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Posts published in October 2017

Idaho Briefing – October 23

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for October 23. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

A familiar name on the ballot has entered the race against incumbent Republican 2nd District Representative Mike Simpson. Peter Rickards, a Twin Falls podiatrist, a long-time nuclear power critic and candidate for several offices over the years, said he will file for the seat held by Simpson since 1998.

The Salmon-Challis National Forest has spent the past several months documenting the current conditions and trends on the forest and in the surrounding communities. That assessment will soon be available in draft form. A series of public meetings November 6-14 will feature a chance to talk to the Salmon-Challis’ leadership and forest plan revision team about the findings.

Idaho’s September seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased for the seventh consecutive month to 2.8 percent — the lowest unemployment rate on record — dating back to January 1976. September’s decrease was due to a robust increase in the number of Idahoans working and a continued drop in the number of unemployed. Total employment grew by 4,154 in September — the largest monthly increase since July 1993 — driving the total number of people with jobs to 800,629.

Boise State University’s official enrollment for the fall 2017 semester is 24,154 — the highest in university history. Boise State served a total of more than 30,000 students over the course of the scholastic year last year, but the fall snapshot is the official enrollment for state and federal reporting purposes.

The city of Nampa has released an updated Snow and Ice Control Plan on its website, bracing for what has been forecasted another brutal winter.

PHOTO Elegant new entrance signs on U.S. 20 at the borders of the INL desert Site serve as an important branding and advertising tool for the thousands of passersby who cross the high desert each year. This sign is on the western border near Arco. (Idaho National Laboratory)

Why Ahlquist might win

stapiluslogo1

Last week, I ran through some of the reasons businessman Tommy Ahlquist, one of three major candidates for the Republican nomination for Idaho governor, might come in third when the votes are cast. They’re pretty good reasons.

But so fluid is this race that those points tell only part of the story. Ahlquist, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little and Representative Raul Labrador each plausibly could come in first, second, or third. Let’s look now at why Ahlquist might win - reasons that shed light on some important factors in the race.

If you have three strong candidates (we’ll assume that none of them drastically flame out), little more than a third of the total vote may be needed to win. Move on to the probability (not certain but likely) that the 2018 primary may be a relatively low-turnout event.

Right now, Little and Labrador have clear and substantial bases of support - to over-simplify, many well-established organization and rank-and-file Republicans for Little, and many of the activist and erstwhile Tea Party backers for Labrador.

But large segments, some overlapping, remain unaccounted for.

The Latter Day Saint or Mormon vote, accounting for maybe half of the Republican primary vote, often sticks mostly together in races like this, and its inclinations are not clear yet. It probably will not back Little, although it might: Support for the establishment might have appeal. Labrador, as a brother in the faith, would have some appeal too. But he has several issues: He’s based over in the first district, his mode is more that of a firebrand (not a match for Mormon sensibilities) and he’s been a critic of the Idaho National Laboratory, a problem for voters in the Upper Snake.

Ahlquist, also LDS by faith, is another matter. He is a businessman, which suits well, and his language seems a match for the Mormon community. His relatively recent arrival in Idaho wouldn’t hurt him in the eastern Idaho LDS community either, because he has background in the Salt Lake City area - the second capital for many people in that area. (I may have overstated that and understated his Idaho background last week; no doubt the subject will continue to be discussed.) Quite a few Mormons in the east have been known to take cues from Idaho Falls businessman Frank Vandersloot, Idaho’s wealthiest resident. Vandersloot hasn’t stated a clear preference in the primary yet, and maybe he won’t. But it wouldn’t be hard at all to see him give the nod to Ahlquist. Backing from Utahn Mitt Romney doesn’t hurt either.

The second important up-for-grabs constituency is the strongly pro-Donald Trump contingent. Surely Labrador will appeal to a significant part of it. But much of the Trump appeal has to do with the perception of outsider status, and Labrador - while a rebel of sorts within the U.S. House - will nonetheless have been a member of the despised Congress for eight years when these voters vote. Ahlquist can run more obviously and simply as an outsider. And parts of his advertising and rhetoric sound clearly designed to appeal to these voters. Smart strategy.

