How (un)friendly is local press coverage of superintendents right now?

District Administration offers a weekly roundup of the headlines district leaders are making (or that are being made for them) online, on the air and in print.

Superintendents can be easy targets for local newsrooms. On the other hand, musicals, sports and high-achieving students can provide some pretty glowing school press coverage for district leaders.

School districts, of course, are required by law to do just about everything out in the open, making salaries and spending, curriculum decisions, equity policies and most other operations easily accessible to concerned citizens and inquisitive reporters. And sometimes, press coverage can just leave communities confused. Take, for instance, two conflicting recent headlines about the Houston ISD takeover and state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles:

  • “Houston parents are pushing back against Superintendent Mike Miles’ reforms.” NBC News, Aug. 30.
  • “HISD parents, students welcome superintendent’s reforms to NES schools.” Houston ChronicleSept. 4. (Watch out for the paywall)

Did these ISD parents spend Labor Day Weekend getting comfortable with Miles’ ideas? Probably not.

To give you some idea of what your fellow superintendents are facing online, on the air and in print, District Administration is providing a weekly roundup of the headlines district leaders are making—or that are being made for them. (Note: We will not focus too much on hirings and departures because we have a separate series for that category of news).

Positive school press coverage!

Families look to local news outlets to help them get to know their education leaders. In Washington, new Bellevue School District Superintendent Kelly Aramaki traced his roots in the community back to the early 1900s in this report by Aramaki, his father and his grandfather all graduated from high schools in the Seattle-area district.

Kelly Aramaki

Many leaders, such as Niagara Falls School District (N.Y.) Superintendent Mark Laurrie, are trying to reassure parents that safety is a top priority as students return to class. “Without having safety in place, nothing else really matters,” he told the Niagara Gazette. “Without allaying that fear in parents, nothing else really matters.”

…and speaking of spending

The media in Massachusetts has been hounding Superintendent Mike Thomas, who went on medical leave from Brockton Public Schools around the same time it was revealed that the district is facing a $14 million budget shortfall. Thomas has since been speaking to the media, taking full responsibility for the deficit while insisting that nothing illegal occurred.

More from DA: 2 more superintendents quit as several leaders switch school districts

He told The Enterprise that the spending was well-documented and meant to support Brockton’s students. “I welcome any audit or investigation into that and I understand why they have to do that,” Thomas told the news outlet. “It’s taxpayers’ money and it needs to be explained.”

Plunging into politics

An Iowa superintendent who describes himself as a lifelong conservative is speaking out against his state’s new voucher program—even though his district didn’t lose any students to private or parochial this year. Lawton-Bronson Community Schools Superintendent Chad Shook told Iowa Public Radio that about 100 students open-enroll in his district each year and none of them has transferred.

Still, he believes education savings accounts ignore the needs of public schools. “Way back in high school, I joined the Republican Party, just for one reason: smaller government, more local control,” Shook told Iowa Public Radio. “I have seen this Republican Legislature take more local control away from schools than I’ve ever in my 33 years of being in education.”

Branden Durst
Branden Durst

The far-right conservative politics that have gained influence on school boards are facing a backlash that may threaten an Idaho superintendent’s job, according to the Spokesman-Review. The chair and vice chair of the West Bonner School District board were recalled late last month, leading to speculation that Branden Durst, the superintendent they hired, could also be dismissed.

Durst’s hiring angered parents and community members because, in part, he had no experience as a teacher or school administrator. Durst had worked for the conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation and has called for Idaho to ban gay pride flags and supports funding religious schools with public funds, the Spokesman-Review reported.

School board spats

You’ve no doubt heard the saying “If it bleeds, it leads” to describe the media’s fascination with chaos and controversy. In California over the weekend, the Palo Alto Daily Post revealed an ugly exchange of text messages between Superintendent Don Austin and school board member Shana Segal. In the texts, which were sent in May, Austin urges Segal to express her views about him publicly after the board member’s campaign manager criticized Palo Alto USD’s superintendent on social media.

When Segal replied that she wasn’t responsible for her campaign manager’s statements, Austin responded with “I am ready to go out soon. I can’t take the constant lies and attacks. You guys can pick the next person. I’m sure it will be everything you guys want. I’m done.” Segal then told him that she didn’t like his tone but was willing to discuss their issues by phone or at a board meeting, according to the Palo Alto Daily Post. 

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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