Esko candidate forum has passion, pride from candidates


October 21, 2022

The seven candidates running to fill three open Esko school board seats in the Nov. 8 midterm election spoke directly to community members at a candidate forum event earlier this month.

The Oct. 11 event was hosted and moderated by Esko’s Parents in Education group and had a successful turnout for the group’s first attempt at a candidate forum. The Esko school theater was nearly filled with parents, teachers and community members.

The incumbent candidates, Margaret Sunnarborg and Todd Rengo, along with the five other candidates seeking election — Mark Nyholm, John Feely, Robert Johnson, Rich Kresky and Russel Kurhajetz — opened the night by telling the audience about themselves and why they chose to run for the board’s three seats up for election.

Candidates shared their deep connections to the Esko community, like Sunnarborg, a teacher in the Esko school district for 36 years who explained that her passion for the school and her background knowledge of the community are why she chose to run.

Johnson, who grew up in Esko, shared he has realized as an adult how important his Esko education was to his future and he is running for the board to ensure that younger generations receive the same.

Following introductions, candidates were quizzed on a variety of questions asked by the community on topics such as Covid-19, inclusion, banning books and teaching materials, and the importance of teaching students the trades.

When candidates were asked about how they planned to deal with the aftermath of Covid, many candidates said that they would like to continue with what the current board has established. Rengo, who is currently on the board, said he would continue to adapt to any situation the board must face because of the pandemic.

Rengo emphasized how important it is that previous boards, for most of Esko’s history, have managed a budget surplus to allow for adaptation in times where it is needed. The wiggle room in the budget allows for counselors, academic recovery programs, mental health and well-being programming for teachers and students and similar items.

Candidates were asked what “inclusion” meant to them. Feely told the audience that inclusion is built on the foundation of dignity and respect for others, which is something that Esko promotes through events such as the “yellow shirt” day last school year, a nod to respecting genders and sexualities.

Other candidates shared similar messages, with hopes to continue to promote inclusivity in the school to prepare students for life after Esko in a diverse world.

When asked about the importance of teaching trades, Kresky shared he teaches in the trades as a professor at Lake Superior College. Kresky explained that as a board member he would bring his knowledge of the trades and two-year schools.

The banning of books and teaching materials has been a hot topic for school districts over the past few years and candidates were asked how they would deal with a group of parents asking to ban materials. Kurhajetz told the audience it was best to work through the “chain of command” that has been established at Esko before parents jump right to the school board.

But, ultimately, Kurhajetz explained that he would listen to what the community wants and not act solely on his own opinions. Kurhajetz told the audience he hoped to utilize surveys, weekly newsletters and the like to interact with the community.

To close out the night, candidates were given a few minutes to tell the audience why they should vote for them to be their representative on the Esko school board. Candidates reiterated their passion for the community and school district and their hope to uphold the standard the board has set.

Nyholm told the audience that ultimately it is their choice whom they vote for, but that they should consider voting for whoever showed strategy for the long-term plan.

“Teachers teach, administration handles the daily life of the school. But the board handles the long term; they focus on tomorrow, not today,” Nyholm told the crowd.

Find candidate profiles for all seven Esko School Board candidates under the Elections tab of this website or in the Oct. 14 print edition of the Election Guide.


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