I got busy.
I know that’s not a good excuse.
I moved across the country, started a new job, and covered a presidential election. If that weren’t stressful enough, Josh didn’t find a full-time job until September and my new doc informed me my hormones were all out of whack.
The last eight months haven’t been the smoothest, but I wouldn’t trade them for easier ones.
We feel at home in the Midwest and love Columbus. I’m settling fine into my new beat. The variety keeps me busy and interested and on my toes, which is really all you can ask for in a dream job. Josh found a great job that uses his skills as a photojournalist and a manager. He also benefited from the presidential election, shooting dozens of events for Corbis Images.
Now that the election is over, we’re looking forward to finishing decorating the house, making weekend plans and just taking things a bit slower.
By Jackie Borchardt
WILMINGTON — There was little surprise among residents here that the community was chosen to be the backdrop for a discussion about the U.S. economy with Republican presidential candidates on Saturday.
Wilmington, population 12,520, has been the poster child for the recession since DHL Express shipping company started closing its hub there in 2008, eliminating more than 8,000 jobs in the region.
CNN and 60 Minutes swooped in to tell heartbreaking stories from the front lines of the country’s developing recession. Comedian Jay Leno hosted a “comedy stimulus” show here. Celebrity chef Rachael Ray served Thanksgiving dinner at the food pantry and stocked its shelves for a year.
Wilmington also happens to be in Ohio, where the Republican contenders for president are locked in a dead heat days before the primary election.
Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate, hosted his third GOP presidential forum about jobs there Saturday.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich all took part in the forum, which aired on Fox News and on WHIO Radio. The forum was closed to the press.
News of the candidates’ brief stop in Wilmington buzzed around town and a few residents were chosen to participate in the forum and ask questions.
Before the forum, about 100 people showed up at Sams Meats on Saturday morning to hear Romney speak.
Many hadn’t heard Romney canceled the stop late Friday. So the crowd got to hear U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, stump in his place. Portman is getting some buzz as a possible vice presidential nominee.
The extra attention is good for the town, said Sherri Collett, co-owner of Sams Meats.
Collett said she liked U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas but wasn’t sure if she would vote for him Tuesday.
She said she doesn’t know how the president could specifically help southwest Ohio, but said keeping jobs in the U.S. would help everyone.
“Sometimes it’s not about getting the best deal — it’s about helping your neighbor,” Collett said.
That attitude has helped Wilmington. Business is good at the deli despite the economic issues because people either can’t afford to spend their money out of town or choose to spend it with people they know, Collett said.
In Wilmington, if you forget your wallet at home, someone might pick up the tab. Restaurants and shops advertise a benefit for a native son Marine wounded in Afghanistan.
“There’s good people here,” said Michael Lueck, an environmental, health and safety manager for ABX, who was at the Portman event. “If somebody wants to come in here and start a business, there’s a good work force.”
Lueck was in the minority who kept their jobs at the Wilmington Air Park. At one point, Lueck worked with 16 other environment and safety employees.
Lueck said President Obama has had three years to change unemployment and has had little success.
“To me, government gets in the way of recovery,” Lueck said.
Clinton County’s unemployment rate went from as low as 4.4 percent in December 2007 to 19.2 percent in January 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Clinton County had the seventh highest unemployment rate in Ohio in December 2011, at 11.1 percent.
Wilmington residents say the actual rate is much higher, but people have exhausted their unemployment benefits or stopped looking for work.
Small business owner Janet Schultz said DHL’s departure wasn’t completely bad.
Schultz watched customers spend thousands of dollars on ornaments and collectibles at her Hallmark store before the recession. When the economy started to slip, sales went down and Schultz realized she didn’t like that most of the products were mass produced overseas.
She dropped Hallmark and found local vendors to produce products such as honey, handmade soaps and eclectic jewelry for her shop, now called Janet’s Our Store. Many of the shop’s vendors used to work for DHL or the layoffs trickled down to impact their businesses.
