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Nan Austin: School year’s end brings out the best and worst of times

05/14/2014 8:44 PM

05/14/2014 8:44 PM

It’s celebration season, and schools have planned more awards, commendations and sentimental sendoffs than I can count, much less attend. It’s also a time of change, and therefore upset, for many parents who call seeking solutions I can’t provide.

There never will be enough reporters to write – or pages to print – all the memorable moments of the last days of a school year. Fortunately, they do not need press attention to be wonderful. They quite rightly exist to serve those in the community who will be there, cheering and clapping, eyes leaking and hearts overflowing.

Some examples:

• Paradise School dedicated a tree this month for a beloved, longtime custodian who died of cancer.
• At Wilson Elementary School, a caring custodian came up with a plan to give bicycles to kids with perfect attendance. They have 18 to 20 donations for as many worthy recipients at the Modesto campus, where attendance is up dramatically.
• The Turlock Educational Foundation will hold its first Iron Chef fundraiser Friday, with local culinary arts students helping out in the kitchen at the California State University, Stanislaus, dining hall.
• Osborn Elementary in Turlock celebrated 20 years of dual-language learners Wednesday with a reception for those who convinced a then-skeptical public of the research behind and potential going forward for bilingual education.
• Student filmmakers walked the red carpet at the State Theatre in Modesto for the Reel Life Film Festival on Wednesday. The program applauds the kids and the after-school programs where these artistic impulses were nurtured.

That’s a sampling of the good news.

Fielding phone calls to the newsroom Wednesday morning, I got an earful of bad news, the solve-my-problem demands that boil down to: “You need to write how right I am.”

A thousand details and special circumstances and justifications later, that remains the core of it. Sometimes there is a larger truth in everyday struggles against unjust institutions, clueless bosses, nefarious neighbors and vindictive ex-spouses. So I do listen.

But I need to get better at telling these callers the truth: If I did have the time and resources (not to mention subpoena powers) to look into this, you probably wouldn’t like the story I would write.

Case in point: Wednesday morning, I got a call from a father outraged by a high school campus supervisor his son says is a bully. The senior’s education is being ruined by this woman. He isn’t safe, and the school and district won’t do anything about it, the dad says.

A second-hand account. No talk of witnesses willing to step forward. No YouTube videos. Almost certainly no comment from the school district. This is not a story – at least not at this point.

The call I take ends with a suggestion that he talk with a campus police officer about his son’s safety. “Thanks for nothing!” he shouts, and then hangs up.

Certainly I have seen campus supervisors be awful to some kids and a lifesaver to others. But painting his son as a helpless victim will not sound anything like the story he’s writing in his head.

Shouting people bent on bringing the righteous wrath of the fourth estate down on someone’s head do not want to hear that. But I’m hoping, in a quiet moment by themselves, they can read it.

About This Blog

Bee staff writer Nan Austin provides insights into the latest on local schools and education. @NanAustin

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