Monthly Archives: March 2008

How bloggers are Moneyballing newspapers into competitive balance

moneyball.jpgIf you’ve never read Moneyball, do it. Even if you’re not a baseball fan — if you’re reading it correctly, it’s more of a business book than a baseball book.

The book in a rough summary: The Oakland A’s are a low-budget Major League Baseball team trying to compete with teams that have much, much higher payrolls. To make up the difference, the A’s general manager has to find the undervalued traits in players, enabling him to buy low-cost players who actually outproduce the high-cost players on the richer teams.

He relies on statistical analysis to find these overlooked players, with on-base percentage the biggest overlooked factor. By targeting players who fit his criteria, which often went directly against how baseball teams have been run for years, he’s able to stay competitive with his wealthy competitors despite an enormous economic disadvantage.

Sound familar to journalists? It should. We’re the Yankees.

So what’s the undervalued trait that bloggers — the A’s — have leveraged to sometimes put themselves at the level of professional journalists?

Passion.

Every blogger has it, and it shows. They enthusiastically spend much of their time reading about their subject. They spend their free time interacting with others who share their passion. They bathe in information that matters to them.

A large percentage of journalists, meanwhile, hate their jobs. Those who don’t probably only hate half of their jobs. Even the I-was-born-for-this reporters out there get plenty of assignments they’d love to push aside.

In this category, bloggers have elbowed their way into a tremendous advantage. I’ve learned far more about my Philadelphia Phillies by reading The Good Phight and Phuture Phillies than I ever could from reading the sports pages of any Pennsylvania newspaper. Frankly, it’s not even close. Phuture Phillies in particular goes into a depth no newspaper could accomplish, and there’s a large community of grateful Phans who follow it. I’m one of them — I have no need to ever read a story about the Phillies in my own newspaper when I have those blogs in my Google Reader. The whole premise that newspapers need to be saved falls apart when these blogs are whooping up on newspapers the way they are.

Journalists, meanwhile, are taught to suffocate our passion. It creates lifeless writing, and sometimes lazy reporting. The best journalists can’t be suffocated, or were lucky to be put in a position where their passion is just too strong.

Journalists shouldn’t be passionate about Hillary Clinton or the Philadelphia Phillies — but they should be passionate about politics or sports. I can think of a number of reporters who fit this description.

Now, here’s the interesting post script when it comes to Moneyball: Since the book came out, even the high-budget teams are mimicking its tactics. Most teams are using sophisticated statistical analysis, and most have accepted the gospel of on-base percentage.

So it’s time for journalists to behave like those other MLB teams and catch up to the bloggers on passion.  Institute a “20 percent time” philosophy in newsrooms to get more interesting stories in the paper. If necessary, restructure beats so reporters have an interest in what they’re writing about. Ask job applicants what they’d most like to write about, and make a serious effort to connect the two once they’re hired.

Are there other “Moneyball factors” I’m missing?

I’m not dead yet. I don’t want to go on the cart.

grimreaper.gifIn a significant portion of the journalism blogging community, I’ve witnessed the following themes emerge:

  • We’re all going to die. We’re all going to freaking die.
  • There are two types of reporters: Those who “get it,” and those who “just don’t get it.” If you don’t know what you’re getting, then you clearly don’t get it.
  • Those who “just don’t get it” need to hurry up and “get it,” or we’re all going to die.

And then there are all of those journalists who aren’t blogging, but are complaining just as loudly about how the Internet is messing everything up.

It’s more of a spectrum than a dichotomy, of course, but no matter where you fall there’s a lot of negativity. We’re awfully short on working together, though, and it’s getting pretty nasty out there.

So I’m hoping to join the many blogs I’ve read that are somewhere between the bunkers.

I’m totally down with new media skills — I use Facebook and MySpace as reporting tools on a consistent basis (example here), and I’ll write plenty about my Hershey Home site that I set up as part of Jay Rosen and David Cohn‘s beatblogging.org project. I fully understand how a loaded RSS reader is essential in keeping me on top of my community and the larger culture. I’m trying to improve my audio and video skills.

But I don’t look down upon reporters who didn’t understand a word in that last paragraph, yet could report and write me under the table. There’s a place for them, too.

I would never claim to have any grand visions about how we can cure newspapers’ economic woes, how to pull life-sustaining profits from our Web sites or otherwise save this struggling industry.

My focus is smaller: The simple ways that any reporter can make journalism better, including but not limited to Internet skills.

Nothing more to see here

stop_sign_page.pngThere’s no need to read anything below this entry.

Below this is my depository of clips, just so I could make the Clips page you can find on top of the site. If you really want to read my work, you’re better off going to that clips page so you can read some of the context of each story.

It’s a new blog, so this is all I’ve got so far. Check back soon.

