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Dateline Dixon: Lessons from Ottawa teachers strike

Our role is to keep you informed

Published: Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 11:37 a.m. CDT

DIXON – When it became a reality that the Dixon Education Association was going to call a strike starting today, my mind immediately took me back to Ottawa and the 16-school-day teachers strike at its high school.

As communities, Ottawa and Dixon are all too alike.

The county seat of La Salle County has 18,786 people to Dixon’s 16,000. The two cities are familiar with each other as athletic rivals in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference and the North Central Illinois Conference before that.

While Ottawa Township High School’s strike drug on in fall 2009, I was a sports reporter for The Times newspaper there.

My former colleague Melissa Garzanelli referred to the strike as “emotionally charged,” and emotions intensified as time went on.

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 25, teachers picketed and classes were canceled.

I remember hearing about fiery board meetings and late-night negotiations that came up empty.

I remember students having to make up days during Christmas break and some of summer break.

I remember reading about the athletic teams’ forfeits and how the fall season came to a close with seniors never getting a chance to play their last game.

I remember how happy everyone was to return to school, and the sensitivity that exists to this day from the scars left in its school district.

The most important thing I observed is how crucial a role the media can play, certainly not in the outcome, but in keeping the community informed.

That’s a responsibility I plan to take very seriously until these contract negotiations are resolved.

Now that their children are out of school, the Dixon community has a right to know what’s going on.

In Ottawa, parents and students followed article by article for updates. “Would tomorrow be the day they returned to school?”

Facebook and Twitter buzzed.

I will post updates to Twitter as I get them @DatelineDixon at all hours of the day, including updates from those late-night negotiations. Also, check for updates on saukvalley.com and the Sauk Valley Media Facebook page.

Our newspaper will continue to dig into the issues surrounding negotiations.

Co-worker Angel Sierra has created a Web page to give readers comprehensive coverage of the negotiations.

I also will be at Books on First from 4 to 5 p.m. Friday to take any questions or concerns you may have.

The newspaper has a responsibility here, and it’s to keep you informed.

Stop by

Because of the teachers strike, Derek Barichello has additional “office hours” from 4 to 5 p.m. Friday at Books on First, 202 W. First St. Feel free to stop to ask questions, suggest story ideas, or just chat.

He also can be reached at dbarichello@saukvalley.com or 800-798-4085, ext. 526.

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