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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: We want to know community schools better

By Elizabeth Brixey
October 2, 2009 | 4:33 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — If you were to go through Missourian stories since January, as our librarian, Nina Johnson, recently did, you would find that Grant Elementary School is mentioned more than other schools in Columbia. (I’m excluding Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools, which get a lot of sports-related press.) I bet that Lee Elementary School would come in second, although we didn’t check that.

Proximity is one reason, although not an entirely good one. Grant is less than a mile west of the newsroom, Lee less than a mile east. New reporters out trolling for stories tend to first look close to campus, and as an editor trying to encourage their initiative, I acknowledge it’s easy to say, “Go ahead,” particularly early in the semester.

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But another reason is relational. In recent history — I’ve been at the Missourian since the fall of 2003 — Grant and Lee have repeatedly shown that they are willing to work with our reporters and photographers on any number of stories. Beverly Borduin, the principal at Grant, once put it to me this way: Why should she expect the paper to know about the many good things happening at Grant if she doesn’t let us get to know the school overall?

This was in the spring of 2008, and I was hanging out at Grant a bit. The trailer classroom there had recently burned, and I heard about the environmentally friendly “Eco Schoolhouse” planned to replace it while sitting in one of the child-sized chairs in Borduin’s office. Initially, she had invited one of our reporters to get to know the school, but as education editor, I took her up on the offer. I got a first-hand feel for Grant’s culture as a neighborhood school with a comparatively wide variety of ethnicities and income levels among its students.

Every school has a distinct culture, and we at the Missourian should know them in that way. We fall short.

My best guess is that we cover only a third of Columbia’s schools, public and private, with any regularity. Some, such as Field and Parkade elementary schools, are caught up in the No Child Left Behind storm. In a story scheduled to publish soon, reporter Molly Harbarger looks at the student-transfer issue related to No Child sanctions. Writing about schools in challenging times is harder — and sometimes incomplete — because we don’t have well-developed relationships with them.

Some schools don’t want reporters around at all. It’s understandable. But for those of you who are parents, teachers, principals and others, I invite you to have a look at our K-12 blog, Schoolhouse Talk, where we are trying to post all sorts of news from the schools. You can reach a reporter by commenting on one of the posts and asking someone to get in touch. Or you can e-mail or call me.

We also have nine neighborhood newsletters delivered to subscribers by e-mail about once a month. Reporters assigned to the neighborhoods — Parkade, Old Southwest, East Campus, Benton-Stephens, Woodridge, Douglass, Stonecrest, Cherry Hill and Shepard/Hinkson Creek/Moon Valley — want to put your school news in their newsletters.

We want to know you.

Elizabeth Brixey oversees the Missourian’s coverage of K-12 and higher education. E-mail: brixeye@missouri.edu. Phone: 882-2632