2023 CREA Friend of Education chosen

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Longtime school board member Mike Finnegan was awarded the 2023 Friend of Education at a reception held in his honor on Nov. 15. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

The Clayton Ridge Education Association (CREA) has chosen longtime school board member Mike Finnegan as their 2023 CREA Friend of Education. He was honored at a reception held in the Guttenberg Campus Cafeteria on Nov. 15.

"Mike was nominated for his support of students at various events; additionally, his presence is well-known across the whole district. He stops in to see staff in all areas," said Nicole DeGidio, CREA President. 

Student/teacher involvement

I visited with Finnegan at the Clayton Ridge Campus in Garnavillo. The hands-on board member had just enjoyed lunch with the elementary students and teachers. "I like to check-in with the students and faculty, and visit with them about how their school year is going," he commented. 

Finnegan and Shane Wahls became part of the Clayton Ridge School District at the same time. "Mr. Wahls and I came on together. He was principal of the elementary, and is now the superintendent, and I am now the senior member of the school board," he noted. 

Finnegan was surprised and honored by the CREA nomination. "I was really taken back by it all. I still get emotional when I think about it," he shared.

County Conference Committee

The senior board member tells the teachers he is "the rock at the top" and is always looking out for the best interests of the students and faculty. "My job is to make sure both campuses are safe, and that we are compliant with state regulations," he said. 

Finnegan is also a member of the County Conference Committee.  "We meet twice a year with the county assessor, Andy Loan, and go over millage rates and other taxpayer related issues," he explained. "I have been on that board since the beginning. It is important to stay in tune with state regulations and how they align with our school district. Sometimes it fits and sometimes it doesn't." 

Addressing declining enrollment

Finnegan's greatest concern is declining enrollment. "I am grateful for the Foundation of Cornerstone Communities proactive approach in addressing Clayton County's decreasing population," he said with admiration. "When individuals consider moving to an area the first thing they look for is a top notch school and health care facility, in addition to a vibrant community." 

Iowa Virtual Acadmeny

The Iowa Virtual Academy is a source of pride for the sitting board member. "I am very proud of the Virtual Academy. It offers a high quality education to students that are unable to attend a brick and mortar institution," he said. 

Finnegan gave credit to former superintendent Allen Nelson, who initiated the program that has been an asset to the community and school district. "Kids from all over the state of Iowa are able to take advantage of this innovative educational experience. It is a financial asset to the school district and provides employment opportunities to area residents," he listed.    

Family educators

Finnegan's parents, the late April and Wallace Finnegan, were both country schoolteachers. His wife, the late Lynn Finnegan, was a teacher's associate for 16 years, and his two daughters are both teachers. Michelle (Finnegan) Scott teaches high school English at Clayton Ridge, and Brianna teaches high-level science and physics at Hempstead High School, Dubuque."Whenever our family gathered, or gathers for a meal we sit around and discuss the importance of quality education," Finnegan told The Press. 

The longtime farmer says it is all about the choices you make in life. "When you are a member of the school board you have to take on a leadership role," he explained. "You need to be a sounding board for teachers, students, parents and caregivers. You must have a passion for student success."

Finnegan's term will end in two years, but he would like to run again. "There is nothing better than a small school district to educate students, and for teachers to dwell on the good. It's been a good ride. Don't count me out!" he concluded with a smile.

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