ATLANTIC MINE - When Stanton Township Schools Superintendent Paul Saaranen visited Estonia in 2006 as part of a Fulbright International Education Administrators Exchange, he found a new interest in working with United States embassy personnel.
Now, after a long application process, Saaranen will be leaving his superintendent position of 13 years to become a general services officer with the United States Department of State. While he is excited to start a new chapter in his life, it has been difficult for him to leave the district he loves so much.
"I've never felt so many heartstrings tugging from a career change," Saaranen said. "This has been a very difficult decision to make, because I fell in love with this district a long time ago."
Stanton Township Schools Superintendent Paul Saaranen examines a poster detailing E.B. Holman Elementary School’s March Reading Month activities Thursday. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by Zach Kukkonen)
Born in South Range and an alum of Jeffers High School, Saaranen moved downstate after high school and worked as a middle school teacher in the Gerrish-Higgins School District in Roscommon. Yet after a while, the pull of the area brought him back up to White Pine, where he spent 10 years working as a power plant supervisor for the Copper Range Company.
He did not stay out of education for too long, however, as he became L'Anse Area Schools' middle school principal and athletic director following his stint at Copper Range. That brought him to his current position at E.B. Holman, which encompasses much more than superintendent duties.
"Essentially, I've been the principal, superintendent, athletic director and transportation supervisor," Saaranen said. "(But) anybody in the business will tell you that there's more functions than that."
Despite the many responsibilities, Saaranen has thoroughly enjoyed his time with E.B. Holman and Stanton Township Schools, and will miss many aspects of the job.
"I deal with students a lot, and that really is a good share of the reward," Saaranen said. "I really have enjoyed the relationships built with the community, parents, the school board, my peers here at work, professionals and the sports staff.
"Those relationships are well-established after this much time," he continued. "As a staff, we really have enjoyed building and maintaining something of this district. Our product is good, our students do well and we work hard at that. That's enjoyable to see through good planning and curriculum development."
Now Saaranen will move from educator to a trainee, as he will be spending the next 20 weeks in Washington, D.C., with orientation and training for his new position. From there, he will, in all likelihood, be sent outside the United States to support embassy operations, which is something Saaranen is looking forward to.
"The experience in other countries is very rich," he said. "There's a whole other world out there."
With Saaranen's departure, current and longtime E.B. Holman teacher Mary Durocher will be taking over Saaranen's position, which is leaving the district in excellent hands, according to Saaranen. And no matter where he will be throughout the world, part of his heart will remain with the district.
"I rather thoughtfully and prayerfully wish the best for this district and its students and parents," Saaranen said.