Sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Boards and conducted by the Illinois Press Association, the Robert M. Cole Award recognizes outstanding coverage of education issues that emphasize the community’s connection with its local public school district.
The recipients were announced at the Illinois Press Association's annual convention on May 3 in Springfield. The five first-place winners, in divisions based on circulation, include the following newspapers and journalists.
Ann Gill of the Coal City Courant won first place in Division A for extensive and well-written coverage of the work of the Coal City CUSD 1 Board of Education, including school safety issues and the announcement of a new intervention program. Division A was a competitive field that includes for non-daily newspapers with under 3,000 circulation.
Dan Burke of the Galena Gazette won the top Cole Award prize in Division B/C for larger non-daily newspapers. The work included enterprise reporting of a settlement by the school district and coverage of the East Dubuque Unit SD 119 school improvement plan.
Kimberly Fornek of The Doings of Hinsdale took first place in Division C/D for the depth and breadth of reporting on a referendum proposal that followed the board of education’s decision to make deep cuts.
Noelle McGee of the Champaign News-Gazette received first place in Division E, including mid-sized daily newspapers, for reporting on a variety of timely issues, including a deep dive into the Champaign CUSD 4 teacher contract and the substitute teacher shortage.
Eric Peterson of The Daily Herald won the Division F first-place award for extensive and well-rounded coverage of Township HSD 211 contract negotiations as a strike date approached, notably the “Surreal: 90 hours to a deal” piece.
The 2019 Cole Award runners-up included Janice Hunt of the Oakland Independent, Hillary Dickerson of the Galena Gazette, Owen Lasswell of the Taylorville Breeze-Courier, Lyndsay Jones of the Champaign News-Gazette, and Lauren Fitzpatrick of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Named in memory of the first full-time executive director of IASB, the Robert M. Cole Award recognizes outstanding coverage of education issues and emphasizes newspapers’ contribution to public understanding of local school governance and support for effective dialogue that helps the community and school board define major public policy issues.
The Illinois Press Association is one of the largest state press organizations in the country. IPA provides professional education, government access, and newspaper advertising promotion to members. They also provide assistance for Newspapers in Education and literacy programs.