Vaara sees positives in current school environment

Mel Vaara lived in Clarkston and served the Clarkston community in an educator role for more than 50 years. He now lives in an assisted living facility in Birmingham with Jo Vaara, his wife of 61 years. Photo by Matt Mackinder

Second in a series on a pillar of the community, Mel Vaara, as he remembers more than a half century of Clarkston history, and looks to the future.

BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer

As someone who spent a lifetime in Clarkston Community Schools as a teacher and educator, Mel Vaara saw several generations in his time chasing his passion, which began when he was hired to teach at Clarkston Junior High School for the 1955-56 school year.
He was also involved in politics, running at one point for township supervisor, but coming up short.
“One thing about the politics in the township and the city, only one Democrat has won in the 60 years I lived there, and that was Fred Ritter,” said Vaara. “He owned a clothing store in Clarkston and was treasurer. This city has always been Republicans. I can’t think of another Democrat. Is that a good thing? I don’t think that’s good. Politics is really difficult right now, but I met some great, great people as the Planning Commission chairperson. It helped to be a school principal and getting that experience with people. I enjoyed that job, especially the fellowship as an administrator.”
He said running for township supervisor was an eye-opening situation.
“I made the mistake of running, and I got beat,” Vaara said. “Imagine me getting beat? I was shocked.”
On the topic of CCS, Vaara said he is a big fan of current Superintendent Shawn Ryan.
“I see him as a young Mel Vaara, to be honest with you,” said Vaara. “He’s a real go-getter.”
With over 7,000 students in the district, Vaara loves the growth and opportunities the students and staff can take advantage of in Clarkston.
“I always wanted it to be safe in Clarkston,” Vaara said. “I don’t want anybody looking over their shoulders for guns or who’s coming in the building. I want everyone to be safe and secure so they can learn. If they’re thinking about who’s coming in that door, there are too many disruptions. I think it’s important to have good teachers because good teachers create people who want to be better people. It’s important for the Board of Education to hire the best administrators they can lay their finger on. A building principal is a key person to generate a good education.”

The Aug. 11, 1955 edition of The Clarkston News announcing Mel Vaara’s hiring (far right column, at the top). File photo

Vaara added that keeping the schools neat and tidy has always been a priority.
“You have to have clean and up-to-date facilities,” he said. “When I worked for Oakland University after I retired and was supervising student-teachers, I used to go in some of the Pontiac schools. They were so dirty and messy – cracked doors, cracked windows. You can’t have that here in Clarkston. We need to keep things bright.
“We have to make sure we give every student the chance to be a success.”
One area of concern, Vaara said, is part of the current curriculum.
“I’m a little worried that not many kids know how to screw in a light bulb,” said Vaara. “I was always about academics, and I can’t fix a thing around here. I want our curriculum to stay focused on academics, but teaching vocational education is something we need to stress. Not everybody is going to be an Einstein.”
In the first story in this series that ran in the April 3 edition of The Clarkston News, Dr. Greene’s name was misspelled. We regret the error. Check back next week for the next feature in our series recognizing Mel Vaara.