Third, in parts of the central Boise area, Ahlquist may have pull simply because he actually has been a successful developer there, and on that basis if nothing else has impressed plenty of people.

There’s also the factor of too much familiarity. Enthusiasm matters enormously in low-turnout primaries, and newcomers have an easier time generating it than veteran candidates (see: many of our recent presidential elections). Ahlquist has an advantage if he can get himself well enough known, which he is in the process of doing.

All this easily could add up to enough votes to win a seriously contested primary.

You could run comparable scenarios for the other two candidates as well (if you’re a supporter of one of them, you may have done that while reading this). Point is: This is a seriously competitive race that right now could go any which way.

A medium that does not exist

trahant

It’s tempting to think of "news" as the business model for Indian Country Today. What are the stories? Does it represent an authentic voice (or voices) for Indian Country? Who are the great reporters? Where should they be? How much video? Text? Opinion? Is the story compelling? Does coverage match the experience of our readers? What’s on our digital front page? What stories do people want to read? What’s new?

These are great question for any editor. But they should be dismissed. For now. If Indian Country Today is to revive there are other questions that must be asked and answered. Starting with: Is there funding? Is Indian Country a viable market? If so, what does that look like? Where will the revenue come from? How much will it cost to produce? And how often? And, by the way, where is the money coming from?

There are really only two answers that need to be figured out: Where the money comes from and how that money is spent. Everything else is just detail.

When I first read that Indian Country Today lost (I’ll say invested) some $3 million in its last year, I thought, wow, that’s more than I lost running Navajo Times Today back in the day. Then I did the math. Uh oh. If you look at the value of a dollar now compared to 1987 then, well, let’s just say the total exceeds $5 million.

Problem: It costs a lot of money to produce news.

Then the media world is upside down. Today so many costs are a fraction of what they were in 1987. As a daily newspaper the Navajo Times Today, I still believe, needed about 4 years to break even and then would have been profitable. Our advertising projections were solid but what slowed us down was the costly nature of delivering the paper daily throughout the Navajo Nation. The internet has sharply reduced those costs - any organization can publish on the web for far less than what it cost us a generation ago. But, at the same time, advertising no longer works to pay the bills. (The funny thing: Had we been successful in 1987 ... the paper would still be in deep trouble because so many of the elements required for a successful daily newspaper have evaporated.)

The Navajo Times of today (owned by the tribe, but chartered and operated independently) is quite successful. It's a weekly and it still attracts significant advertising and readership. But the strength of those ads are regional, not national.

The challenge for Indian Country Today is that it generated a large readership, at least by Indian Country's standards, but not enough of a readership for a national advertising strategy which measures success by the millions. Most digital ads are sold using a measurement of cost per thousand or CPM. So if there are 100,000 readers and let's say 2 percent click the ad, that could generate about $2,000. So it would take a whole lot of those kinds of ads to fund a newsroom.

I don’t think a subscription model works for Indian Country either. The problem is that a few people will pay, but not enough to cover the costs, so you end up producing a publication for the elite. I almost went down this road a couple of years ago for Trahant Reports. I was thinking of turning into a paid newsletter that probably would have sold to a few law firms, lobbyists, and tribes particularly interested in public policy. Hell, I might have even made money at it. But true cost would have been high: I try to make public policy interesting for everyone. And those readers would have been gone. Fortunately a friend pointed this out to me - and I reversed course. My content remains free for readers and for other news organizations.

So what models are there that might work? How can Indian Country serve readers as an independent news organization? And, just as important, how will that enterprise get started?

I won't explore the for-profit model here because it's not an option. But that mechanism does work for News from Indian Country, Native News Sun, and many other regional publications. It's also important to remember that there will be competition for resources and content. Any non-profit enterprise will compete for many of the same dollars raised by tribal radio stations, the Native Voice One network, Native Public Media, Native American Journalists Association, and on and on. The Indianz.com and Pechanga.net attract the same web readers with their content and aggregation. (See the Native Media Universe, an always unfinished database.)

