Campus Closeup: Bill Pistulka
Bill Pistulka worked in the traditional public school system for 27 years in a variety of roles—classroom teacher, principal and superintendent. He puts that extensive professional background to use, but in a different context, as Northern’s charter schools officer. Pistulka said this relatively new branch of education is often misunderstood.
“If you asked people, I bet eight out of 10 would have a misconception of what charter schools are,” he said. “Some assume they’re private and charge tuition, or that they don’t have rules or standards they have to follow. But they are really public school academies open to anyone. They receive per-pupil state funding, with 3 percent going to NMU for administrative costs and the remainder funneled back to the school. They also have to meet state and federal mandates and abide by their contract with the chartering organization. Choice and competition are healthy.”
Pistulka said mid-'90s legislation led to the creation of charter schools, providing parents and students with an alternative to traditional instruction—one promoting additional freedom and innovation in curriculum development. But recognizing the need for oversight, the law allowed certain universities to manage charters and use their built-in expertise to help the schools succeed.
Northern charters three U.P. academies: North Star in Marquette, which just recently became K-12 and focuses on academic service learning; and Bahweting Anishnabe in Sault Ste. Marie and Nah Tah Wahsh in Wilson, both of which focus on Native American culture. In southeastern Michigan, there are two: Burton Glen and Walton. These schools wouldn’t have existed without initial funding from National Heritage Academies. NHA continues to manage the downstate schools within the NMU contract.
With a small staff of Pistulka, part-time field representative Sean O'Donnell and part-time technical/office professional Sharon Zablocki, Northern’s charter schools office is not involved in the day-to-day operation of any academies.
“We visit the schools as much as possible and at least one of us attends all of their board meetings,” he said. “Their boards are appointed by NMU, not elected. I participate in that extensive interview process and nominees are approved by the university’s Board of Trustees. I also meet with the field rep on a regular basis. Generally, I monitor compliance with the contract, make sure they’re meeting state and federal requirements and offer professional guidance. They’ve been receptive to my help. I’m proud of the education we’re providing, but we’re always looking for ways to improve.”
Pistulka said he also enjoys his Whitman Hall location near the School of Education because he can bounce ideas off the faculty and glean some of their expertise. The only aspect he dislikes is the long commute from the Rapid River home he shares with his wife, Julie. They have two daughters, one an NMU nursing major, and a son in high school.
“The kids didn’t want to relocate when I got the job and it would have been hard to give up anyway. This is why we live there,” he said, pointing to a photo of a brilliant sunset taken from their back deck overlooking Little Bay de Noc.
In his free time, Pistulka engages in “typical Yooper” activities such as hunting and fishing. The photo at right shows a mounted 30-inch walleye he caught shortly after positioning his shanty on the ice one late-December weekend. He also likes to travel and garden.
“People might be surprised, but I love flowers,” he said. “We grow vegetables, too, but there’s something about the colors and the way they accent the green grass. I love pulling into my driveway during this short growing season and seeing the flowers in full bloom.”