Throughout the years, the Oakley mother of two has logged plenty of hours on preschool committees and PTA boards. And when her kids finally reached the teen years, when hands-on mothering becomes a little more hands-off, she joined the Oakley Unified School District Board.
"Well, it didn't come as a surprise to my kids, that's for sure," laughed Bergenholtz. "They're used to me hanging around. But I've always been interested in making a difference in my children's education, so when a position came open, I saw it as an opportunity to make a difference in other children's lives as well."
A member of the board since 2001, Bergenholtz was installed in November as the board's president, a position that is rotated among board members every two years.
Responsible for overseeing the district's five elementary and two middle schools - with one more of each on the way - Bergenholtz said one of the board's biggest challenges is accurately predicting and keeping up with growth.
"Being prepared for growth and knowing where it's coming from is certainly one of our biggest challenges," she said. "Making sure we have enough land for schools and keeping up with the ups and downs of housing development has been a balancing act for sure. But we're working well with the city and have great lines of communication. I think we are doing very well."
The board has also taken a proactive approach to health and fitness by eliminating soda and a variety of junk foods from Oakley's middle school campuses. "I'm really happy we're doing that," she said. "The kids get enough sugar outside of school; they don't need it there, too."
As far as the continued emphasis on state testing and local school scores, Bergenholtz acknowledged that there is a lot of pressure on teachers and students to excel.
"I understand the need to set goals and maintain them," said Bergenholtz, "and I think our district has done really well with the implementation of academic programs. I would like to see the state pony up some well-deserved money to keep the Special Ed and other programs going, and I'd like to see some relief for the teachers on the standards and things like that."
Bergenholtz said she hopes that the current debate regarding the school boundary between the Oakley and Knightsen school districts will be peaceably and quickly resolved.
"Our position as a board is what it has always been, and that is to do what is best for the children and the neighborhood," she said. "We have seen the nightmares that the 'Oakley Orphan' issues have created, and our main goal is preventing that from happening again. This is not about money; it's about the students."
The ability to keep her eye on the prize is what makes Bergenholtz such a valuable asset to the school board, said Superintendent Rick Rogers.
"Karen never loses sight of what is really important," said Rogers. "And that is the care, nurturing and education of our children. I think that is what impresses me most about her."
Despite serving nearly seven years on the board, Bergenholtz continues to be excited, upbeat and positive about the future of Oakley's schools and the strides the board has made.
"I'm just so happy being here and working with everyone," she said. "I really enjoy it and it has been such a positive experience for me. I've always been all about the kids. This is a great place for me to be."
The Oakley School Board meets the third Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. at O'Hara Park Middle School.