By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support Services
When the Volume 1, Number 1 edition of the Kentucky School Advocate came out in August 1994, the 10-page, 11-by-17 inch, black-and-white tabloid contained the following items: five full articles, four briefs, the president’s column, the Get Your Message Out column and two features, including People are Talking.
This issue – Volume 19, Number 4 – is a 24-page, 8 ½-by-11 inch, full-color magazine with six full-length articles, the In Conversation With interview, four briefs in Take Note, People Are Talking, the president’s column, Get Your Message Out, two inside covers on future events and the three-shot photo essay on the back cover.
One constant that started with the first edition and continues with this one is a dogged commitment to spreading the coverage of the publication to as many districts as possible.
Would it surprise you to learn that 82 school systems were featured in the magazine from July 2011 to June 2012? In other words, almost half of the state’s districts were included in the coverage by this magazine in the 11 editions last year.
The important thing for you as readers to understand is that this depth of statewide coverage – year in, year out – is no accident. Nor is it a matter of reviewing all the editions of the previous year and seeing how the numbers fall out.
To play off the oft-quoted African proverb, it takes a village to get this kind of coverage.
Magazine coverage carefully planned
When it comes to covering the state’s 174 districts, staff of the Kentucky School Advocate look for innovations and challenging issues, but they also look at two critical measures: which districts have the historical magazine coverage, and which don’t.
It often surprises superintendents and board members when they learn that we have tracked every quote, every photo, every single-district as well as every multiple-district story published in the Kentucky School Advocate going back 18 years. And it’s an uncommon effort.
I’ve never spoken with a colleague whose state school boards association publishes a magazine and maintains such a tracking system. I’ll detail why this should matter to readers in a moment.
Full-length magazine articles generally fall into two categories: single-district or multiple-district. When one school or school system has an interesting program, it may generate a single-district story. But many issues – for example, funding or substance abuse – are subjects facing school leaders everywhere. So our writers interview people from small and large, independent and county, rural and urban districts for those stories.
Our tracking database comes into play in both situations. With their breadth of educational programs, it would probably be possible to have a Boone County or a Fayette County or a Jefferson County story in every magazine. In fact, our most recent database update showed 18 districts with 30 or more inclusions over those 18 years. The database also shows one district we haven’t featured in five years, two in four and 17 in the last three. This doesn’t mean we ignore the first group, but it does challenge us to work harder to find stories or issues where we can incorporate the latter.
Another way we spread the coverage is the popular feature, People Are Talking. This year, as of this issue, we’ve had quotes from board members, superintendents and other staff in 121 districts in this feature. No district appeared more than three times. Long ago, we learned that our readers often follow up on something they saw in a simple, single quote in People Are Talking just as they do after reading a full-blown article.
While most of the magazine story ideas are developed by our writers, we also learn of interesting topics from our eNews service, from district electronic newsletters and press releases, from workshops at KSBA conferences and monitoring discussions at state board of education and legislative committee hearings. The back photo essay in this edition is a perfect example: the Bullitt County school board’s special meeting to begin studying the new Unbridled Learning assessment data. We learned of the meeting a few hours beforehand, we had a staff member available, it was a timely topic and met our deadline.
And, yes, we get plenty of suggestions. Sometimes we act on them, sometimes we pass. A truly innovative program or singularly critical issue may become a story regardless of which district is involved. Selection for the PEAK Award is one example. But Kentucky School Advocate editor Madelynn Coldiron always goes back to the tracking database as a primary component in making coverage decisions.
The Last Word
In the combination of the Kentucky School Advocate magazine and the KSBA eNews Service (featured here last month), KSBA has committed significant resources both of people, time and budget to telling the story of public education from one end of the Commonwealth to the other.
We know there are untold stories out there – stories that would draw positive attention to the district of origin; stories that would interest leaders in other districts; stories that would provide solutions to problems or opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t get their due attention.
We’re working to get to as many of those stories as possible with every eNews email and every regular edition of this magazine. It’s a commitment that we’ve got the history to back up.
And it’s also a message worth getting out.