CLIPS: Grace’s new life at the Milton Hershey School (12/02/07)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

There was never much space between 4-year-old Grace Stanley and her mother, Louann.

They routinely slept snuggled against each other. During the day, Grace rarely left Louann’s side. Grace talked, talked, talked, winning affection with her infectious giggle and near-permanent smile.

Grace was Louann Stanley’s little baby.

She still is. But when Louann sent Grace to the Milton Hershey School in Derry Twp., entrusting a surrogate set of houseparents and an $8 billion organization to feed, clothe, shelter, educate and nurture Grace until she graduates from high school, she had to learn to let go much earlier than most parents.

As Grace learns her ABCs, has her first crush, earns her driver’s license and gets accepted to college, Louann will experience the journey, starting this year, through phone calls and occasional visits.

Grace is the third child Louann, of Shiremanstown, has sent to the school. Everything is free to the single mother, who has entrusted the girls to the school because she must care for a fourth daughter, a mentally handicapped 10-year-old who requires near-constant attention.

But Hannah, 7, and Brianna, 14, didn’t start at the school when they were as young as Grace. This year, Louann knew, would be tough.

At the end of enrollment day on Aug. 4, their final day together before Grace started school, Grace was more interested in playing with her new friends and toys than spending time with her mother.

“I guess I’ll just leave if you don’t want me here,” Louann said to Grace.

Her tone was playful, but it was a difficult goodbye.

Without her mother, Grace struggled to fall asleep her first night.

Enrollment day

When Grace is comfortable, she’s a clown, she giggles unceasingly and she often gives hugs.

On the morning of her first day, Grace wasn’t herself.

While listening to elementary administrators explain the school, she climbed into her mother’s lap and burrowed her head in her chest. Louann repeatedly kissed Grace on the forehead.

Administrators warned parents that the children were likely to have a tough time at first. To ease Grace’s transition, the school told Louann not to come back for four to six weeks and to call only once a week.

“Focus on your dreams and goals,” said Myron McCurdy, a home administrator. “Don’t give in to the temporary pain and sadness.”

Grace met Kara Brady, an assistant principal at the elementary school. Brady told her that she’s beautiful, and Grace gave her a hug.

By lunchtime, the real Grace was emerging.

She met Kyle, who is in her prekindergarten class. They cheerfully chased each other, both carrying balloons, until their parents made them go.

They went to the student home, a spacious but warm place with rooms for eight girls. Grace tried each of the toys in the recreation room.

Now, having met the girls with whom she would live, Grace couldn’t be bothered with her mother. “Who wants to do puzzles with me?” she asked the girls.

Louann took the hint. She asked Grace for a kiss and a hug. Grace quickly complied, told Mom she loved her, and then ran off with her new friends.

Worried about Grace’s sleeping habits, Louann left a pillow in Grace’s cubby. She told the houseparents, Linda and Dennis Van Scoyoc, to give it to Grace only if she needed it – Louann had sprayed it with her perfume.

“My heart is very heavy, but I know she’s going to be taken care of,” she said.

A mother’s battle

In those first weeks, when she couldn’t visit, Louann considered pulling Grace from the school.

“I just missed her presence and her hugs and her kisses and her giggles and her smiles and talking to me,” she said. “She would talk from the time she got up to the time she went to bed. I wouldn’t get one minute of peace because she just didn’t know how to be quiet. I said, ‘Can you be quiet for one minute?’ And we timed it, and she couldn’t do it. It was killing her.”

But Louann knew she was doing this for good reason. She works from home – she does real estate work and tries to sell candles on the side to boost her income – until Diana, 10, returns at 3 p.m. from Broad Street Elementary School in the Mechanicsburg Area School District. Then she devotes her time to Diana; her daughter’s needs have made it impossible to get a full-time job, Louann said.

She and the girls’ father divorced. The girls occasionally visit him.

Some family members thought Louann should have sent Diana to a special school and kept Grace, Hannah and Brianna at home.

“I wanted them to get the best I could give them, and that really is why I sent them there,” she said. “I can’t give them as much as they’re getting there.”

In many places, there’s a stigma attached to “giving up your child” until the school is understood, said John O’Brien, the president of the Milton Hershey School.

Most students enter the school in their middle-school years, so Grace will have an advantage by joining so early, he said. The “Ivy League treatment in kindergarten” can better form self-confidence, he said. “It just then becomes a way of life,” he said. “So that the Milton Hershey way, which is all about character strength, is imbued in a deep and enduring way.”

At first, Grace didn’t make it easy on her mother. Grace felt overwhelmed by the rules she had to learn, such as putting away her toys or sweeping the floor.

“I’m too little,” Grace tearfully told her mother on one of their weekly phone chats in August. “I thought I was grown up, but I’m not.”

Her new home

In class and at home, Grace made progress.

