Dear Readers for Sept. 17, 2009

Blount Today was born on Aug. 26, 2004, and Sherri has never looked back. Community journalism done right, the way it is at Blount Today, has always had her heart, and she loves her team, loves the community and really, really loves OUR newspaper.

My goodness, I have missed our conversations! My mother would tell you that I always miss conversations where I get to do all the talking, which is true! I also, however, have missed your emailed, phone called and “on the street” feedback to the Dear Readers columns we have shared in the past.

So where have I been? Right here, just giving up my Dear Reader space to something dear to my heart -- the Blount County Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, which has been so helpful to Blount Today and to me personally, had a membership drive and wanted a way to communicate a series of stories about the value of chamber membership to the public.

Since there is NO better way to communicate to the community than Blount Today, I was happy to hold my Dear Readers columns to let the Chamber get their message across. The efforts (not, of course, just Blount Today, but the other media, plus hard work of the board members and staff as well) worked, with 35 new members joining our wonderful chamber in August. If you missed your chance -- it’s never too late! Call Julia Kyle (865-273-1213), and she will help you start enjoying the benefits of Chamber membership.

I haven’t been sitting on my hands during the hiatus. Matter of fact, the past few weeks have truly been some of my favorite in recent months at Blount Today.

Why? School Spirit.

We started a new project at Blount Today on Sept. 14. I told you about it before, but I simply have to tell you more. School Spirit has touched my spirit already, and we aren’t even three weeks into it.

I’m an old “education” writer at heart. One of my many jobs during my years with the Knoxville News Sentinel was to write and put together what we then called the weekly School Page. I was freelancing at the time, taking the opportunity to spend more time with my family. But the boys had school, Neville had a “real” job, and I was bored. When the opportunity came to take over the Sentinel’s School Page and still work from home, I knew God had smiled on me.

The Sentinel’s School Page did exactly what Blount Today’s School Spirit section is designed to do: get a reporter in the schools and report positive news about the educational system. It’s not hard to find good things to say about our schools. Matter of fact, good school stories are the easiest things in the world to find. Give me 30 minutes with any school administrator, and I’ll have two notebook pages full of good story ideas from his/her school.

As Blount Today editor Lance Coleman and I began to visit our schools here in Blount County, Maryville and Alcoa, we have found something in addition to those good stories. We have found educators who are aching to tell their stories. We have met art teachers who are so excited to see “the newspaper” that I wasn’t sure they weren’t going to cry. We have seen children excited about their classrooms, able to clearly articulate the things they are doing in school and pumped up about the technology and innovations their schools are offering them.

And the principals? Where are those grumpy old men who paraded up and down the halls of my high school with scowls on their faces, looking for someone smoking in the bathroom? Their credentials evidently couldn’t make it pass the Blount radar, because I can’t find any here.

The advertising team here is working hard to get our School Spirit section sponsored each week so that there is “No school left behind,” because every school deserves their time in the spotlight. And the schools we have visited so far are so appreciative that I know this special we have created will reap benefits for all involved.

Lance and I are so eager to share the school stories with you, so keep an eye out for our Monday package -- which now includes our new Blount Today Monday, our sports tab Monday Morning Quarterback and our School Spirit section. We have them here at the office -- although they disappear fast! And they are always in the Monday News Sentinel, both home delivery and racks.

Pick one up. You won’t be disappointed. No matter which three schools are spotlighted in the issue you read, you’ll be enriched and encouraged by what is happening in our schools.

It will lift your spirits, too, and may make you want to re-enroll as a first grader!

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