Direct Diving – Oakdale Leader

Everyone has a first day.

That’s the thought that came to my mind last Thursday as I read disapproving comments about a story written at the most recent OJUSD School Board meeting. The story, “COVID Concerns Spike at School Board Meeting,” had made its way onto the Oakdale Leader Social Media page and readers were quick to weigh in on how much was missed. Some of the comments were a little more critical of borderline insult, but that’s not just the nature of the business, but the times we live in. It is what it is, as I say a lot these days.

However, as I read both the piece and the comments, I couldn’t help but feel both frustrated and disappointed for colleague Sarah Lawson.

There was no byline in the story, so some assumed I wrote it; I do not have. Editor Marg Jackson had spent the next few months sitting on the couch at certain events and enlisted Lawson’s help. Young and eager, Lawson graciously accepted the assignment and as far as I understand logged in from home.

Only barely a month in her chair, Lawson is many things I remember from my early days in this business; she is enthusiastic, willing and excited about the opportunity. That board meeting was in many ways her “first day” and as many of us have learned, first days don’t always go smoothly.

After reading the comments and feedback from readers, I decided to go back and see the meeting for myself. The agenda had brought up a few things, but nothing really caught my eye when I went through it before the meeting… I was wrong.

There were a lot of things that came up, that’s always the case in a school board meeting and for the past 10 years I’ve covered them. The challenge is often greater than not, to find the key pieces that are important to review, as well as to identify the pieces that might need a little more copy space. After all, it’s a news story and space usually doesn’t allow 5000 characters in a meeting.

There is a rule learned early on in this industry, at least for those of us who spent a minute on it. When writing, it’s always best to apply KISS’s rule: Keep It Simple Stupid.

Oh now I realize in this present day that last word may not be okay, but that’s the acronym and I’m sticking with it.

So back to the meeting. First off, I’m sorry I missed it. A lot of content came through public comments and as someone who has been in that room as long as I have, that’s nice to see.

Oakdale High School student Brayden Costa undoubtedly left a lasting impression when he addressed the board on the topic of zero period and its importance if the district had to adapt to the later start time. This student gave them much to think about through research into various facts that one could not help but sit up and pay attention to. Brayden had done his homework and argued for what would certainly be a very big miss on the part of the district if the zero period is not adjusted in the new potential schedule once the bill is passed by the powers in Sacramento.

Fellow OHS Mustang Charles Leon also offered a challenge, respecting the board, when he discussed the topic of the mask mandate. More specifically, Charles questioned the reasoning that masks are required for drama, choir and band students, but not for athletes in the various sports. Offering specific examples of close proximity in some sports where masks are not required and assuring the board students in the above-mentioned extracurricular arts subjects are not in that close contact.

It was exciting to hear that Transport Director Ralph Meza shares the successes of the Transport department. Meza has worked hard from the day he joined the OJUSD team to rebuild a department in need of positive guidance and direction. The January 10 meeting was a good example of that success.

Listening to long-time classified employee Delores Ybarra was what I love about our district and the people it employs. When her passion came out through emotion, the board quickly saw what so many parents in this neighborhood already know, there are many people who love our children. Personally, Ybarra was once a Yard Duty monitor in my duo’s elementary school. They loved Mrs. Delores and were overjoyed when she became their bus driver. It was very special to see her now continue with a new passion for driving our children.

Newly appointed board member Terri Taylor, mentioned a ride she once took during her tenure as Assistant Superintendent. I was with her on that ride and got a good sense of how special these drivers are and what it takes to do their job. I compared their work to being a teacher with your back to the classroom while driving a very large vehicle. One big difference: It’s all age ranges and energy levels, oh and you have to navigate the traffic while keeping them safe in their seats.

Trustee Areas were also discussed via Zoom call with one of the district’s representative attorneys. A topic that has been visited more recently by the board and is now worth repeating. Like so many things that come up in these meetings, it’s important, but it’s not a new topic.

In summary, I think it’s all important. The journalist’s challenge is to decide what to highlight and that is not an easy task. Will it always be what the reader finds “newsworthy”? Probably not. What an impartial person may consider remarkable may carry a different weight than someone with a vested interest.

In terms of the feedback offered through social media, apart from some public comments, there wasn’t really much talk about the pandemic. As a viewer, that was refreshing, but again… everyone has a first day.

Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She can be reached at thammond@oakdaleleader.com or by calling 209-847-3021.

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