Long before she became Deseret News education editor, Twila Van Leer was getting an in-depth look at classrooms. When you've put 10 children through school you've seen a lot of textbooks and homework, not to mention costumes for the school play and about 20,000 bags of lunches.
Tomorrow marks the last time in more than 30 years that Van Leer will be sending a child off to the first day of school. But education writer Angelyn N. Hutchinson will be taking up where her colleague leaves off. Hutchinson's daughter Stephanie begins kindergarten Monday.From firsthand experience and as reporters, both women are observers of an education system that is in a state of flux. Although Van Leer has been a newspaper reporter even longer than she's been a mother, the education beat "is the biggest challenge I've ever had," she says.
Hutchinson sees her job as "my chance to make a difference."
Although they now share a beat, they were rival reporters for many years when both covered medicine, Van Leer for the Deseret News and Hutchinson for the Salt Lake Tribune. Both reported on many memorable Utah medical firsts, including the separation of the conjoined Hansen twins and the artificial heart.
Van Leer's coverage of Barney Clark receiving the first artificial heart won her the American Heart Association's Howard W. Blakeslee Award. If you press harder, you will also find out from the modest Van Leer that she has won 38 other local, regional and national prizes.
Hutchinson, too, has won a number of local and state reporting awards and been honored by the state and county medical associations. She was named one of Utah's outstanding young women in 1978.
Van Leer came to the Deseret News from Pioche, Nev., where she began her reporting career in the eighth grade, writing social notes for the Caliente Herald on the order of "Mr. and Mrs. Jones went clear to Ely earlier this month."
Over the years since then she has covered just about everything there is to cover on a paper - including sports - while rearing her children. "She was a Supermom before there was a term for it," said a colleague, who has watched over the years as Van Leer has managed to knit bootees not only for her own 13 grandchildren but for the burgeoning progeny of Deseret News staffers. Staffers have been known to find Van Leer pies on their desks. "If you're making five, it's just as easy to make 10," is the usual explanation.
Now it's Hutchinson's turn to juggle home and career, with two children under 6. Elizabeth, 4, will soon follow her sister into Utah's schools.
Although she had always planned on being an English teacher, Hutchinson found herself drawn to the chaos and excitement in the offices of The Daily Utah Chronicle, student newspaper for the University of Utah, where she became editor-in-chief. After the U. came a master's in journalism from Northwestern University.
Hutchinson left the Tribune in 1981 and worked at LDS Hospital in public relations before joining the Deseret News staff part time in 1983. She worked both as a general assignment reporter and an editor before moving to the education beat earlier this year.
She views being a newspaper reporter as "a life-long education."
As they have traveled around the valley and the state covering education, both writers had heard stories about the low morale of many of Utah's teachers. Still, they were surprised by the volume and the intensity of the responses they received from teachers when they began to explore the issue in-depth. Their report begins today as a News Extra and continues through Wednesday.