On March 5, Redondo Beach voters elected three new members to the Redondo Beach Unified School District Board of Education to replace termed-out members Jane Diehl, Todd Loewenstein and Drew Gamet. Because only three people—Michael Christensen, Brad Serkin and Brad Waller—ran for the spots, all three were automatically elected.
Each of the three new school board members filled out a brief questionnaire from Redondo Beach Patch. Here are Michael Christensen's responses.
Patch: Why did you run for a spot on the Redondo Beach Board of Education?
Michael Christensen: I have always appreciated the quality of our school district and our community and the value of the teachers, staff, and volunteers of the RBUSD. My children have benefited greatly from our schools.
Our family members have been volunteers in our schools and community since we arrived in Redondo Beach 14 years ago (my wife has been a PTA president and leader several times over). I wanted to give back to the district and community in a meaningful way, too, so I sought (and was selected for) a position on the Measure C Citizen's Bond Oversight Committee in 2008. About a year later, my son Evan, a senior at Redondo Union High School, was selected as the student member of the RBUSD Board of Education (we may be the first son-father team on a South Bay school board).
Between my Bond Oversight Committee work and Evan's involvement on the Board, I developed a keen appreciation for our Board of Education and the challenges it faced (successfully, for the most part) and the role it plays in our community and in the lives of our children. After I termed out of the Bond Oversight Committee in 2012 (as its Chairman) I started thinking about the possibility of running for School Board, urged on by a couple of the current board members. A one-month summer program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government last summer (a training program for senior executives in state and local government sponsored by my employer) provided me with a sharpened perspective on my civic responsibilities and helped my make up my mind to make a run for the Board.
My wife, who is the primary inspiration for my service to the schools, along with a very family and civic-oriented employer, have made it possible for me to pursue this opportunity, and to them I give my heartfelt thanks.
Patch: What is your background?
Christensen: I am a professional civil engineer (third-generation) with over 37 years of professional and managerial experience in private and public-sector organizations, primarily transportation-related. I received a bachelor's degree in 1976 from Arizona State University, and I'm registered to practice engineering in 10 states. I've taken numerous management and leadership training courses over the years as part of my profession. As mentioned above, I was fortunate to be able to receive training last summer at Harvard Kennedy School's executive program for state and local government officials.
I am currently the Deputy Executive Director for Development and second-in-command at the City of Los Angeles Harbor Department (Port of Los Angeles). I am responsible for environmental programs and permitting along with all infrastructure design and construction at the Port of L.A. I am also responsible for our Harbor Commission office (we have a 5-member Board of Harbor Commissioners) and am active in local, state, and federal governmental affairs and advocacy programs. I am an alternate on the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority governing board along with several other boards and committees including a College of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering committee at California State University Long Beach.
I've also been involved in numerous youth volunteer positions and training programs over the years, primarily with my church, the Boy Scouts of America and our local youth soccer organization.
Patch: What are your top three priorities as a member of the Board of Education?
Christensen: It's all about our kids! We can never lose sight of that. If I was to list priorities they might be something like this...
- Our children's safety
- The quality of our kids' education
- The financial viability and sustainability of our district
Patch: In your opinion, what is the biggest issue facing RBUSD in the next few years?
Christensen: Nothing is fundamentally broken in the district, and the team I'll be moving into is a good one. However, there are a few things that need attention.
First and foremost, we need to get our reserves build back up to an acceptable level. Thank goodness for Prop. 30—the situation would be far different right now without it. We let our reserves drop to an unacceptably low level and now have the opportunity to bring them back. We cannot pass up that opportunity. That is the first order of business.
Also, California's method of school finance is fundamentally broken, and I hope to be able to make some contribution toward moving it in the right direction. Transparency in governance, honest public dialog among the Board, and respect for the roles and contributions of all RBUSD team members will be my style. I hope to leave things better than I found them, with the help of my fellow Board members, our superintendent, the RBUSD team, our volunteers, the community and my family.
Patch: Do you have children in Redondo Beach schools?
Christensen: I've been a resident of Redondo Beach for about 14 years. I graduated two sons from Mira Costa (in 2000 and 2002) and one son from Redondo Union High School in 2010 (I have a pretty good basis of comparison between the two schools). I currently have three kids in RBUSD schools, one in middle school and two in elementary school (a daughter in seventh grade, a daughter in fifth grade, and a son in third grade).
Patch: Is there anything you'd like to add?
Christensen: I'm looking forward to this great opportunity to work with this world-class team and the community I love!
For more information on the new school board members, see the profiles for Brad Serkin and Brad Waller.