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On making an impact

Today I think was the first time I really knew my education reporting here had made an impact. Not just in an, “I appreciated your story,” or “You did a nice job covering that issue,” or even “Thank you for bringing X to light, too many people don’t know about it,” way. No, it made an institutional difference. And yet, when the man I was talking to told me, he apologized thinking I wouldn’t want to hear.

I’m working on a story about parental involvement in one local school corporation. This year they have made this a huge priority. I keep hearing it, left, right, center. Parents, principals, etc. They’re even paying to send teams from three of the schools to a parent leadership academy to develop more parent-focused programs for the schools. In short, the district is making, if not strides, an honest to God effort, and the teams are getting ready to begin implementing what they’ve been studying/planning this coming semester.

Insert me. I’m following up on this academy group. I talked to a few administrators, a counselor and a few parents. Another parent called me back tonight. I asked him how he got involved and why. His reply?

“You probably don’t want to hear this, but honestly it was all the bad press (the school) and (the school district) were getting in the J&C. I kept reading it and thought it was giving a bad impression about the schools. So I wanted to get more people involved. So I approached (the superintendent) and asked what I could do. …”

I could have chosen to take it the way I take many complaints about how negative the paper is regarding that school. I could point to the dozens of stories I alone have written this year about positive things happening there. I could point to the stories that are perceived as negative and, at the least, show they are balanced and fair. I could tell him, I can’t control the news that comes out of the school — if you have low graduation rates or high incidence of violence, you should be held accountable.

But I didn’t.

Instead, it dawned on me this man, having gotten sick of reading about negative things in the schools, took it upon himself to improve the schools. And the district has joined him to devote significant resources (that parent academy isn’t cheap, to say nothing of the cost of staff time to implement the programs they’re developing) to see its students have a better chance at success.

Holy crap, I thought. In a roundabout way, I did that. It feels good to make an impact, even if it’s not in the way I intended.

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