“Grace participates well in whole group settings and is eager to answer questions and learn new things,” her teacher, Lisa Rundle, wrote to Louann in September.

She was well behaved and made friends easily. For show-and-tell, one student brought in a stuffed animal that she had named after Grace. During recess, Grace played with most of the eight students in the class.

As the students chose seats before science class, one girl told her: “I’m sitting next to you because you’re the bestest girl.”

At the student home, one girl nicknamed her “Giggle Gracie” because of her frequent giggling fits. Since she was the youngest, the girls looked at Grace like a little sister, houseparent Linda Van Scoyoc said.

She was becoming more affectionate, initiating hugs with the Van Scoyocs instead of simply allowing them. She had no problems falling asleep.

Initially, she shared a room with her sister Hannah. But Grace was relying on Hannah too much, rarely leaving her, so they were separated three weeks later.

And Grace missed her mom. After each visit with Louann, Grace would struggle to readjust to the home. She’d cry after getting off the phone with her mom.

“They have to grow up fast sometimes,” Linda Van Scoyoc said.

The Van Scoyocs have been houseparents for 26 years but have never had a child as young as Grace. They have two children themselves, one of whom lives at the home.

Their purpose isn’t to replace Grace’s parents, but the children need to feel at home and feel loved, Linda Van Scoyoc said.

Linda Van Scoyoc gathers them before dinner each night to read them a Christian-themed story. They hold hands in a circle and pray before their meal. Over dinner, the girls meticulously follow table manners. They get ice cream and cookies for dessert only if they’ve been displaying good behavior that week.

As it approaches 7 p.m., Grace climbs into Linda Van Scoyoc’s lap in the living room for a bedtime story. Grace brushes her teeth, and they walk back to Grace’s room.

There, Linda Van Scoyoc tucks her in, prays with her and turns out the lights.

Back in Shiremanstown

Home for a long Thanksgiving break, Grace was playing with her sisters better and not talking as much, Louann said.

She was more willing to help and less whiny, Louann said. As Diana played on her own and Hannah watched “Hannah Montana” on TV, Grace joyfully played with her room full of toys.

At night, Hannah and Grace fell asleep with Louann. After Grace fell asleep, Louann carried her back to her own bed.

Around 2 a.m., Louann heard the pitter-patter of feet. Grace returned to the room and squeezed between her sister and mother.

Grace excitedly talked about her friends, houseparents and teachers while she was at home.

When it was time for Grace to return to school, she and her mom hugged, kissed, said “I love you” and parted ways again. For the first time, Grace didn’t cry.

“I know the school is a good place, and I know everything is wonderful, but she’s my baby,” Louann said.

“I know someday she’s going to tell me it was the best thing I ever did for her.”


INFOBOX:ABOUT THE MILTON HERSHEY SCHOOLThe Derry Twp. school for disadvantaged children was created by the town’s founder, Milton S. Hershey.

* WHAT IT PROVIDES: Free education, housing, medical care, clothing and food for the students, whose families must show need. The school spends $76,000 per student per year.

* ENROLLMENT: About 1,700, and the school has pledged to increase enrollment to 2,000 by 2012.

* WHERE THEY’RE FROM: Last year, 28 percent of the students came from Dauphin, Lebanon and Lancaster counties. Three of four students are from Pennsylvania.

* HOUSING: The children live in homes with eight to 12 other students, with a set of full-time houseparents in charge.

* THE STAFF: About 1,000 full-time employees.

* THE HIERARCHY: It’s mandated by Milton Hershey’s deed of trust. The Milton Hershey School Trust owns 30 percent of The Hershey Co., the candy-making company, and fully owns the Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co., which runs Hersheypark, among other properties.

The Milton Hershey School Trust is run by the Hershey Trust Co., which makes private investments and runs the nonprofit M.S. Hershey Foundation. That foundation runs the Hershey Theatre, the Hershey Museum, the Hershey Gardens and the Hershey Community Archives. The Hershey Trust Co. is worth $8 billion and is intended to keep the school running forever.

CLIPS: Droves of reporters put Amish in spotlight they usually shun (10/03/06)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

NICKEL MINES — John Fisher, who the hundreds of journalists here knew was Amish because he was wearing a straw hat, was fielding questions from the
Baltimore Sun and New York Daily News when his cell phone appeared to ring.

He excused himself and left the reporters searching for more straw hats and bonnets to interview. Later, he told The Patriot-News he would sometimes pretend to get a call to get away from the bothersome questions of reporters.

“There’s about 250 too many,” he said when asked what he thought about the national media attention in the small town.

“I know it’s news,” said Sam Fisher, who manages Nickel Mines Auction House, where police and the media set up a home base, “but it’s something like overkill. It’s frustrating, let’s just put it that way.”

