Out of My Mind 25

Don’t kill the messenger

Two issues back we ran an article on the Oroville School Board meeting with a headline announcing the fact the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has put the Oroville Junior-Senior HighSchool on a list of 50 “persistently low-achieving” schools. SuperintendentSteve Quick was upset the newspaper used that as a headline, rather thansomething more positive like we did for the Tonasket School Board article.

Quick told me on the phone he was worried that negative news would lead to more new residents like Border Patrol Agents choosing Tonasket over Oroville when selecting a school for their children. He then proceeded to say it seemed like I had a preference for Tonasket School District overOroville – something he has hinted at in the past. I try not to show a preference, but grew up in Oroville and graduated from there and despite my best efforts, if anything the old rivalry still exists, and I lean toward my alma mater – Go Hornets.

The headline for the Tonasket school board article was about the board receiving Certificates of Appreciation – something that if I checked would probably hold true for every school board director in the state – not a headline that says much. As both editor and reporter on that article I stick with my decision to highlight the letter from OSPI – it was the one issue that had the most discussion from Junior-High School Principal Patricia Scott during her principal’s report. She spent time talking about the letter she was sending out to parents (which we quoted from extensively) to address the issue and explained the district was eligible for special federal monies to help remove it from “persistently low-achieving” status. The fact we were eligible for a federal grant was our subhead and was in the lead paragraph in the article.

Scott explained that two of the four options open to Oroville to change its status were 1.) getting rid of the principal and half the staff and 2.) getting rid of the principal and do a transformation. Both, especially the first option, seem to be pretty drastic steps, reinforcing my decision that this was the most important part of the school board meeting and the other things could wait until the next week’s issue. The natural question that springs to mind is why would we get rid of a principal who only had just begun at the district this school year, when the OSPI based the listing on the previous three years? Before I had a chance to ask, someone sitting next to Scott did it for me and she said it did not affect her because she had just started at the school.

What Supt. Quick seemed most disturbed by was being listed as “low-achieving” in the first place. It is disturbing and is not positive news, even if it does come with the “chance” of additional funding. The superintendent asked for space to explain why the data used to make the determination was flawed and that other schools, including Tonasket, were inthe same boat. We gladly gave Quick lots of room to explain his reasoning and that’s fine, although it is still somewhat confusing as to why Oroville was singled out. Both the original article on the school board meeting and Quick’s comments can still be found on our website: www.gazette-tribune.com.

Negative news is a fact of life, things are not always rosie and we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we portrayed it as such. We were not the only publication to report on Oroville being on the list – I wonder if the others got the same call I did.

What I find disturbing is the “kill the messenger” attitude, but this is not the first time Quick has disagreed with me on something I’ve reported at a school board meeting. I wish that he hadn’t used the first par tof the space and ink we gave him to take another shot at the newspaper, but I’ve survived worse and have developed a tough skin.

School board meetings are once a month at 5 p.m. on our deadline day which is why the articles are pretty much limited to what was actually said at the meeting, with follow-up if necessary the following week. I’ve had several members of the public tell me the meetings are obviously scheduled so fewer people can attend because many do not even get off work by that time of day. I do not know if it was by design or not, but it is another reason that reporting on what was said at the meetings is so important.

I value my high school alma mater and I want to see it succeed in every way possible. Looking back Oroville High School was a good experience and among many other things it did a good job of preparing me to get into a private four-year college.

After 23 years with the newspaper I’ve pushed down the old North County rivalry and I want to see both Oroville and Tonasket School Districts succeed. In the past we’ve offered to let school superintendents, hospital administrators, city mayors and county commissioners write a regular twice-monthly or monthly column. Perhaps Supt. Quick would like to do this and be proactive, rather than reactive and also have a chance to highlight any positive news we’ve missed.