Indian Country Today's next chapter is likely to be some kind of not-for-profit venture. The Oneida Nation of New York, the owner of Indian Country Today Media Network, donated the assets of the venture to the National Congress of American Indians. It’s now up to NCAI to figure out what will happen next (starting with many conversations at the annual convention next week in Milwaukee).

This is a bit complicated because NCAI is an advocacy organization for tribes and its members. Just imagine the first time a journalist writes a hard-hitting story that a senator on the Appropriations Committee does not like. Or a tribal leader.

But this is a problem that can be solved.

One of the best news operations in Washington is Kaiser Health News, owned by the Kaiser Family Foundation. They are both non-profits. Kaiser Health News is in the same building as the Kaiser Family Foundation, often uses that research, or speakers, or other resources. Yet operates independently and partners with existing mainstream media such as National Public Radio or The Washington Post. Another hybrid, Think Progress, operates independently of its sponsor, the Center for American Progress. There is another model -- a completely different approach -- that works in Seattle, the Sightline Institute. This organization focuses on actionable research about the Pacific Northwest region and its view of a sustainable future. This could be something that the NCAI Policy Research Center could do. It’s a smaller operation that builds on existing scholarship.

But Kaiser Health News and Think Progress do something else that’s essential: They employ dozens of journalists. Indian Country Today did that too. And that ought to be at the top of the list in terms of developing a “what’s next?” plan.

Two other non-profits that have a significant presence in Indian Country's media universe are Yes! Magazine and High Country News. Both publications treat Indian Country as an important beat and pay freelancers for coverage. High Country News also has a Native issues editor, currently Graham Lee Brewer, a member of the Cherokee Nation. Yes! invested significant resources into covering Standing Rock. Both of these non-profits have a long track record. High Country News began in Lander, Wyoming, in 1970. And Yes! started in 1997.

There is a newer model to consider, ProPublica. This is an independent, stand alone, news organization that’s funded by philanthropy. Imagine a bunch of journalists being hired with an agenda to do news. The work is done by professionals and then given away to other news organizations. There are several regional variations of ProPublica throughout the country that lay out a road map for the how to operate Indian Country Today as a non-profit enterprise.

That’s the money out. Spending it will be simple. There are a lot of talented people who would love the opportunity to keep doing what they’ve been doing, or better, to do more. The distribution of the news could be by web, a wire service, through other media, or all of the above. Technology has made distribution much easier.

A summary of the money out: The cost of a staff, buying freelance, travel, and some administrative costs. But how much money, who decides who gets the jobs, and how much will freelancers be paid?

The data is interesting. According to Pew Research, 73 percent of all non-profit news sites employ less than three people. Only 19 percent have between five and ten employees. "Small budgets tend to mean small staffs and that is the case for a large majority of the digital native news outlets," according to a Pew Research survey of nonprofit outlets.

What about the money in? As I have already written: I don’t believe there is a national market for advertising. Indian Country’s numbers are just too small for a mass market. There could be, from time to time, some ads. But nothing comprehensive and not in amounts that would make a difference. I also think a subscription model won’t work for the reasons I’ve already said.

So what does that leave?

I’d start with the public media model. It doesn’t matter who “owns” Indian Country Today. We all do. We have a stake in an intelligent account of the day's events in a context that gives them meaning.

So a public Indian Country Today could challenge us with semi-annual fundraisers, crowdfunding, and a call to action. Twice a year at least. And, like other public media, that means raising additional money from foundations, companies, tribes, basically, any group willing to write a check.

One recent Pew Research report estimated that roughly $150 million in philanthropy now goes to journalism annually.

And much of that comes from crowdfunding. Pew Research: "From April 28, 2009 to September 15, 2015, 658 journalism-related projects proposed on Kickstarter, one of the largest single hubs for crowdfunding journalism, received full – or more than full – funding, to the tune of nearly $6.3 million."

