2023 News (Broadcast) Winners

Jenny Brundin, Alison Borden & Hart Van Denburg, Colorado Public Radio

About the Winners:

Within a few months, Woodland Park, a small school district in the mountains two hours south of Denver, implemented a gag order on teachers, dropped most mental health support, and adopted social studies standards previously rejected by the state board of education. It happened rapidly, caused upheaval in the community and led to the departure of 40 percent of the district’s staff. But school board and district leaders maintained the path they’re on would lead to better academic outcomes. 

Jenny Brundin recognized that Woodland Park was a strong and early example in Colorado of the nationwide culture war in which politics and political issues become part of school boards. But this school board was more aggressive than most in its quest to return education to the “basics.” 

Though Woodland Park was a small district, the coverage symbolized a larger movement taking place in other districts. By mid-year, everyone in the Colorado education world knew about Woodland Park – Jenny said she heard it referenced in Zoom calls and at meetings and conferences. It became a big organizing tool in many Colorado school district elections for at least one constituency, worried their district would become “the next Woodland Park.” NBC National did an investigative story on the district.

Comments From the Judges:

“This is a powerful look at just one small district infected by the national politics and polarization the whole country is dealing with. It shows how teachers and education suffer when partisan politicians get involved. This is a warning to every school district and teacher in the country. The fact that this school district and its leaders sought to bring back a focus on traditional education by gagging teachers and [cutting] mental health funding was just shocking. This series of pieces is important for anyone who cares about education.”

“The storytelling within this submission was powerful, emotional, well-crafted, and examines numerous timely issues from a local lens with national relevance in a growing era of divisiveness within public education. The slightly different formats presented within audio storytelling in each segment (interview with live clip context, individual storytelling, etc) was helpful with moving the overall narrative forward.”

Photo credits: Colorado Public Radio; Jenny Brundin; Hart Van Denburg