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Diving Right In
Reporter’s Notebook 1-19-22

Everyone has a first day.

That’s the thought which came to me last Thursday as I read comments of disapproval on a story penned on the most recent OJUSD School Board meeting. The story, “COVID Concerns Spike at School Board Meeting,” had made its way to the Oakdale Leader Social Media page and readers quickly weighed in on how much was missed. Some comments were a bit more critical to borderline insulting but that’s not only the nature of the business but the time we are living in as well. It is what it is, as I say much these days.

As I read both the piece and the comments however, I couldn’t help but feel both frustrated and bummed for colleague Sarah Lawson.

There was not a byline on the story, so the assumption by some may have been that I penned it; I did not. Sitting the bench on certain events for the next several months, Editor Marg Jackson had enlisted the help of Lawson. Young and eager, Lawson graciously accepted the assignment and from what I understand logged in from home.

Just barely a month in her seat, Lawson is many things which I remember from my early days in this business; she is eager, willing and excited about the opportunity. That board meeting, in many ways, was her “first day” and just as many of us have learned, first days don’t always go smoothly.

Upon reading the comments and feedback from readers, I decided to go back and watch the meeting myself. The agenda had highlighted a few things, yet nothing really stuck out to me when reviewing it prior to the meeting … I was wrong.

There were many things which were covered, that’s always the case in a school board meeting and has been for the past 10 years that I’ve covered them. The challenge often times more than not, is to find the key pieces important to review, as well as identify the pieces which may need a bit more copy space. It’s a news story after all and space doesn’t typically allow for a 5000 character piece on a meeting.

There’s a rule learned early on in this business, at least for those of us who have been at it a minute. When writing, it’s always best to apply the rule of KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid.

Oh now I realize in this current day and age that last word might be deemed not okay, but that’s the acronym and I’m sticking to it.

So back to the meeting. First off, I’m sorry I missed it. There was a lot of substance that came by way of public comments and as someone who’s sat in that room as long as I have, that’s nice to see.

Oakdale High School student Brayden Costa no doubt left a lasting impression as he addressed the board on the topic of Zero Period and its importance if the district should adapt to the later start time. This student gave them much to consider by way of research on varying facts which one couldn’t help but sit up and pay attention to. Brayden had done his homework and made a stand up argument for what would surely be a very large miss on the district’s part if Zero period is not adapted into the new potential schedule once the bill is passed through the powers that be in Sacramento.

Fellow OHS Mustang Charles Leon also offered a challenge, respectfully to the board as he addressed the topic of the mask mandate. More specifically, Charles questioned the reasoning of masks being required for drama, choir and band students, yet not required for athletes in the varying sports. Offering specific examples of proximity of closeness in some sports where masks aren’t required and assuring the board students in the above mentioned arts extracurriculars are not in that close of contact.

Hearing Transportation Director Ralph Meza share the successes of the Transportation Department was exciting to hear. Meza has worked hard from the day he joined the OJUSD team to rebuild a department that was in need of some positive guidance and direction. The Jan. 10 meeting was a great example of that success.

Listening to long time classified employee Delores Ybarra was what I love about our district and the people it employs. As her passion came out via emotion, the board quickly saw what so many parents in this district already know, there are a lot of people who love our kids. Personally speaking, Ybarra was once a Yard Duty monitor at my duo’s elementary school. They loved Ms. Delores and were thrilled when she became their bus driver. Seeing her now continuing with a new passion for driving our kids was pretty special.

Newly appointed board member Terri Taylor, made mention of a ride along she once took while in her tenure as Assistant Superintendent. I was with her on that ride and gained a great perspective on just how special these drivers are and what it takes to do their job. I likened their job to being a teacher with your back to the class while operating a very large vehicle. One major difference, it’s all age ranges and energy levels, oh and you have to navigate traffic while keeping them safe in their seats.

Trustee Areas were also discussed via Zoom call with one of the district’s representing attorneys. A topic which has been visited by the board more recently and is now up for revisit. Like many things addressed at these meetings, it has importance, yet it’s not a new topic.

In summary, I think what it gets to, is it’s all important. It’s the challenge of the journalist to decide what to highlight and that’s no easy task. Will it always be what the reader deems “newsworthy”? Likely not. What an impartial person may see as noteworthy may have different weight to someone with a vested interest.

To the point of the feedback offered via social media, aside from some public comment, there wasn’t really a lot of talk on the pandemic. As a viewer, that was refreshing, but again … everybody has a first day.


Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at or by calling 209-847-3021.