Then if that sounds like a lot of money, Pew also reports, "the journalism projects produced and revenue gained from these crowdfunded ventures is still a drop in the bucket compared with the original reporting output that occurs on any given day and the roughly $20 billion in revenue generated by newspaper ads alone."

But as a revenue stream - perhaps not the only one - crowd funding could be significant for Indian Country Today. If, the news operation is credible and compelling. If.

There is a lesson from ProPublica that ought to apply to any model (or blend of models) that eventually surfaces, and it raises another question, what business are you in? No, really?What business?

At a recent Google Hangout with the Online News Association, ProPublica’s Vice President of Business Development and ONA Board Member Celeste LeCompte drew parallels between the news industry and other enterprises. She said she visited a go-kart factory in China and she discovered they also made trampolines. Why? Because she said the company was “not a go-kart business. It was this crazy machine-bending, metal-piping, powder-coating and spring-attaching business. And that got me thinking about the ways in which companies make their money.”

That same principle applies to information. ProPublica, for example, collects a lot of data as part of its reporting. It then sells that data to other clients for other uses. “We are storytellers in this business,” she said. “That’s all we’re asking to do in the business side as well. When you’re creating real value for an audience, you probably have an opportunity to ask them to compensate you for that.”

What parallel market exists from information in Indian Country? And, what are the prospects and the ethics of marketing that information?

Of course the minute you have the answer, the rules change. One funder -- even a good one -- can keep an operation going for some time (as in the case of Indian Country Today) but what happens when priorities change? Is there a route to sustainability that includes lots of sponsors and supporters?

Answering these questions is difficult in the media world we all know. Newspapers. TV. A little web. Podcasting. The familiar. But that world is vibrant. And it's gone. The challenge is to invent a news ecosystem for Indian Country that builds on models that do not yet exist.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Disclosures: I have been working in Native media since 1975 -- so I have a long list of disclosures for this piece. I am currently a board member for Yes! magazine. I am a former board member of Sightline and a long time ago, High Country News. I was editor and publisher of the Navajo Times Today in the mid 1980s (and was fired from that job.) I had a fellowship with the Kaiser Family Foundation. And I am a former president of the Native American Journalists Association. And, finally, my weekly radio commentary is distributed via Native Voice One.

Too little, too late?

carlson

One of the many refreshing attributes of Pope Francis is “he tells it like it is,” even when he states the obvious. To a lay person it is astounding to hear a Pope who speaks clearly, non-judgmentally, with compassion, intelligence and common sense.

It reminds one of a saying uttered by another plain-speaking leader from an earlier era: President Harry Truman. While running against the “do-nothing’ Congress in 1948 he responded to the charge that he was giving them hell by saying “I just say the truth and they think it's hell.”

In late September Pope Francis met for the first time with members of an advisory commission he named in 2014 to look into the Church’s less than sterling response to the matter of priestly sexual abuse. In the course of the meeting with this panel of outside experts he acknowledged the Church’s initial response was late and the initial response of just moving pedophile priests from one parish to another was morally and legally wrong.

Some bishops responded quickly, recognizing the gravity of the issue, indeed the criminality of it, and instinctively knew that transparency was critical to maintaining confidence within the laity for the Church hierarhy. Others thought first that they had to protect the image of the Church and its leadership and tried to dodge the gravity by moving offending priests around and minimizing any adverse publicity.

For differing responses one need look no further than the Spokane diocese, where Bishop William Skylstad responded quickly and adroitly. This response contrasted greatly with Boise Bishop Michael Driscoll, who, while Vicar General to the Bishop of the Orange County California diocese, had knowingly moved several pedophile priests around to different parishes.

In Driscoll’s defense he subsequently acknowledged his error and apologized.

Skylstad’s response was comprehensive and should have been the model for all bishops.