Those who dared to walk by the throngs of journalists wearing anything but professional garb were quickly snapped up for interviews, sometimes with dozens of news organizations at once. An Amish woman named Irene, who did not give reporters her last name, had six microphones in front of her as she explained her religious beliefs.

Several photographers snapped photos when a horse-drawn buggy drove by.

The Lancaster and Harrisburg media were on scene, but so were reporters from Montreal, the United Kingdom, Russia and Japan. CNN, MSNBC and Fox News followed the story all day. ABC recorded a “Good Morning America” segment.

More than 50 trucks with satellites atop their roofs filled the roadsides and nearby parking lots. Television reporters spoke in front of a long line of cameras, with a country hillside or the distant schoolhouse as backgrounds.

Sam Fisher said the reporters usually were polite. He minded only when they stuck cameras in his face, he said.

Jacob King, who is Amish, wore a stoic face as he took questions from several reporters.

“Does it make you more distrustful of outsiders?”

“Do you think there should be more security in the school?”

“Would you have ever expected something like this to happen?”

“Does it make you angry?”

He offered short responses to each question. For the final question, a reporter asked: “To people who are completely unfamiliar with your lifestyle, what do you want them to know about your community?”

King replied: “That we’re like everyone else.”

CLIPS: Local students shaken but fine (04/17/07)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

Their phones, when they worked, wouldn’t stop ringing. Their computers were flooded with e-mails and instant messages.

Nine Virginia Tech students from the midstate who were contacted by The Patriot-News said they were shaken, but OK. They spent yesterday watching the news, checking their e-mail and telling their friends and loved ones that they were safe.

They’re glad to tell you the same.

ASHLEY ROE, Carlisle High School Class of 2005

Early yesterday morning, Roe updated hundreds of her friends with a message to Facebook, a social networking site:

“Ashley is ok, even though there is another gunman on campus. You may not be able to call her.”

An hour later, she wrote:

“Ashley is hoping everyone is staying safe. I’m ok, you might not be able to reach me, but I’m ok.”

Roe, 20, lives in a dormitory connected by a hallway to the West Ambler Johnston dormitory, where the first shooting occurred. With the phones down, she used her computer and went through the hallways to find friends.

When her phone finally started working by midafternoon, a call was interrupted twice — once by her mother, once by a friend. A friend she hadn’t spoken to since the fifth grade messaged her through Facebook.

Roe knew of an acquaintance in the hospital, but she was able to track down most of her close friends. There was one she hadn’t heard from yesterday afternoon, but she was optimistic her friend hadn’t checked her e-mail yet.

Her friends from northern Virginia were talking about leaving campus for the night.

“I’d kind of like to not be in the dorms,” she said. “Not because I’m scared or anything; I kind of want to have some sort of family support right now.”

MIKE FITZGERALD, Trinity High School Class of 2004

At 8 a.m., Fitzgerald, 21, went to the gym, across the street from the site of the first shooting. He was unaware of the shooting until he was driving home, when police cars zoomed past in the opposite direction.

A fraternity brother was in the building of the second shooting. “His classroom got shot up, but he was in the bathroom at the time,” he said.

He called his friends who lived in the dormitory of the first shooting. “It was the floor below me, so we’re all right,” a friend told him.

An engineering major, Fitzgerald has five lab sessions this semester in the building of the second shooting. He had several classes there in his freshman and sophomore years.

When the names and faces of the victims come out, he might recognize some from his engineering classes, he said. But the friends he tried to contact were all fine. Yesterday, he left the following away message on his AOL Instant Messenger account:

“I’m alright along with my friends. Thanks for the concern.”

MATT STAHR, Lower Dauphin High School Class of 2003

Stahr slept in.

He didn’t have class until 12:20 p.m. Roommates woke him, calling to tell him the campus was closed and a shooter was on the loose.

His phone service was spotty, but the aerospace engineering major’s family knew he was OK.

His mother was shaken up when she found out the second shooting was in an engineering building, where he usually has classes, but didn’t this semester.

“However, two weeks ago on Monday, I was doing work on the first floor of Norris at 9 a.m. for a lab on Tuesday,” he said. “It’s just very weird to think about.”

EVAN HORETSKY, Hershey High School Class of 2006

Horetsky was walking to class, soon to pass the site of the second shooting, when he heard gunshots. Police pulled him and about 500 other students into the nearby architecture building and locked the doors, he said.

The lights were off, but they were allowed to use their phones if they worked. He called his parents as he walked in to make sure he talked to them. He was carrying his laptop, so he got online wirelessly and communicated with his friends. He confirmed the safety of his girlfriend, who lives in a dorm adjacent to the first shooting.

“We got caught up with our close friends, and, luckily, they survived, but who knows the people we’ve had class with or the people we talk with,” he said. “Who knows if they’re all right?”

