Sunday, September 10, 2006

New hire goal to make D300 accountable

The following article appeared in the Courier News Newspaper
My husband and I have been fighting for education spending reform for almost four years. Over this time I learned to read newspaper articles and quotes within newspapers with more skepticism. I have learned that there is probably a lot more behind the story. A half hour conversation with reporters has more often than not been boiled down to one or two lines. The reporters usually choose to report on my minor points instead of my major concerns or points. I have come to know why so many others just do not want to talk to reporters.

Some points that I made to Miss Hovanec that were not reported were the following.
Government monopolies such as schools do not need public relations persons as it is not a matter of choice for parents and students as to where they send their children unless they are wealthy. School's primary goal is to educate students. If schools were educating students properly and spending tax dollars wisely there would be no need for public relations persons for schools. What more proof does someone need that Allison Smith was biased toward District 300 than that they hired Allison Smith as their publication relations person.

In the article below Ms. Smith said "Superintendent Arndt said he chose me because he wants me to play devil's advocate with the district, " If Mr. Arndt were truly looking for someone to play devil's advocate he should have hired a vocal critique and not someone who wrote fluff pieces like "Monkey business afoot in D-300 " which appeared in the August 11, 2006 edition of the Northwest Herald. This was a fluff piece that was better suited for the Sneed column in the Chicago Sun Times.

New hire goal to make D300 accountable

By Jeanne Hovanec

CARPENTERSVILLE — Two shootings were reported in the village Monday and the first instance prompted a 40-minute lock-down at three local schools.

It was a heck of a first day for Community Unit School District 300's new communications specialist, Allison Smith.

Smith says crises and shootings are nothing new to her. The former education reporter for the Northwest Herald worked on the police beat when she started her profession at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for a year and a half after graduating from journalism school at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

"It was a great first day because everyone was safe," Smith said. "Being on the police beat made me a better listener and more compassionate. You have to be good under pressure."

But the pressure continues for the Texas native who is housing pages of future projects on her desk and whose name is no stranger to local blogging sites.

Pushing communications

Although she has finished only one week of work, and only a four-day week at that, Smith has projects in the works to elevate District 300's ability to communicate both internally and externally.
She already has began working with District 300's webmaster to give its Web site an overhaul both aesthetically and in the information provided. She hopes to be able to post press releases online to keep the public up to date with District 300 matters.

In addition, Smith plans to start polls on the Web site to help gage the public's opinion of the district. One example of a possible topic of a poll question would be if people feel the district is living up to its promises about a $185 million bond referendum that voters passed in March.

"I don't feel like I have a huge mountain to climb," Smith said. "I have a trust to maintain. Right now the status between the district and the public is positive and I have two tools to maintain that: making the district accountable for its promises and being honest."

Has critics, supporters

But that might be difficult for Smith who already is being scrutinized for her attention to District 300 while she worked as an education reporter for the Northwest Herald. Cathy Peschke, spokeswoman for Citizens for Reasonable and Fair Taxes, criticized Smith for the way she covered the referendum last year for the newspaper. Peschke says Smith "bent over backwards to defend the school district" and labeled Peschke's group as an anti-referendum group when the group had told her it was a taxpayer advocacy group. She says the mislabel, "clearly showed she was biased toward our view."
Smith is not shocked by the attention and says she would be disappointed if people did not voice their complaints.

"I have never shied away from alternate viewpoints of the district," Smith said. "At the time, opponents of D300 cheered and thanked me for the research. I encourage them to recall my efforts and know that I will keep questioning D300."

Cal Skinner, who contributes on the Web site, McHenry County Blog, agrees with Smith that figures used during the referendum campaign were correct and found her stories helpful when blogging.

"I found one of her articles prior to the campaign very revealing," he said. "I am delighted with how she covered it."

And in the end, it is those researching and critical thinking skills that contributed to her getting hired for the position in the first place, Smith says.

"Superintendent Arndt said he chose me because he wants me to play devil's advocate with the district," she said. "If I didn't know that coming in here, I would have been destined to fail. I want to keep D300 accountable."


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