He formed a panel to review all cases, whether new or old; he authorized immediate reporting to civil authorities; any priest against whom a charge was levied, if still alive, was suspended while charges were investigated. He ordered more comprehensive background checks for any new diocesan employees and all teachers in the parochial schools. He formed a special communications committee to advise how to best and most quickly respond; he met with victims and apologized to them; he was one of the few bishops in the nation to meet with all the nuns in his diocese and he heard an earful.

He was one of the leaders in the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in shaping the new protocals dictating a response from the Church that would clearly protect children.

Despite the extensive publicity, international as well as national, when the issue erupted into a mushroom cloud over the Vatican Pope John Paul II remained disturbingly quiet. His successor, Benedict XVI, did start authorizing bishops to identify and where possible, purge offending priests, but he too was largely silent.

The issue had to wait until Francis, the third Pope since this story broke, could look into it. Francis is finding out the truth in a saying of President Reagan’s: people can vote with their feet. This is especially true in the United States. Good “pray, pay and obey” Catholics have left or are leaving the church because of disgust with how many bishops handled his matter.

The fact is attendence is down as are contributions. There isn’t a parish or diocese in the country that isn’t engaged in some form of discussion and debate on how one should respond to a Church gone astray.

Even a Bishop as good as Skylstad realizes the Church has to pro-actively do more to win back victims as well as angry laity. It has to demonstrate that it has uncovered the why and taken steps to protect children to ensure it never happens again. It has to commit itself to working sessions with dissenters where it listens first.

It has to be creative in its outreach but show it knows it needs to reclaim lost members and reintegrate them into a more open, engaged and changing Church,

At the close of his meeting Francis spoke nailed the core of the issue:: “The consciousness of the church arrived a bit late, and when consciousness arrives late, the means to resolve the problem arrive late. Perhaps the old practice of moving people around and not confronting the problem kept consciousness asleep,’ he stated. No kidding, your Holiness.

Now lead the Church further along the path that lives what it preaches.

What not to do

This is a guest opinion by Levi Cavener, a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at IdahosPromise.Org.

One can’t blame the Albertson Foundation for wanting to avoid an appearance that it continues meddling in public affairs. After spending years in an effort meant to undermine public schools, most Idahoans have little trust left in Albertson’s intentions.

But Albertson’s intentions have not changed. They continue to belittle public schools (recall an advertisement in which a public school bus literally abandoned students in the middle of the desert) in an effort to promote charter schools.

However, Albertson has apparently realized Idahoans growing negative attitude toward the group. To combat this, Albertson finances a troop of secondary organizations to implement their agenda without putting their own name in the middle of it: Idaho Charter School Network, Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho, BLUUM, and others are all entities funded and working in an effort with Albertson to achieve this goal.

I’m not being hyperbolic. BLUUM’s tax returns, for example, literally state that, “BLUUM assists the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation where to make education investments that will result in higher performing seats in Idaho.”

Albertson was reminded the hard way of the public’s lack of faith in the group when their offer to fund a study revamping Idaho’s education spending formula was rebuffed. The apparent conflict of interest was even too much for Idaho’s legislature to ignore. They declined Albertson’s offer and have been working without the interference of Albertson for the past two years.

Or so it seemed. The reality is that dispatched one of its entities, BLUUM, to work behind the scenes.

In fact, as reported by IdahoEdNews, BLUUM even offered simulation software to the committee during the same meeting this year in which the legislators listened to Marguerette Rosa of the “Edunomics Lab” pitch a charter-friendly enrollment based funding model that it just so happens BLUUM is lobbying Idaho to adopt.

BLUUM’s CEO, Terry Ryan, hails from Ohio. During his tenure there, Ryan worked with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to promote charter-friendly laws in the Buckeye State. It worked. Perhaps too well.

The rampant corruption and ineptitude of Ohio’s charter schools have become the national template of “what not to do” in the school choice movement. The loose regulation and mismanagement of school choice in the Buckeye State is so blatantly obvious that Ohio Senator Sharrod Brown declared “Ohio’s charter school system has become a disgrace on our state that is denying too many students a quality education, and defrauding taxpayers.”

