John Eynon’s career path has taken several abrupt turns — from teaching music to serving as a U.S. Navy commander to working for major textbook publishers and back.
The Cottonwood high school teacher is planning his retirement from the classroom, while contemplating another career change. He is one of four Republicans seeking to succeed state schools superintendent Tom Luna.
Eynon says he knows what it takes to build a school system that engages students — but says his opponents also have that skill. He believes his experience in the textbook industry would help him work with vendors on Idaho’s behalf. He believes his military training in total quality management would translate to running the State Department of Education.
Eynon’s positions certainly differentiate him from the field.
- In a group of Common Core supporters, he stands as the sole opponent.
- He is skeptical of some of the 20 recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force.
- He is bullish about boosting school budgets by increasing logging and natural gas development on state lands.
- He likens public pre-K to socialism — a hard line even by Idaho Republican standards.
Eynon is running on a ticket with several other conservative Republicans; several, like gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Russ Fulcher, are challenging established incumbents. While his is an open race, Eynon is running as an anti-establishment candidate.
A varied resume
Like many teachers of the Great Recession era, Eynon was on the wrong side of a budget crunch early in his career.
It was August 1979. Eynon, who holds an undergraduate degree in music education, was teaching in California. Nine months earlier, California voters had passed Proposition 13, a restrictive property tax initiative. Districts were reluctant to offer contract renewals to less experienced teachers, and at that time, Eynon had less than five years in the classroom. Newer teachers were encouraged to stick around until August, then apply for another year’s work.
As a young father, Eynon opted for something more stable — and that led to 17 years in the Navy. His career included three tours of duty at sea. During the Gulf War, he helped with the callup of Navy reserve units from the Southeast. Eventually, he says, his position fell victim to the Clinton administration’s military downsizing efforts; he retired in 1998 with the rank of commander.
By this time, the Philadelphia area native and his family had fallen in love with north-central Idaho; they had discovered the area while Eynon was stationed with the Navy in Oak Harbor, Wash. Working for several textbook publishers allowed him to do some of his work in the inland Northwest.
Most of this work was in sales, and in convincing local education stakeholders to adopt the textbooks he had to offer. “I was fairly successful at that,” he said.
Several colleagues vouch for Eynon on LinkedIn, a professionally oriented social media site. Said one, “I have to admit, I liked John better as a colleague, than as a competitor. As a colleague he was organized and well-spoken. As a competitor he was dependable, well-respected and feared. I would much rather have him on my team, as opposed to trying to compete against him!”
Eynon says he also got a glimpse inside the industry, and a perspective on its clout. He saw firsthand how publishers supported national education standards. “(It) was definitely in the best interest of the publishing industry.”
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