When they were let out of the basement, he saw hundreds of officers, machine guns and shotguns. He got countless calls from home, including one from his high school football coach.

“It was really nice to know a lot of people cared,” he said.

DAVID GOLDBERG, Susquehanna Twp. High School Class of 2003

Goldberg, who lives a mile from campus, was on his way to school when a friend called and told him to turn around.

He went to a friend’s house, where they watched the news together. It was odd seeing on national television the buildings he walks past every day, he said.

He didn’t think he knew any of the victims, but he heard about friends of friends who were shot at.

“Originally, it was craziness, people freaking out,” he said. “Nobody knew what was going on, and everybody was just concerned for everyone else. Now my phone’s ringing off the hook with people calling to say, ‘Are you all right?'”

Within two minutes of hearing about the shootings, he called his mother. While on the phone with her, his father called.

“Just how serious it is hasn’t sunk into anyone yet,” he said. “I think once we start getting the names of the people that were involved, it’s going to get a lot more serious.

“With the massive numbers, I can’t imagine there’s anybody on campus that doesn’t know somebody that knows somebody else.”

MATT KEPHART, Camp Hill High School Class of 2006

At 10 a.m., Kephart was walking to class at the opposite side of the drill field from the first shooting.

“I saw the cop cars and SWAT team, then a whole mass of students came running across the drill field and to ward me,” he said. “I turned around and went back, and before that point I really had no idea.”

His phone didn’t work for most of the day, but he was able to reach everyone he needed to through e-mail. His mother was worried, but “that’s her job,” he said.

“You’re just kind of stunned,” he said. “I don’t know anyone involved, I don’t believe, but it’s just hard to believe it could happen in Blacksburg. You don’t think of this town being that way.”

It’s been a strange freshman year. Classes were interrupted on the fall semester’s first day when an escaped prisoner was accused of killing a security guard at a Blacksburg hospital and a sheriff’s deputy.

But Kephart said he’s not fazed. He loves the school and the area.

JOE LONG, Hershey High School Class of 2003

Long, who lives a mile from campus, planned to go to the campus gym at 9:15 a.m., but backed out when he heard about the first shooting. He called a friend in the dorm of that shooting, and she described hearing gunshots and girls screaming.

He spent the day trying to figure out if he knew anyone injured or killed, and fielding dozens of calls and messages from friends and family. He told his sister through AOL Instant Messenger that he was OK. He had trouble using his phone, but got through to his parents.

“They called crying, basically telling me they love me,” he said. “I can’t even imagine the parents of the victims, what they’re going through.”

KELLY SCHLICKER, Cumberland Valley Class of 2006

Schlicker, 18, watched the aftermath of the second shooting from her dormitory window.

She watched buses come in and block the roads out of campus. She realized it was worse than the initial reports of eight or nine dead when she saw the fleet of ambulances and police cars arrive.

She called her mom before the phones stopped working, but was getting notices of missed calls from friends and family.

Her brother at Cumberland Valley was allowed to call her in the middle of his class and was able to reach her.

She stayed with her friends, watched the news and kept checking her e-mail. After the second shooting, she and her friends were more shocked than scared, she said.

“Everyone’s kind of sticking together,” she said. “Nobody knows how to feel. It’s unbelievable.”

CLIPS: Why so few minority teachers in the midstate? (02/05/08)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

It seemed no one was able to reach the child.

He didn’t talk much, or do much work in school. He was poor, black, and no teacher in the Steelton-Highspire School District had ever connected with him.

Then came his fourth-grade teacher, Kelly Mosby-Fowlkes. She, too, was black. She, too, grew up in Steelton. She, too, came from humble beginnings.

He started to trust her, and he worked for her.

One year later, he went to another school, and Mosby-Fowlkes got a call from his new teacher. The boy talked about Mosby-Fowlkes all the time, she said. The new teacher wanted to know: How did Mosby-Fowlkes get through to the child?

“It’s all about that relationship,” said Mosby-Fowlkes, now an assistant principal at Steelton-Highspire Elementary School. “And it’s something, when you share the same ethnic background, it’s just something special there. It just raises that level of comfort, of ease, of understanding.”

Most educators agree on the value of minority teachers, both for their ability to provide role models to the rising number of minority students and to battle stereotypes in the minds of white students. Some school districts said they recruit minority teachers.

So why are there so few of them?

The difficulty

Every school faces different challenges in attracting minority teachers, but they share one big problem: There aren’t enough candidates out there.

In the 2006-07 school year, only four midstate school districts had more than six minority teachers: Carlisle, Central Dauphin, Harrisburg and Susquehanna Twp., according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Most districts had fewer than three. Seven districts had none.

In all of the schools, the percentage of minority teachers lagged far behind the percentage of minority students.

