The Robert M. Cole Awards, sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Boards and recognizing outstanding coverage of education issues that emphasize the community’s connection with its local public school district, were presented June 8 at the Illinois Press Association’s “Best of the Press” presentations.
In Division A, covering the non-daily newspapers with under 3,000 circulation, the top prize went to the staff of the Coal City Courant for coverage of Coal City School District Unit 1. The in-depth look at the school district’s finances explained the issue to readers and brought the numbers alive with excellent writing and illustrations.
Division A’s second place was awarded to Will Brumleve of the Ford County Record in Paxton. Third place went to Tom Robb and Dion Martorano of the Niles Journal. An honorable mention was awarded to Fred Kroner of the Mahomet Citizen.
In Division B, including larger non-daily newspapers, first place was awarded to Hillary Dickerson of The Galena Gazette for coverage of the Galena school board for a well-researched, written, and presented piece explaining the district’s referendum efforts, and the reaction to the referendum’s failure on election day.
Second place in Division B went to Megan Braa and Curt Libbra from The News Leader in Highland. Third place was also to the Galena Gazette, for Dan Burke’s coverage of the East Dubuque School Board. Honorable Mention went to Mary (Galer) Herschelman of The Journal-News in Hillsboro.
Two awards were presented in each of the next two categories. In Division C, the largest-circulation non-daily newspapers, first place went to Martha Quetsch of the St. Charles-based Kane County Chronicle for thorough, balanced reporting of several key issues before the St. Charles School District 303 Board of Education. Second place in Division C went to Chris Walker, also of the Kane County Chronicle, for coverage of the Kaneland School District 302 school board.
In Division D for small-circulation dailies, first place went to Owen Lasswell of the Taylorville Breeze-Courier for good local coverage relating local governance to the school district, and connecting that coverage to statewide issues. Sharon Woods Harris of the Pekin Daily Times took second in Division D for coverage of Pekin High School’s board work to combine separate booster clubs into one.
For Division F, including the state’s largest daily newspapers, first place was awarded to Nicole Lafond of The News-Gazette in Champaign for depth of reporting, and clarity of writing which included a well-done superintendent profile and an excellent piece on combatting bullying.
Second place in Division F went to Pam Adams of the Peoria Journal Star and third place to Jason Nevel from The State Journal-Register in Springfield. Honorable mention went to another News-Gazette writer, Debra Pressey.
The Cole Award is named for Robert M. Cole, the first executive director of IASB. The award requirements emphasize contribution to public understanding of local school governance and support for effective dialogue that helps the community and the school board define major public policy issues. Presentations in 2018 were published in 2017; this contest had 21 entries in five categories and marked the 37th year of Cole Award presentations.