2022 Esko School Board candidate: John Feely
"Service to others is a core value that was instilled in me during my time in the Air Force and I have carried it with me. I view being a member of the school board as an opportunity to serve the community, our teaching staff and our children," writes John Feely.
Editor's note: This questionnaire was edited for grammar and style.
Family: Married to wife, Amy; the couple have three children who are in elementary school.
Occupation: Self-employed, runs a construction business.
Community service involvement: Youth hockey, baseball and flag football coach; member of the Esko Youth Hockey board and Esko Youth Baseball board; member of the Duluth Warriors; Air Force liaison officer for the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Previous experience in elected office: None.
Why are you running for office?
Service to others is a core value that was instilled in me during my time in the Air Force and I have carried it with me. I view being a member of the school board as an opportunity to serve the community, our teaching staff and our children. With kids in fourth through second grades, I feel like now is a good time to help make a positive impact on our education system, and I believe I have a lot to contribute.
The pandemic highlighted the importance of the school board and how their decisions directly affect the educational outcomes for our students. Our school district did a wonderful job of keeping our kids in school, but decisions made by other neighboring districts proved that not all boards did so successfully. I believe that my first-hand experiences with our children through this challenging time gives me an informed perspective and will enable me to make better decisions about our district in a time when we are seeing a lot of changes to the way things are done. If elected, my decisions will always be focused on what will create the best outcomes for our children and our staff.
What are the biggest challenges you see facing the community?
I believe the biggest challenge we will soon be facing is the continuous growth of our district and what this means for our aging infrastructure. Large infrastructure updates or new construction come with a lot of cost and risk, both in the selection and design of the projects and then in the efficient execution of the projects. It is important for our board to make fiscally sound decisions when spending taxpayer money to get the greatest value on these projects.
I also see school security and emergency management as an emerging threat that is affecting schools across the country. Esko’s approach has been adequate for managing threats over the past few decades, but the world is changing. I believe we need to evolve our security protocol with the world to ensure our childrens' safety by improving our physical security, as well as our planning and preparedness. The school board should be reviewing our security and emergency management policies on a yearly basis and updating them based upon emerging threats.
If elected, how would you work to address those issues?
With my experience in construction, I manage large construction projects every day. As a school board member, I could help vet potential contractors, hold contractors accountable to produce quality work, and ensure we don’t waste taxpayer money and get the value for our dollars. Since the pandemic, the construction industry has faced significant supply chain issues with both the cost and availability of materials. Simply being aware of different material markets and potential upcoming issues, and then planning for them can have a significant impact on the cost and schedule for large projects. My knowledge and experience of the current state of material availability and pricing can bring insight into the decision-making process for the board and enable us to proactively work with contractors to keep costs down and projects on schedule.
School security and emergency preparedness is an area I have some background in. During my time in the Air Force, I was trained to perform threat assessments and had training in air base security. In my business ventures, I have worked for a security company that provides a wide range of services including security threat assessments for schools. I also served on the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management Region 2 review committee which reviewed the emergency management plans for each county within the northeast region on an annual basis. These experiences give me a broad base of knowledge related to security and emergency response that can help our district make informed decisions regarding security policy, training and physical infrastructure.
What successes do you hope to build on if elected?
I feel that we have an amazing group of educators in our district, both our teachers and our support staff. We have invested to get great educators and we need to continue to support our faculty to ensure we continue to attract great people. The quality of our staff was proven during the pandemic. The teachers poured their hearts and souls into making sure our students had what they needed during such a difficult time often at the expense of their own families and personal lives. Teachers personally visiting and delivering needed items to families was a prime example, as not all districts saw this. Our investment in high quality teaching staff is second to none, and I want to make sure this continues.
Esko also offers opportunities for children in all stages of their education, and our children are extremely lucky to have those opportunities. Esko’s Special Education Department is highly regarded in the area. We are known for having great staff and the resources available to help. Esko also seems to be very efficient and effective in identifying kids early on who need extra support to get them back on track. In addition, our school does a good job identifying the kids who need more challenges and provides opportunities for those students to get some extra and advanced opportunities. All of these are very important for the success of our district — something we should be proud of — and are important to continue. This is an area where I intend to make sure Esko continues to get enough resources to ensure all students are given the best opportunities to learn and gain the life skills they will need after they graduate.