A large portion of this problem is the enrollment based funding that is now being peddled in Idaho’s statehouse. In Ohio, enrollment based funding resulted in thousands of so called “ghost students” who are enrolled in charter schools, but never actually attended. Unlike the current model of average daily attendance, in an enrollment based model the school continues to collect money for every student on the roster regardless of attendance.

In Ohio, the result is millions of tax dollars spent on fraud. In fact, in June of this year the Ohio Board of Education voted to force a single online charter school, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), to repay an astonishing 60 million dollars for enrolling fake ghost students.

And that is precisely the type of funding model that our legislature is being pitched to adopt. Behind the smoke in mirrors is reality: A group funded by Albertson continues to have an outsize influence at the Capitol Building, and that influence may very well result in Ohio’s current state of affairs coming soon to an Idaho charter school near you.

Is taking a knee disrespectful?

joneslogo1

Many life or death problems face America today, including possible nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, clean-up from three massively destructive hurricanes, a horrendous mass shooting in Las Vegas, horrible and deadly wild fires in California, a break with the rest of the world’s powers over the Iran nuclear deal, and whether NFL players disrespect American service personnel when they take a knee during the national anthem.

During this time of crisis, much news coverage has been devoted to the last issue.

Being a war veteran, I believe I have the credentials to give an opinion on that issue. That is, I voluntarily entered the U.S. Army in 1967, despite leg injuries that would have exempted me from the draft. When the Army did not honor my request to serve in Southeast Asia, I requested a transfer to Vietnam. Although I had a law degree, I chose to serve in an artillery unit. I served 407 days in Vietnam’s Tay Ninh Province, most of it living with South Vietnamese soldiers. I did all of this to honor and respect American values.

One of the most sacred American values is the right to protest what we Americans regard as injustice. Our nation was founded in protest. Many Europeans came to America, having gotten in hot water in their homelands for protesting governmental or religious practices. Americans fought the Revolutionary War to protest British governmental oppression. Ever since, we have taken it for granted that we can protest practically anything the government does, so long as we do it peacefully. My service in the military was partly motivated to protect that right.

The NFL players and others say they are protesting to raise awareness of racial injustice. They have a valid point of view in that regard, although I think there are better ways of focusing attention on the issue. I have not heard any of them say that members of the U.S. military are not worthy of respect. I would recognize military disrespect if I saw it. While I was not personally subjected to disrespect when I got back from Vietnam, many of my brothers in arms were--raw, awful disrespect.

What does disrespect men and women in the military is to characterize swastika-toting neo-nazis as good people. They certainly have the right to brandish their flags and torches, while they utter anti-semitic chants, but let’s remember that many American service personnel, not to mention millions of European Jews, died at the hands of people who cherished the swastika and nazism. For that matter, many Americans died fighting secessionists who worshiped the confederate battle flag.

What also dishonors veterans of all wars is to demean an American prisoner of war like John McCain who served his country with distinction and who comported himself with honor and dignity while being subjected to inhuman treatment at the hands of his captors.

I would never fail to stand with my hand over my heart when the national anthem is played, but I certainly would not condemn a person who chose that form of protest to bring attention to perceived failings of the government. The right to protest is deep in the soul of America and is among the rights that I and many other veterans went overseas to protect.

Idaho Briefing – October 16

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for October 16. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Congress was mostly out this week, so despite big news from Washington there was little to connect to Idaho. A number of significant social subjects come up, though.

A former Republican legislator has helped form a new political action committee, Moderates are Taking Hold, aimed at encouraging independent and Democratic voters to participate in the 2018 Idaho Republican primary.

The Department of Homeland Security will continue to allow the use of current Idaho driver’s licenses and identification cards at federal security checkpoints, such as courthouses, military bases and airport TSA screenings.

Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mike Crapo, Jon Tester (D-MT), Jim Risch, and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act to provide resources to assist communities recovering from damaging wildfires.

A national search has gotten udnerway to find a new president of Lewis Clark State College.