Community leaders are supporting local small businesses with a “shop local” campaign while trying to attract new companies to the airpark, said new Mayor Randy Riley. DHL donated the Wilmington Air Park and 1,500 acres to the Clinton County Port Authority in 2010.
The park was cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration as a test site for remote-controlled aircraft earlier this year. Riley is pushing for Wilmington to not only fly unmanned aerial vehicles but build and maintain them. More than 200 acres has been allocated for agricultural and industrial use, possibly as product test sites.
A company that builds professional ovens and kitchen equipment has added some jobs, and Riley hopes to bring industrial bakeries to town.
“Wouldn’t it be great if you drove down to Wilmington and when you got out of your car you could smell muffins?” Riley said. “We were the tip of the spear of the recession. It’d be great if we could be the tip of the phoenix coming back out of these ashes to really show the country how to grow and thrive and turn things around.”
I’m in between jobs, literally.
Feb. 7 was my last day at the Casper Star-Tribune. I start my new job reporting Ohio government and state issues for the Dayton Daily News one week from Monday.
I enjoyed my time in Casper. Like I do with everything, I tried to make the most of it. I met hardworking and passionate journalists and people — it was a great place to do journalism. I left with few regrets, many good memories and a stronger sense of myself and the work I can do.
The new job is a good move for me personally and professionally. Josh and our little dog are moving with me to Columbus and we’re looking forward to learning a new city, a much bigger city.
By Jackie Borchardt
Star-Tribune staff writer
Without approval from the Legislature, Wyoming Department of Education officials have diverted funds intended for specific groups of students and programs to a new teacher professional development program.
Top department officials will defend their 2013-14 budget a second time on Monday and were asked to present a budget and description of the “Teacher 2 Teacher” program initiated under Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, who took office in January 2011.
The department has paid more than $218,000 from at least eight budgets to sustain the program, according to a Star-Tribune analysis of budget expenditures obtained from the department. Most has been spent from budgets directly related to instruction, but money was also spent from the budgets for court-ordered placement of students and juvenile detention and federal vocational education. In some instances, salaries were paid with state money while travel was paid for with federal money.
Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, questioned the department’s creative budgeting during Joint Appropriations Committee hearings this month. The Teacher 2 Teacher program is mentioned in one sentence of the department’s 177-page request, under “School Improvement.” Nicholas said department officials were “sidestepping” the appropriations process and the $580,000 program should be listed as a separate budget request.
“The process is: If you want to start a new initiative, you create the initiative, you vet it, you provide for a budget, we vet it, joint education vets it, and it goes up or down in the process,” Nicholas said.
The department has also pulled funds from different budgets to support its “summer camp” workshops held in August in Casper and the Principal Leadership Academy, according to department expenditure reports. The department is using administrative funds that would otherwise not go to schools from these budgets for the Teacher 2 Teacher program, Christine Steele, deputy superintendent, told lawmakers Jan. 13.
“It is the purpose of administrative funds to support or promote or help districts and teachers in certain program areas,” Steele said. “How we do that is the focus which we approach the use of the funds.”
The department contracted with 15 teachers to administer workshops on a reading strategy geared to improving performance on the Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students, or PAWS, during fall 2011. Department Deputy Superintendent Sheryl Lain told the Star-Tribune in May the workshops were a response to lower-than-desired test scores in reading in 2010, scores the department discarded one month later.
Teachers were contracted for up to $17,000 worth of work and travel expenses. Most are currently employed by school districts, and the majority are from Cheyenne. The department contracted Cheyenne teacher Amy Enzi, daughter of Sen. Mike Enzi, for $67,000 to coordinate the workshops, which are held Friday evenings and Saturdays so teachers don’t miss school.
Teachers who attend both days of the workshop and complete follow-up work are eligible for continuing education or University of Wyoming credit and a $200 stipend. A minimum of five such credits is required when teachers renew their five-year teaching licenses.