The subject has been a passion of Mark Holman, director of human resources for the Harrisburg School District. The district has one of the state’s highest rates of minority teachers, 23 percent, a rate that is still far behind the district’s minority student population of nearly 95 percent.

He cites several reasons for the shortage. The federal No Child Left Behind law has made it more difficult for mid-career transfers into education, which is where districts often find minority candidates.

Minority students statistically score lower on entrance exams, and a higher GPA requirement thins the field further, he said.

Many minority parents are encouraging their children to go into more profitable careers, he said.

“If you want to have more African-American teachers, you have to get more African-American parents to send their sons and daughters to school to become teachers,” Holman said.

And though administrators from several districts said they recruit at historically black colleges, such as Cheyney University and Lincoln University in eastern Pennsylvania, those colleges produce few teachers, and it can be difficult to lure them away from bigger cities.

“I love central Pennsylvania,” said David Volkman, superintendent of Susquehanna Twp. School District. “But when we recruit at historically black colleges, sometimes it’s difficult to get folks to commit to us, because of where we are.”

Several districts say they focus on keeping in touch with alumni who are going to college to study education, hoping they’ll want to return.

For a district such as Steelton-Highspire, which has low teacher wages for the area, home ties often aren’t enough.

“We’ve had a number of cases where we actually recruited folks and had them move into the area,” Superintendent Norma Mateer said. “But after two or three years, they realized they could get much more money in a suburban district near us.”

The role model

James Sledge, an English teacher at Susquehanna Twp. High School, tells some of his students that he loves them as they leave class. About half of the students in his class are nonwhite.

A black man from Birmingham, Ala., Sledge was led to education by his family. Altruistic reasons and support from the district kept him in the job, he said.

“It allows students to see there are different types of people of color,” he said.

Tamira Howard, who is black, is hard on some of the black males in her class.

Howard knows that, before they come to her American Government or AP European History classes at Central Dauphin East High School, they’ve been labeled as trouble-makers.

But the Susquehanna Twp. High School alumna demands their respect and suspects they do respect her more than some of their other teachers. They’re not used to having black teachers.

“They need to see people like them that can do great things,” Howard said.

There’s a benefit to the white students, too, said Mary Kay Durham, superintendent of Carlisle Area School District.

“It helps all students realize we’re just a microcosm of the rest of the world, and it helps them learn about others and appreciate everyone,” she said.

Looking ahead, there are reasons for both hope and worry, Holman said.

Hope comes in the form of more competitive teacher salaries and the job stability of teaching when other industries are downsizing or restructuring. Teachers can be fairly confident that they’ll have jobs until they’re ready to retire, he said.

But the rising teacher standards, and the ability to make more money elsewhere, will continue to work against schools, he said.

“Every child should have the opportunity to see someone that looks like them as a role model,” Holman said. “By kids seeing people in these roles, they someday can see themselves in that role.”

CLIPS: School policies on sexual minorities vary (02/12/07)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

Far in the background of Red Land Senior High School senior David Moyer’s desire to take a male date to the homecoming dance without being harassed are two words in a policy book that have divided area school districts.

In the policies that aim to shield students from harassment, 15 area districts include language to protect “sexual orientation” along with other classifications. Nine districts omit the words or don’t have policies.

A policy “sends the message that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are a protected class in the same way any other minorities are,” said Michelle Simmons, director of the Common Roads support group for such teens. “Having a policy in place creates a culture of tolerance and acceptance.”

The West Shore School District does not include sexual orientation in its harassment policy, but that didn’t stop Moyer from twice taking male dates to homecoming.

“And no one said anything,” he said.

In Pennsylvania, sexual minorities are not legally protected by the Human Relations Commission, but Chapter 4 of the Pennsylvania School Code was amended in 1999 to protect sexual minorities from discrimination.

That was an impetus for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association to add sexual orientation to its unlawful harassment policy in 2000, according to Director of Policy Services Sharon Fissel. PSBA policies are distributed to member schools as nonbinding recommendations.

Several of the schools that omit the words have a catch-all such as “includes but is not limited to” preceding the list of classifications, but Fissel said it’s important to be inclusive.

“We recommend that the districts do have it spelled out specifically so that when they go to the policy to implement it and enforce it, they know what it covers,” she said.

The policies tend to inflame conservatives, said Warren Throckmoyer, an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College, whose research has focused on sexual orientation.

He said he is not aware of research on the effectiveness of anti-harassment policies, and he promotes anti-bullying curricula as an alternative.

“A lot of times, conservatives worry that the problems with bullying is just a way for schools to include indoctrination about sexual orientation,” he said.

Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, said her concern is with the normalization of homosexuality.

Students “shouldn’t be harassed because of their lifestyle, but the school should not be promoting their lifestyle,” she said. “By adding sexual orientation or gender identity, that’s what they’re doing.”