Micron Technology, Inc., on October 10 announced that it intends to offer, subject to market and other considerations, approximately $1 billion of shares of common stock in an underwritten registered public offering.

Harvest season for adipose-clipped hatchery steelhead will open Sunday, Oct. 15 on the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater rivers.

A section of the Boise River Greenbelt in east Boise will be closed by Ada County starting October 25, 2017 through June 22, 2018 in order to install irrigation pipe for the Penitentiary Canal and build a wider, safer, smoother asphalt pathway for Greenbelt users.

A national model for education?

jorgensen

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participated in a roundtable discussion with students, teachers and administrators from McMinnville High School (MHS) at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 11.

The discussion followed a tour that DeVos took of the school, as protesters and supporters gathered outside in the rainy fall weather. There were no such protests at the museum, which is a private facility.

It also came hours after the announcement that Oregon’s chief state schools officer, Salem Noor, resigned abruptly and immediately and was replaced on an interim basis by Governor Kate Brown’s education innovation officer Colt Gill. Brown was out of the country participating in an Asian trade mission.

DeVos sipped coffee, listening intently and smiling as students shared their success stories.

MHS Principal Tony Vicknair told DeVos about the 17 pathways that the school provides for students in an attempt to tie learning to career opportunities. He said the school encourages students to try multiple pathways, and that it’s just as important for them to know what areas they don’t want to pursue as careers.

A male student described how his father’s career in construction and his own passion for welding helped inspire him to pursue the school’s fabrication pathway. He said he had a “good experience with it.”

“It’s fulfilling to work in that area,” he said. “It’s an experience I probably wouldn’t trade for anything else.”

Another student had been tasked with building a business as part of his coursework, and has used that experience to establish his own clothing brand. Still another said he has been working with local farmers to use unmanned aerial vehicles to enhance the productivity of their fields.

One student, whose father is a plumber, said he enjoys working outside and with his hands. His focus has been on woodshop and construction, and said he’s confident he will be able to make a good living without having to take out student loans.

Multiple students talked about the financial hardships they had growing up and how the school and its programs and staff have helped them overcome those challenges. A common theme of the talk was the ways in which more opportunities in school create more opportunities in life, as students receive hands-on experience working with employers in the area.

Vicknair touted the school’s status as the best in Oregon at utilizing a state program that allows students to earn college credits before they graduate. He added that MHS has 17 advanced placement (AP) classes, and that more of its students took AP tests last year than ever before.

The second round of the discussion involved a panel of teachers and administrators. Vicknair said that when he first took over as principal, the school only had four pathways. Administrators worked to expand those options for students.

“We’re pushing kids to grow,” a teacher told DeVos.

DeVos said the discussion was “very inspiring” and praised the pathways concept.

“It’s very clear you have a special school,” she said. “You each have important stories to tell.”

Vicknair characterized MHS as the best high school in Oregon. One would expect him to say such a thing, but it was obvious that he truly means it, and none of the students in the room seemed to disagree.

Overall, it was a much more productive discussion than any of the shouting that took place outside of the high school during DeVos’ visit or on social media in the days leading up to it. That kind of demonization is far too common in these divisive times.

So much of politics in the modern era has become about personalities, instead of policies and their eventual outcomes. This is especially true when it comes to education and a system that everyone seems to agree hasn’t been working as well as it could or should, including those who wonder what there is to show for the decades that the federal Department of Education has been in existence.

At the end of the day, it isn’t about President Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos—it’s about teachers encouraging students to pursue their hopes, dreams and passions, which is everything our education system should be about. It’s something that the staff at MHS appear to be doing rather well, which begs the question of whether that kind of success can be duplicated at the national level.

If DeVos’ trip to McMinnville is any indication of what she plans to do in her position, then perhaps her critics’ fears will prove to be unfounded and petty.

A young man stood alone outside the museum yelling his disapproval of DeVos as the event concluded. However, his slogans went unheard by the various students, teachers, administrators, school board members and other officials who sat inside dining at a reception honoring the school and its impressive achievements.