Esko School Board candidates make their pitches at forum

Seven Esko School Board candidates answered questions about post-pandemic struggles in the school, ideal class sizes, having children enrolled in the district and expanding the trades program in the district.

Esko School Board candidates answer community questions during a forum hosted by the Partners in Education on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.
Dylan Sherman / Cloquet Pine Journal
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ESKO — Seven Esko School Board candidates vying for three positions took the stage to answer community questions during a forum held in the school theater Tuesday, Oct. 11.

Two incumbents, Todd Rengo and Maggie Sunnarborg, are seeking reelection, and Mark Nyholm, John Feely, Robert Johnson, Rich Kresky and Russell Kurhajetz are seeking election.

Learn more about the candidates seeking office, including why they decided to run and what their priorities are.

The forum was hosted by the district's Partners in Education parent group, and allowed for community input on questions.

The questions for the board came from a range of topics and included how candidates would address post-pandemic struggles, ideal class sizes, having children enrolled in the district and expanding the trade program in the district.

Rengo said he has worked with the current board to address mental health issues that arose after the pandemic by adding an additional counselor.


He added that the district's good budget standing has allowed for extra funds to be shifted around when things pop up and require board action to solve.

"It is really important that we continue on that same path and recognize the opportunities and address them when we can," he said.

Kurhajetz said he would build the relationships with the teachers and counselors to understand the issues.

"One of the pieces that is really important to me is working with the families," he said "Getting tighter communications with them and making them aware of where kids are falling behind."

One question asked of candidates was what they thought the ideal class size should be in the district.

All candidates were in agreement that grade sizes should be around 100 and individual classes should be between 20-25.

Feely said the size of the class is directly correlated to the learning in the class.

"The teachers' ability to manage what is in front of them .. ultimately impacts the information they are providing the kids," he said.


The smaller class size is something that Feely appreciates as a parent.

Since the district is a K-12 school, Feely said it's a plus when younger kids walk through the hallways and get to interact with high schoolers.

"There is learning that happens there, looking up and seeing what happens next," he said.

Opinions varied on whether or not it was important to have children who are actively enrolled in the district to be a part of the school board.

Johnson said it is important as having children in the school gives perspective to a board member.

"The changes we are making as a board member are going to directly affect our kids," he said. "I think that is important, you might not see the changes you are making if you don't have a kid come home and tell you."

Nyholm said it would be an advantage to have a child in school while on the board, but a board member does not need to have children in the school to be effective.

"It all depends on the personality of the person on the board," he said."We have very effective board members today that haven't had children in the school for many years."


Nyholm added that it is important to have board members willing to dedicate their time to the board.

Candidates were also asked about the trades programs offered by the district.

Sunnarborg said there is always room for expansion and she helped create a day in which employers in different fields came to the district so students could interview them about their jobs.

"I think we could even grow that program, even though it has been well-accepted and done an excellent job for the kids that have gone through it," she said.

Kresky said he teaches in the trades and knows the importance of offering courses to students.

"I know high schools that make money back on their shop classes, the net result may not be that positive but they pay for supplies by selling products that students make," he said. "There are many careers from a two-year college."

The second public hearing on the topic is scheduled for March 9, and is being held after residents provided comments and concerns during the first hearing on Jan. 26.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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