too, as the new superintendent of Northview Public Schools.
He likes what he sees.
“The thing about education is you see so much potential and promise,” Korpak says, as students walk by to their first-hour classes. “You see kids, you see them interacting, you see them excited to be here. It gives you great hope.”
Korpak is excited to be here too, as he takes the helm of the 3,400-student school district. The former assistant superintendent of Forest Hills Public Schools was hired last spring to succeed Mike Paskewicz, who led Northview for six years before retiring in June.
Korpak knows the well-loved Paskewicz is a tough act to follow. But he says he is happy to follow his example of excellence, and eager to lead a district of strong academic tradition and community involvement.
“Northview has a vision,” Korpak says. “Their mission is to prepare students for life’s next step. I really love that.”
Lean Times in a Small Town
He hits the ground early on the first day, visiting schools to get a feel for the students he will help prepare this year. Tanked with one cup of coffee but no breakfast, he walks out of his office and next door to the high school. After two months of administrative tasks and community networking, he relishes the hustle and bustle of actual schooling.
“This is the payoff,” he says, smiling as students high-five their teachers. “You get to see kids come in, and you get to start.”
Korpak got his start in a small school in a tiny town, where good teachers got him thinking about a career in education. That led him to teaching and principal’s jobs in Forest Hills, the superintendent’s seat in Hamilton Community Schools, then back to Forest Hills as assistant superintendent of instruction for the past five years.
And now he’s come to Northview, a district which in many ways feels familiar to him. As in Forest Hills, there is no distinctly defined town, but there is a community: “It’s Northview, and it’s defined by the school district.”
But Korpak says his affinity for the place goes back to his childhood in Bloomingdale, village pop. 454 as of 2010, in Van Buren County in far southwestern Michigan. The area is pretty poor, but Korpak felt cared-for there.
“There is a sense of community here in Northview that I felt growing up,” says Korpak, who speaks with a relaxed thoughtfulness that easily gives way to soft laughter. “The people truly look out for one another.”
His father, Michael, worked for the old Gibson guitar factory in Kalamazoo, then rose early to work their 80-acre family farm. Scott helped him gather wood for the wood stove, his home’s only source of heat.
The Gibson plant closed when Scott was in middle school, and his father was without work for three years. Scott went on reduced-price lunch at school while his mother, Carol, worked part-time at their church.
Though his father eventually got work at a party products manufacturer, those lean years enhanced Korpak’s appreciation for having a job – and for what many students and their families go through.
“It’s a motivating factor to help students understand, ‘It’ll be OK,’” says Korpak, 44. “That there is hope, you can work through it, it can get better.”
Tutoring Got Him Thinking
Motivation to teach began with high school faculty he admired and a student he tutored. In his interview with the Northview school board in April, Korpak explained how his school experience got him thinking in that direction.
“I found out the thing I love most is to see people succeed, and to feel that I could be a part of that,” he said then.
When he was a high school sophomore, he tutored a second-grade student named Beau in math. The weekly sessions showed him how he helped Beau better appreciate himself, Korpak says, adding, “That’s a really good feeling.”
The first in his family to attend college, he went to Cornerstone University where his career path solidified. When he was hired as a student to coach boys’ basketball at East Grand Rapids, he says, “I just knew this was a fit. I succumbed to the fact that I’m supposed to be an educator.”
He graduated in 1993 with an elementary teaching certificate. Job applications came back empty, but just before school began a position for a substitute opened up – at Bloomingdale Elementary. The following spring he married Kimberly Ostrander with whom he now has two children, Colson and Ashlyn – and the next fall began teaching science at Forest Hills Northern Middle School.
Then followed positions as assistant principal at Northern and principal of Thornapple Elementary before two years as superintendent in Hamilton. Returning to Forest Hills as assistant superintendent in 2010, he handled instructional budgets, led the creation of online courses, introduced instructional coaching and revived foreign-language classes for elementary and middle school students.
Doing What Mike Did
Korpak’s broad experience and perceived good fit for the Northview community prompted school board members to unanimously choose him over 16 other candidates. Board President Doug LaFleur called him “absolutely top-notch.”
Since beginning his duties in July, he has met with a steady stream of people and community groups, from parents and Rotary to retired band director Max Colley Jr. He helped serve burgers at a picnic for sports and band boosters, and was impressed with their pride in Northview.
“That brings an expectation and an accountability that the community and schools have for their superintendent,” he adds. “That’s a good thing.”
In a meeting with principals, he asked for their advice on running the district.
“There was quite a bit of, ‘Do what Mike (Paskewicz) did,’” he says with a laugh. “I told them if Mike did it, it’s probably a good idea.”
For him, that means putting students first, all the while dealing with state funding, compliance requirements, new school legislation and supporting teachers and maintaining school-community ties. Even as he goes down the list, he segues into how to help a child discover the wonder of flight, and maybe a career in biology.
He’s talking about the same thing he saw in Northview High students on day one: potential and promise.
“I feel a real sense of responsibility,” he says, just before school begins. “It’s really pretty cool to think you can be part of something that impacts kids.”