Principal lambasts newspaper coverage of schools

Brian MacKenzie
Posted 6/12/19

Editor’s note: After the customary praising of faculty, staff, parents, students and his bosses on the school board, Chimacum High School principal Brian MacKenzie devoted three quarters of his …

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Principal lambasts newspaper coverage of schools


Editor’s note: After the customary praising of faculty, staff, parents, students and his bosses on the school board, Chimacum High School principal Brian MacKenzie devoted three quarters of his June 8 graduation speech to a critique of coverage of Chimacum High School and to a summary of stories he thought should have been highlighted by The Leader and the Port Angeles paper. Here is the text of those remarks:

I have some good news to share today about Chimacum High School and the Class of 2019.

This good news will surprise anyone who relies on local newspapers for information about Chimacum schools.

In an era when many rural communities have no local news media, East Jefferson County is fortunate to have two local newspapers vying for our business. As a history and civics teacher, I know democracy works best when voters get reliable information from professional journalists.

Both newspapers deserve credit for reporting some school news. We appreciate the Leader’s Student of the Week feature, occasional reporting on student activities and generous coverage of graduation every spring. We thank the Peninsula Daily News for their timely, diligent and even-handed dispatches on Cowboy sports.

Both papers reliably report negative school news in a superficial, drive-by fashion. They quote heated allegations, but then skip the real work of journalism: the patient, thorough follow-up of real reporters digging up actual facts so readers can know the truth.

When professional journalism fails, gossip fills the void. People believe baseless rumors or dubious online “news” pages run by unnamed, unknown persons, or, for maximum distortion, closed social media echo chambers where the mendacious can dupe the credulous with impunity.

Although the rivalry between the two newspapers is supposedly heating up, neither is seriously competing for readers in our school district. Both papers mostly cover Port Townsend and tend to ignore the rest of the county.

Last year, after both papers reported some bad news about our district, one paper gallantly asked for positive story ideas. I sent a dozen suggestions, and a reporter kindly wrote up one of them. [Thanks, Kirk!] I also sent a dozen suggestions to the other paper, which ignored them all.

Recently, one paper printed inaccurate statistics that falsely flattered Port Townsend Schools and unfairly defamed ours. We promptly submitted impeccably documented corrections, but the paper refused to set the record straight.

A few months ago, I spotted a reporter at a Chimacum school board meeting. I knew he was there to cover some negative district news, but I was excited he would hear our school improvement report and hoped some of our good news might show up in his article to counterbalance the bad news.

I shall now share some of the good news that journalist failed to report.

Two years ago, the Chimacum School Board set several tough district goals. Our graduation rate typically runs 5% higher than the state average, because we never give up on kids. Not satisfied, the board challenged us to beat the state graduation rate by 10%, so our staff and students worked even harder and we met that goal.

Our district once led the Olympic Peninsula in student absenteeism. The board told us to do better, so we did. Over the last two years, CHS improved average daily attendance from under 90% to over 94%.

Chimacum High School has always had high rates of student participation in extracurricular activities, but last year the board challenged us to get at least 75% of our students involved in sports or clubs. We blew past that and documented 81% extracurricular participation. The Class of 2019 did more than just participate. Today’s graduates made the playoffs in volleyball, girls soccer and boys basketball. They won league championships in baseball and girls basketball. They went to state in softball, tennis, track, golf and Knowledge Bowl.

Historically, our school’s state test scores tend to hover just below the state average. The board challenged us to beat the state average on every test. When the board set the goal, no Chimacum graduating class had ever beaten the state average on all state tests, even before Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards made state testing much, much tougher.

But not too tough for the Class of 2019. They blasted well past the state average in math, English and science, becoming the first graduating class in school history to beat the state average on all state tests. Because Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards have raised the bar on state testing to international benchmarks, we know that today’s graduates have academically outperformed their peers not just in this state, but also across the country and around the globe. The Class of 2019 has experienced a world-class education right here in Chimacum.

Many in the Class of 2019 have already racked up several college credits. Some students did this off campus through Running Start, but more did it on campus through Advanced Placement and dual-credit courses. In the last two years, we expanded our AP course offerings and launched College in the High School partnerships with Central Washington University and Everett Community College. Two years ago, only 6% of CHS students in grades 10-12 were enrolled in AP or College in the High School classes. Six percent! This year, 53% of CHS sophomores, juniors and seniors took college-level classes. No local community college has better math, English, or science professors than Joanne Schmitt, Barb Parent and Courtney Prather. With the addition of College in the High School history next year, Cowboys will soon be able to earn an Associate’s degree entirely on our campus. The school board never set a goal in this area; our faculty just decided to prove that the best college on the Olympic Peninsula is Chimacum High School.

And that’s just the beginning of the good news about our school and today’s graduates. The balance of today’s ceremony will complete our case for the excellence of Chimacum High’s 101st graduating class.


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Tom Camfield

The newspaper apparently appreciates your assistance in filling out coverage of Chimacum schools.

I know from long experience on the paper beginning in 1954 on the news side, how thinly an affordable staff must be spread to try and cover everyone's particular interests. Even just within Port Townsend. In addition to Chimacum, there is Quilcene—then Brinnon. If I judge things right here, I'd say the paper would welcome further updates from you. Seems there might be a great opportunity here also for a student class in journalism. Our independent and free press needs all the help it can get these days.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Dawn mohrbacher

I enjoyed reading this article as a graduate of Chimacum HS ohhhhh so many years ago. Sadly the paper has no time to cover the schools as they need space for burlesque dancers.....

Saturday, June 15, 2019
Tom Camfield

I enjoy some looking back at my old school also, PTHS. However, I'm not all caught up in every little thing going on around there today. Athletics, of course, are a matter of pride because we can claim a bit of a connection when a championship is won. However, I'm not concerned about how every kid in middle or high school is doing every week—although it's nice when some acquaintance's kid gets his/her name her picture in print. And I speak as one who was an avid sports writer over several decades. I even reviewed a few school plays in my time; I still fondly remember "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Finian's Rainbow."

There are other stories, photos and editorials that I find more meaningful these days. My loyalty now is more to the town, where I lived before I went to school and have lived 72 years after leaving school. I also have been associated with the Leader longer than anything but my wife—and I believe it remains always at the ready to deal with any real school news. But they can't send someone to class all day long every day. Schools should pause to do a better public relations job themselves. like informing the press of things things truly newsworthy. We're all in the big time slugging it out these days.

The paper incidentally now is filling moe pages than ever. The news is generally about people I don't know, what with demographics, the passage of time and all—but I believe the true soul of the town is being covered with excellence in the news columns;

Monday, June 17, 2019
Marge Samuelson

The story from the Chimacum school principal tells a story of what's happening at CSD. Coverage of people are fine but why weren't the 1969 Alumni photos on A-22, June 12 Leader identified? Also twice you put in an obituary where the man died Dec. 9, 2019, how is that possible. Maybe a little more editing and less of Editor Dean Millers identification!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Marge Samuelson

Correction on my post: Should read Editor Dean Millers Pontification. sorry.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019