Sunday, October 29, 2006

Press Coverage on School Closure Issue

The coverage by the press, especially the Seattle Times, has been very frustrating over the last two weeks. Below is an excerpt from a letter sent by Pathfinder parent, Jennifer Giomi, to the Seattle Times, expressing very clearly some of the problems with the coverage.

...in your column today you portray Raj as a great man whose been given the shaft. A recent editorial also spoke of our "effective" Superintendent as have many other articles. I too think Raj Manhas is probably a lovely, caring man with many skills and abilities. Though I'm not personally familiar with all aspects of his leadership during his career with the public schools, I'm sure he's made some achievements. However, that does not mean he/the District is infallible. Why has the Times not devoted any space to independent analysis of his recommendations? Could it not be that some are better than others? Could it not be that the Board supported Phase I of schools closures because while difficult, the recommendations made more sense? Could it be that they did not support Phase II because the recommendations did not. Yes, the Board asked him to close schools, but would they be responsible if they closed schools that did not fit with the criteria and objectives set forth in the closure process?

And, where has the Times analysis of this process been? School closures will never be popular, but I believe there can be public "buy in" if there is a dialogue between involved parties. Public testimony is a fine way to get one's concerns out to the public, but there is no way to know if you've been heard. During this closure process, my experience has been that the District has done a very poor job of responding to schools' concerns or even giving more than one or two paragraphs of "plan" to each recommendation.

That is no way to get "buy in" from school communities that can't see the logic in a proposal or understand how it fits the criteria. As school communities, with two-way dialogue we might not get the answers we want to hear, but at least we could have some level of confidence that there is a plan and that there is a logic behind something that seems illogical. In a vacuum of communication, the conclusion tends to be that there is no response, no plan, no answers to your questions.

... Does the Times realize that in its recent coverage of events, it is not just reporting a situation, but creating it? Could the Board's actions on 10/18 be seen as showing supreme leadership? If the votes to pass the second round of closures were not there (and they weren't), wasn't it a great act of leadership not to waste the time and energy (and taxpayer monies) of all involved to continue the same process, which wasn't working, to get the same outcome two weeks later? Why does the Times assume the District was correct and the Board and communities affected were not correct in their assessment of this round of recommendations?

Could Brita-Butler Wall's offer to step down as President of the Board be viewed as taking responsibilty for something she felt she did poorly, a strong leadership trait? Could Raj's resignation be viewed as admission that he feels he's done the best he can, but someone with a different skill set is needed to move forward? Knowing when to let someone else lead is also an important trait in a leader. I believe the answer is "yes" to many of these questions. Though you may not agree, you owe your readers an opportunity to decide for themselves.

I'm in NO WAY trying to argue that the Board is without flaws or the District is evil, but where is the reporting of the deeper issues here?

...I implore you to investigate more deeply the issues surrounding our public schools and, if necessary, bring to light and analyze the deeper issues so that everyone may have constructive conversation...Please look at future recommendations on the subjects of closure, transportation, school choice or whatever on their merits as they align with District objectives. Please work to be an informative source and a constructive force, instead of one that perpetuates and, in some cases, creates divisiveness.

I believe strong public schools are vital to a healthy democracy. I know that sensationalism and radicals sell papers, but on the issue of public schools, please weigh every word you write against whether or not it contributes to a better understanding of the issues. Our schools and our children are too important to do anything less.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good for Jennifer! They need to hear this and often. I have often been told by both reporters and editorial board folks that they operate separately but I think it makes it very uncomfortable for the reporters when they feel like there is a definite slant/push in one direction.