Graves: The neighborhood bulletin and all its majesty

Now, I realize that the publication of the District Bulletin is not a universally heralded event like the last Harry Potter book. (I know for sure that no child will line up at Kmart at midnight to get shot, like one of my sons and I did to whet his literary appetite.) Yet once that of this year will be really distributed, that is 21 consecutive years of DRC.

And I am quite proud of the creation of such a historical database. But if most people have to stifle a yawn when I mention it, why exactly would I feel good about this year’s issue or one of its older brothers?

I do this for several reasons.

First, I appreciate the DRC because it fulfills an arguably sacred obligation I owe to the students, parents and taxpayers of the Mitchell School District. Government services, such as public schools, exist thanks to the largesse of the taxpayer. This means that while the field is more competitive than it once was due to open enrollment, home schooling and private schools, we are not as sensitive to the whims and demands of the market. Without this ever-present pressure to operate in a capitalist free exchange system, consumer dollar for a good or service, we owe it to parents, students and taxpayers to share the data on our successes and failures. This is what the DRC does through reporting on enrollment, student performance, goals, extracurricular activities and finances. There it is, warts and everything.

Second, the District School Report Card, although it took a lot of work to create, is a wonderful source of practical information for me as the Superintendent of Schools. When I need to look at trend lines in student results, I wonder which years we took for our opt-out and which years we didn’t, I can’t quite remember when our registrations have started to rise or when they have started to decline due to demographic trends, I can just go up to the shelf and cut down the sheaf of them living there, disturbing their sleep. In other words, I’m a bit of a data freak and always having it handy feels like a foodie with a desk in the Oak Room. Yum.

Third, it is, at least in parts, user friendly. Have you ever read a government publication? Of course not, and for good reason. They tend to be gray, unimaginative tomes filled with large columns of data and page after page of narrative written in a consistently passive voice. When we started creating the first DRC, we consciously tried to emulate USA Today, originally famous for its generous white space, illustrative graphics, bold titles, and user-friendly philosophy. While we don’t always succeed (see the sections on progressing goals, for example), much of the DRC is made up exclusively of large, easy-to-read tables, charts, and illustrations. Few things are more unnecessary than publishing a serious document that no one will read. While this is sometimes an unfortunate compromise, it is better to provide accurate, if not complete, and compelling information than accurate, complete, and mind-numbing.

Finally, the RDC reflects my passion. Although I can imagine being involved in other areas of work, pursuing other careers, I have never doubted that I chose the right one. Education is in my being. I have chalk dust in my veins, as do more than a dozen family members, from teachers and country superintendents to chefs, librarians and school teachers. Capturing the reality of a school district in the form of the DRC is meaningful to me, in its successes and failures and everything in between.

No, it’s not Harry Potter. For me it is even better.

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