School board members have come and gone, but one person has remained constant on the Lowell Area Schools Board of Education: Pat Nugent. First elected in 1998, he is by far the longest-serving member with the next closest contender – Gary Blough who is not running for reelection this year – joining the board in 2010.
“I have a lot of experience that I think is valuable to the board and the school district,” the 51-year-old says.
In addition to that institutional knowledge, Nugent points to the high caliber of Lowell graduates. He is proud to have been part of helping the school district earn its reputation for excellence, and he hopes voters will return him for another term this fall so he can continue that work.
Nugent is one of eight candidates – two incumbents and six challengers – vying for three seats on the school board in the upcoming general election in November.
Education Runs in the Family
While his father was involved in the trades, the rest of Nugent’s family has embraced education as their vocation in life. His mother was a public school teacher, and his three siblings are all public school teachers, including a brother who teaches at Lowell High School. Meanwhile, Nugent himself has taught for 30 years at West Catholic High School.
As a lifelong resident of the area, Nugent attended Lowell Area Schools and graduated as part of the Class of ’89. From there, he went on to earn an undergraduate degree in history education from Michigan State University. Several years later, he added a master’s degree in secondary education from Grand Valley State University to his resume. Today, he is classified as a highly qualified teacher in both history and math.
Although not married and with no children of his own, Nugent has long felt it important to support the local school system. In addition to serving on the Board of Education, for which he’s been secretary since “2000 or so,” he has been a part of the Lowell Education Foundation board.
Outside of education, Nugent has an interest in history, and he is secretary of the Grattan Historical Society as well as the unofficial historian for St. Patrick Church in Parnell. He is also in charge of maintaining the church’s cemetery.
Brings Experience to Board
During his 24 years on the Board of Education, Nugent has seen the school district go through a variety of changes. Bert Bleke was superintendent when he was first elected, and he has since been part of hiring three subsequent superintendents: Shari Miller, Greg Pratt and Nate Fowler.
There have also been good financial times and bad, an expansion of facilities and an emergence of new technology. Through it all, he says the Board of Education has worked together to address challenges as they arise.
“The board works as a team so it’s not about individual accomplishments,” Nugent notes.
He says continued growth in the district is both a challenge and an opportunity for Lowell Area Schools and adds that the district has “great facilities” meet the needs of students.
Technology has been a challenge, though, particularly when it came to delivering instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had to do things we maybe weren’t 100% ready to do,” Nugent says. “We’ve been through some fairly difficult times.”
Those difficult times don’t just include recent pandemic-related issues but also earlier challenges such as budget deficits that needed to be addressed a decade ago. Nugent says the institutional knowledge he has about what has been done in the past can benefit future decisions of the board.
Running on the Quality of Graduates
When it comes to why people should vote for him, Nugent says, “I believe in what we’re doing.”
As a long-time champion of Lowell schools, he takes pride in being part of the district and helping shape it over the years. And despite recent criticisms of the board, he’s not about to apologize for the work he’s done.
“I’m not afraid to run on the record of our school district,” Nugent says. “We put out good students.”
He hopes that anyone who has been happy with the education their children have received in Lowell will vote for him. “I’m not 100% responsible for that, but I played a part,” he explains.
Beyond that, he feels like he has more to offer to the district. As a veteran teacher of 30 years, he has firsthand knowledge of what happens in the classroom and the challenges educators face. And as a Lowell graduate, he knows what it means to be a Red Arrow for life.
He says, “I’ve been part of a good thing, and I want to continue to be part of a good thing.”
I served with Pat on the Lowell Education Foundation board, and he was a board of ed member when I covered the city of Lowell and its schools as a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press. His long record of experience with the district in good times and bad, his overall interest in the success of the district and its students, and his unwavering commitment to the often lonely (most meetings pre-COVID brought one or two members of the public), occasionally thankless and sometimes critical (to which he has responded respectfully and knowledgeably) are reasons he deserves your vote.