Several school superintendents said their policies were updated to include sexual orientation after PSBA sent out its recommendation, with varying amounts of resistance from the public.

“That was quite a debate,” Susquehanna Twp. Superintendent David Volkman said. “In the end, the board decided they thought it was best to include it with all the others.”

The schools that don’t have the words vary in how harassment is covered. Cumberland Valley, Greenwood, Northern York, South Middleton, Upper Dauphin and West Shore have long lists of classifications without sexual orientation, though South Middleton has proposed a revised policy that would add the words.

Susquenita, West Perry and Central Dauphin do not include sexual orientation in their policies.

Greenwood Superintendent Ed Burns, whose school policy was revised in 1998, said harassment of homosexual students is prohibited.

“I think it’s clearly covered, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Having words in a policy doesn’t make harassment go away, Simmons said. She considers teaching and relationship building as better tactics.

But “it has to start with the administration,” Simmons said. “If they send the message that that kind of language is not acceptable, maybe it filters to the faculty, it filters to other staff. Then eventually the students get to understand that and hear it.”

Moyer, who works as an intern at Common Roads, said he’s had a few uncomfortable moments in school, but he’s never felt in danger. A bleacher full of students yelled “faggot!” at him as he walked to gym class once, but he ignored them and kept walking, he said.

“It’s not the most comfortable thing, but it happens,” he said. “That’s just common vernacular when it comes to high school kids.”

DANIEL VICTOR : 255-8144 or dvictor@patriot-news.com


INFOBOX:

– A SAMPLE POLICY FROM MIDDLETOWN For purposes of this policy, harassment shall consist of verbal, written, graphic or physical conduct relating to an individual’s race, color, national origin/ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion when such conduct: 1. Is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it affects an individual’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity or creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment. 2. Has the purpose or effect of substantially or unreasonably interfering with an individual’s academic performance. 3. Otherwise adversely affects an individual’s learning opportunities.

Middletown Area School District, 2002

HOW DISTRICTS WORD THEIR POLICIES

Schools that include “sexual orientation” in harassment policies:

* Big Spring, Camp Hill, Carlisle, Derry Twp., East Pennsboro, Halifax, Harrisburg, Lower Dauphin, Newport, Mechanicsburg, Middletown, Millersburg, Shippensburg, Susquehanna Twp., Steelton-Highspire.

Schools that don’t include “sexual orientation” in harassment policies:

* Central Dauphin, Cumberland Valley, Greenwood, Northern York, South Middleton, Susquenita, Upper Dauphin, West Perry, West Shore.

CLIPS: Derry elementaries get 2-grade system (09/23/06)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

In Derry Twp. elementary classrooms, the A, B, C and D grade markings you know from your childhood have been expelled.

Now K-5 students strive for a P, which stands for proficient. If a student gets a W, or working toward proficient, that’s OK, too. That just means the student has more work to do. There are no other grades.

The new standards-based report card, modeled after about 30 other Pennsylvania school districts that have undergone similar changes, stops ranking students and focuses on progress toward specific benchmarks, said Cindy Goldsworthy, the director of curriculum and instruction in the Derry school district.

It gives parents feedback in more specific areas and separates factors such as work ethic and behavior from academic concepts and skills.

“This is to get kids, especially when they’re young, focused on what they’re learning much more so than the grades they’re earning,” she said.

Instead of getting a B with an 85 percent in math class, a fourth-grade student might have a P for “Rounds numbers,” but a W for “Renames fractions as decimals.” A boisterous student might get a W in “Demonstrates self control.”

There are 73 grading areas on the fourth-grade report card. On the previous report card, there were 10. The goal is to have a card full of P’s by the end of the year.

Other area districts have changed the way they grade in elementary schools. In 2004, the Northern Lebanon School District began using checks, pluses and minuses instead of traditional letter grades. The Eastern Lebanon County School District uses an “E” for exceeding expectations, an “M” for meeting them, and an “N” for “needing support.”

Reg Weaver, president of the National Educators Association, said there’s been a nationwide movement toward replacing traditional grading systems, but no consensus. Plenty of districts are experimenting, and it’s best for local districts to decide what works, he said.

Any way to give parents more feedback will be beneficial, he said.

“Once the kid knows the home and school is communicating and working together, in most cases you’ll see a difference in behavior, and you’ll see a difference in achievement,” Weaver said.

The impact is reaching into classroom lessons.

Fourth-grade teacher Brian Blase documents more data than he ever has before, but he won’t write scores or percentages on papers, he said. That data helps him direct his teaching at individual needs, he said.

During a geometry unit, one group of students was taken aside for a lesson on line segments. A few others got help on identifying right angles.

Students at elementary age are less motivated by grades than their older peers, and the new system helps him identify problem areas, Blase said.

