School Board, 9.16.19: Applicant Interviews and Reporting

On Monday night, the Whitewater Unified School District’s board met to interview four applicants for a vacancy on the board (following the resignation of board member Jean Linos). The agenda for the meeting, although posted online, listed none of the applicants: not by total number, let alone by name or with their accompanying letters of interest.

Board members must have seen the agenda beforehand; they should have known that it was a paltry one.

Yesterday, I submitted a public records request under Wisconsin law to the district for a video recording, information on the vote tally for the applicants, and the letters of interest the applicants submitted. The video is now online (see above); the district has replied that responses to the two other items in the request are pending.

These applicants – Andrew Crone, Maryann Zimmerman, Miguel Aranda, and Nick Baldwin – presented well, and one wishes successful applicant Miguel Aranda the best during his term on the board (a term running to April 2020). (In the final round between applicants, the board selected between Aranda and Zimmerman, on a 5-1 vote for Aranda.)

There were two questions for each applicant:

  1. Tell about yourself and why you are interested in serving the students, families, and staff of the Whitewater School District.
  2. Please share what skills, characteristics, and experience that would enhance your service on the school board.

Anyone watching the video will see that this was a strong group of applicants. Whitewater should know their names, see their letters of interest, and know how current board members voted for the applicants. There’s so much talk about celebrating successes, and yet a genuine success – having a good group of applicants – was not, so to speak, celebrated enough (with good information).

After this meeting, a reporter (Beleckis, Jonah) for the Janesville Gazette wrote a brief and low-information story about the meeting. See Whitewater School Board’s newest member says he can be a liaison for Latino community. His newspaper uses the motto ‘Local Matters,’ but Whitewater’s local didn’t matter much to the reporter: he didn’t take the time to list all the applicants’ names, the questions they answered, or even tell which two applicants made it to the final round.

For this reporter and the paper’s editor (Schwartz, Sid) this was a shallow and forgettable effort. A single theme worked into a headline, but less information than one would expect from a high-school newspaper. This looks like the work of those who do not respect their readers: men who doubt the ability of readers to follow facts about Whitewater and instead think that the title is all that matters to a story. Readers in Whitewater – and everywhere else – are sharper than that, and deserve more than that. (What would be worse: if the Gazette’s editor doesn’t read what goes in his own paper, or if he does and still approves?)

It’s admirable for a board member to want to be a liaison to a community; a proper newspaper story would be able to convey that message while still stating key facts about an interview.

It should be needless to say that the selection of an applicant deserves more than a few words accompanying a treacly photograph.

Again, and again: the best record is a recording.

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A Town Squire
4 years ago

100% agree. Whitewater gets the short stick on news. Agree that this was a good school pick but the paper has to put everyone in the story. Guess one sentence w/names was too much work. WE ARE NOT JANESVILLE’S REST STOP.

Whitewater Mom
4 years ago

Our school district and city government could use improvement in sharing information BEFORE things are decided. It gives an opportunity for the voters to contact the members. No doubt a good decision this time, but c’mon people – do some advance communication planning.