A world-class education and the chamber forum

The Grand Valley Business Times has found no one questioning the good intentions of the efforts of the Grand Junction Forum, a group of 12 community leaders charged by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce to examine ways to improve the local economy. A series of meetings over about three years produced the 500 Plan, an effort to recruit 500 community leaders to mentor elementary school students. The volunteer effort is a laudable attempt to increase instruction time without butting into items such as the teachers union contract with School District 51.

But there are some questions chamber president and CEO Diane Schwenke and the chamber board have yet to address, including: Why did meetings go on for several years without seeking input from the chamber membership at large?  Why were several community leaders noted for involvement with children’s issues not asked for input? Why would information about the series of meetings not be openly distributed to the media in an effort to inform the public and to encourage citizen input? Why would the chamber forum sidestep the normal chain of command in which organizations make proposals during a school board meeting instead of inviting school board members to the chamber to engage in dialogue? Is the Grand Junction Forum going to propose any steps beyond asking business people to volunteer in classrooms? Will School District 51 encourage teachers to volunteer at local businesses, an exchange effort that’s been tried before in the Grand Valley? And looking forward, what’s the next step in the process and will the public and media be invited to attend meetings? Will the chamber issue a news release announcing progress in the 500 Plan to this point? More to that point, will the forum follow the advice of member Teresa Coons and develop a media plan?

Sadly, we’ve found that the chamber and some forum members are surprised — even offended — at such questions, as if it would be unusual for media to challenge the process by which community leaders try to affect a public school system. However, we find that it’s unusual for many local media to act as more than a mouthpiece for the chamber. The Daily Sentinel featured a five-part series on the forum’s efforts, yet didn’t include the answers to any of the above questions.

We understand the point of view that perhaps the meetings were largely informal and that not much newsworthy happened in them. But they were deemed newsworthy enough for the Sentinel to send a reporter to a meeting and the newspaper was reportedly encouraged to write a story about the forum. The Sentinel was the only news media to be represented on the forum.

While the chamber of commerce declined to comment for our lead story in this edition of the Business Times, we hope the forum is more public about its schedule of meetings and about plans it recommends for 22,000 local residents — the students who comprise the school district’s population and upon whom we’re all counting on to help run the world over the next 50 years or so.