Looking Beyond News Of The Moment: A Quest To Tell Larger Stories
Or, how one editor gets out of her town and finds there's a wider world out there.
I got out of East Greenwich three times last week and returned each time with a yearning to tell new stories. I write this essay partly to hold my feet to that fire.
That's because, in this job, it is WAY too easy to be waylaid by the next meeting, accident, store opening – as worthy as they might be – passing up stories that address bigger, more complex issues.
Last Monday, I attended a meeting of the Department of Education's Race to the Top steering committee at the Rhode Island Foundation in Providence. Though the meeting was open to the public, I think I was the only reporter there.
I got to see Dept. of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, just returned from a three-month medical leave because of surgery to remove a brain tumor. But what really impressed me was the report on what's called Beginning Teacher Induction.
The program, paid for through federal Race to the Top funds, has established a full-time team of teacher-coaches who work with all first-year teachers in the state, helping them find their way.
A team from Central Falls attended the meeting and their reports were nothing short of breathtaking – both from the point of view of the coaches ("The training was amazing," said one man about the coach preparation) and the first-year teachers (observation is “probably my favorite part of the program," said one teacher).
I met one coach who's working with three teachers here in EG – I'll have a story on how that program is working here in coming days.
The other program I learned about is the statewide "I Pledge" initiative. Never heard of it? I hadn't either. It turns out Rhode Island, as part of Race to the Top, instituted this buy-in campaign, looking to get parents, educators, everyone, to sign a pledge committing themselves to education.
As of now, more than 8,100 pledges have been made by a variety of stakeholders on the campaign website, www.educationpledgeri.org, but in a state of 1 million people, that's ... nothing. What's the status of "I Pledge" in EG? That's another story I'll be working on.
The very next morning, I returned to the Rhode Island Foundation for URI's annual Media Breakfast. Dan Hurley was there "as bait," URI President David Dooley said, knowing lots of people in the state are interested in hearing from the school's new basketball coach.
But it was Dooley who did pretty much all of the talking. Some of that I reported on Thursday. What I didn't mention was how impressed I was by what I learned about the university and how glad I was to hear about its plans to become a bigger presence in Providence, and the economic success of the state as a whole.
Takeaway Dooley quote: "We [need to] change that mindset that somehow the people in Little Compton are not the same as the people in Woonsocket and that we're not in this together." See video, right.
Then, on Friday, I attended the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting's daylong workshop on climate change at URI's Bay Campus.
Metcalf assembled an impressive number of speakers, from scientists and environmentalists to the director of the Dept. of Transportation and several FEMA representatives. With Hurricane Sandy only in our near-distant past, the topics covered (mainly the effects of sea level rise on infrastructure, habitats, and budgets) were remarkably timely.
Seeing ariel photos of Matunuck from 1994 and 2012 was nothing short of shocking – 60 to 80 feet of beach has been lost in that time.
East Greenwich was largely spared the brunt of Sandy, but Norton's Marina lost its roof and Rocky Hill School faces expensive fixes. And there's no way we will be immune to problems with rising sea levels going forward.
There was also talk about the number of heavy rains and torrential rains occurring in Rhode Island in recent years. I've been hearing the same sort of thing from Town Manager Bill Sequino and DPW head Joe Duarte. We need to be ready for the possibility of more of these storms going forward.
A week of big issues. I plan to use what I learned to inform what I report and write going forward. I hope readers will make sure I do just that.