“Even a student who got an A on the quiz, maybe they still don’t know how to draw a line segment,” he said.

The district is using just two letters to avoid the feeling of rankings, said Joe McFarland, principal of Hershey Primary Elementary School.

Some of the standards, designated by gray boxes on the report card, come from the state. Others are the district’s own.

Lori Dixon, principal of Hershey Intermediate Elementary School, said nonacademic factors are still important, though separate from academic achievement. They’ll be evaluated in a separate section, and misbehavior will be sternly talked about, she said.

But “it really should not muddy the issue of what this child knew and could demonstrate to me,” she said.

Parents and students will receive the first report card at the end of October, but the school is preparing parents for the switch. At a meeting with parents last week, the reaction was mostly positive.

Deborah Smith, who moved to Hershey from Binghamton, N.Y., said the former school district of her fifth-grade daughter used a similar system.

“This way you look at it, and you know the specific area you have to work on,” she said.

But Dana Bergey, the father of a fifth-grader, was skeptical.

“P is going to be ‘good enough,'” he said from the audience. “I don’t want my daughter to be good enough. I want her to be the best she can be.”

After the meeting, Bergey said he had feared the system catered to the lowest common denominator. But after a talk with McFarland, Bergey felt more optimistic, he said.

PTO President Ann Marie Schupper said she has already seen results.

Her fourth-grade daughter used to compare her grades to her seventh-grade brother’s, she said. This year, when her daughter brought home a spelling test with three questions wrong, she had a different response, Schupper said.

“She said, ‘I only have to learn these three,’ as opposed to ‘Oh, I have three wrong,'” Schupper said. “That’s really a great mind set.”

CLIPS: Some workers see buyouts as good news (04/04/07)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

News of job cuts at the West Hershey and 19 E. Chocolate Ave. plants in Derry Twp. were greeted with tears and anger. But at the Reese’s plant yesterday, some workers said their slice of The Hershey Co. reorganization tasted much better.

“It’s almost Hersheypark happy in there,” said Mike Henry, 54, a laborer with 34 years at the plant.

Reese’s workers were told yesterday that 200 to 250 jobs will be cut from the 900-worker plant. Workers said they expect details to be similar to the plans offered at the two unionized plants in Derry Twp.

How’s that good news?

Dozens of workers waved away interview requests, but almost all of the half-dozen or so who chose to speak were optimistic the cuts will be achieved voluntarily.

“Of course we don’t like to see the plant size reduced,” said Joe Peters, a 36-year veteran of the plant. “But if you’re close to retirement, this is definitely a better package than nothing.”

Peters, 57, said he can’t be sure until he sees the details of the offer, but he thought workers over 55 likely would take the deal.

Bill Brown, 55, wasn’t thinking about retirement. But he said he’d take a deal like the one offered to Hershey’s unionized workers last week. The union members approved that buyout plan overwhelmingly.

The plan for the Reese’s plant will not require a vote by workers because they are not unionized.

Lou Henry, 53, has worked at the Reese’s plant for 20 years and said she’ll wait to see the numbers before deciding whether to retire. She agreed that the mood yesterday was positive.

“For the most part, I think the people are very happy with what they’re getting,” she said.

Richard Stichler, 52, said the deal is good enough for him. He has 35 years at the plant, having started at 17. Single, with a daughter who graduated from college, he can work until the end of 2009 and collect the extra four years he believes the company is offering.

“I think I should be pretty well set,” he said.

The mood inside the plant yesterday was “pretty subdued,” Stichler said. He said a lot of people believed the youngest workers will be safe from layoffs.

“It’s just going to make it nicer and better for the younger people,” he said. “They have more of a sense of security.”

Brian Deimler, 22, didn’t know what to think as he was about to start his day. He’s been at the plant for a year and has hopes to stay longer, he said. It might be tough for a 52-year-old to leave, he said, and he wasn’t able to gauge his likelihood of staying.

“Can’t really do anything about it,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Steve Neider, who has worked in maintenance for less than a year, said he wasn’t too worried. Even if his job is cut, he said, “there are other jobs out there.”

Derry Twp. Supervisor Mike Pries said in an e-mail statement that “elected officials and work force agencies will assist the displaced employees who will be affected if not enough early retirements are taken.”

“The end result of the restructuring is that once these jobs are gone, they are gone forever,” he wrote.

LeRoy Zimmerman, chairman of The Hershey Trust, said the trust hopes all workers will be included in early retirement plans.

“I anticipated that they would hopefully be happy, because an early retirement package being offered to hourly employees is somewhat out of the ordinary,” he said.

“And I would hope they recognize that, notwithstanding the hardship that these things cause to families.”

The job cuts are part of a massive company restructuring that will result in about 3,000 job losses, although about 1,500 jobs eventually will be added at various plants, including a new one being built by Hershey in Mexico.