School districts asked for this professional development, John Masters, attorney to the superintendent, told the Star-Tribune on Friday. Masters said officials have not formally gathered input about the workshops but heard of districts’ and teachers’ desire for them.
“We believe teachers teaching teachers is an effective way of delivering professional development and is a mechanism we’ll probably try to use for a variety of professional development areas,” Masters said.
Hill said told lawmakers and the Star-Tribune that 2,500 Wyoming teachers have been trained through the program, which would be more than one-third of all licensed teachers. But only 703 teachers have completed the trainings and obtained continuing education credits for the workshops, according to records obtained from the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Professional Teaching Standards Board.
Educators have questioned whether the state department should be providing direct instruction to teachers. Joel Dvorak, superintendent of Natrona County School District, said the department at the state level should be working on district-level improvement and school leaders should be working on improving classroom instruction.
“If you jump over two systems at the state level to work on the classroom system, you’re just not going to get much bang for your buck,” Dvorak said. “They’re making an assumption the [principals] don’t know how to direct training for their classrooms.”
The latest round of workshops are targeted for special education teachers. A federal special education grant is funding the workshops, yet the state Special Education Department was not involved beyond initial planning, said Peg Brown-Clark, director of special programs for the Education Department.
Brown-Clark said her staff members gave suggestions to the core group of teachers on how to make the fall workshops applicable for special education teachers, but their suggestions didn’t happen. The department is collecting participant feedback, which Brown-Clark said her staff members will use for future planning.
Terri Alleman, a Natrona County special education teacher, said the workshops have been helpful. Alleman was hired by the department to sit in the workshops with the teachers and lead small group discussions for $200 a session. Alleman said the workshop leaders hired by the department discuss best practices in teaching reading and writing, and small groups then discuss how to adapt the skills for special education students.
Alleman said workshop leaders told participants the practices taught will improve test scores so the Legislature won’t cut education funding.
“[The workshop leaders] are not saying, ‘We’re better than you,’” Alleman said. “They’re saying, ‘This is what’s coming down and we want to join with you because you’re in the trenches.’ We don’t usually hear from the state unless something bad is going on. This is positive.”
Before Christmas, I wasn’t too bummed about spending it away from home for the third year in a row. I survived (and enjoyed) previous Christmases spent skiing in New Mexico and feasting with other journalist orphans in Casper. The actual holiday stretched weeks, brown boxes from friends and relatives arriving weeks before the holiday and into January. I made it home for Thanksgiving both years with some good luck and a one-way ride as far as Colorado from my sister.
Thanksgiving at home didn’t happen this year. Plane tickets were expensive, my sister’s schedule didn’t align with mine and Josh’s dad, stepmom and stepsisters decided to drive to Wyoming for the weekend. I hosted my first Thanksgiving and proved once again I am my mother’s daughter.
We served way too many appetizers, including $40 worth of cheese, and enjoyed leftovers for a whole week afterward. We drank wine and played games and watched movies. We were too full for dessert (pumpkin-apple and French silk pies, a la mode) but ate it anyway.
A few weeks before Christmas, I found out family from Virginia that I hadn’t seen in years were driving home. I scrambled to find a plane ticket: $650-800 to fly out of Casper. Flights from Denver were a little cheaper, but I couldn’t afford booking a $350 ticket in the case I-25 closed and I never made my flight. And I didn’t have $800 for a guaranteed flight.
So Christmas at home didn’t happen, again. We ended up driving to New Mexico for a long weekend with Josh’s family. Of course, Nola came with and she behaved so well during the 10ish hour car ride.
And when I called my mom’s house where everyone was gathering on Christmas day, no one answered the phone. I called three cell phones before my brother answered, roaring laughter in the background.
They were doing the white elephant gifts, he explained. Apparently, in the Christmases I missed, my family started a new tradition. At that moment, I made a vow to go home next year, no matter what, even if it is only for two days.
Although I’ve done a good job of finding family around the holidays to celebrate with, nothing beats going home.