Former Springfield News-Leader Executive Editor David Stoeffler, whose leadership in the newsroom helped transform a community, was honored with an endowed fund of $100,000 for early childhood education.
A promise fulfilled
Creating Ripples of Hope for Every Child
The image of the grime-caked feet of a young boy published on the front-page of the newspaper is largely credited with puncturing a culture of denial about poverty in Springfield.
Like other examples of powerful photojournalism — think of “Napalm girl” whose image forced home the Vietnam War’s impact or the exhausted migrant mother who came to symbolize the Great Depression — those feet helped change the community’s narrative in 2012.
From that photo and a two-year arc of coverage in the Springfield News-Leader came a promise to ensure more kids would have access to quality early childhood education, regardless of their families’ financial circumstances. The Every Child Promise launched in 2014 on the widely accepted educational premise that when kids enter kindergarten ready to learn, they will be reading and achieving by third grade and primed for eventual success in school. And that, in turn, would help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty that had reached a level that could no longer be denied and certainly not accepted.
For his leadership in driving the newspaper’s coverage and his self-described role as “candid friend” to the community, former News-Leader Executive Editor David Stoeffler was honored at the Community Foundation of the Ozarks today with an endowed fund of $100,000 for early childhood education. The David Stoeffler Every Child Promise Fund for Early Childhood Education will support scholarships to help Springfield families access quality pre-K.
Springfield’s Child Advocate Dana Carroll said the effort is working — 100 percent of the scholarship kids who have gone through one of 21 partner preschool programs have tested as ready to learn by kindergarten. Springfield has added 16 more parent educators. With the start of this school year, some 780 kids were in pre-K, the highest number ever. Voter support for the Springfield Public School’s ballot initiative in April will open another 400 pre-K seats. Carroll says she frequently fields calls from other communities asking what our “formula” is for this improvement. She explains it’s not a formula, but a passion to change the status quo.
That passion began and continues with Todd Parnell, who was ECP’s founding co-chair with his wife, Betty. When CFO President Brian Fogle asked Parnell how they could raise $50,000 and suggested perhaps the retired banker turned author could write a book, Parnell rose to the challenge. He wrote “Privilege and Privation, a Love Story” to illustrate kids growing up in educational inequity and then hawked the book at meetings and events all over town. A group of donors matched that $50,000 to create the $100,000 endowed fund, meaning the principal stays intact while investment growth fuels the annual scholarships in perpetuity.
“We are here today to celebrate,” Fogle said. “We are celebrating the role that good journalism can play in holding a community responsible. We’re here to celebrate the impact one person can have in launching a promise, and demanding accountability to keep that promise.”
Stoeffler, who returned to Springfield from his home now in La Crosse, Wisc., where he is Executive Director of the La Crosse Public Education Foundation, opened his remarks with the News-Leader’s iconic tagline: “Tis a privilege to be back in the Ozarks among friends.”
He credited the reporters, photographers and editors who participated in the series and explained that their goal from the outset was to focus on solutions as much as the problems of poverty.
“I’ve worked in a lot of communities over the years and the Every Child Promise is really unique to Springfield,” he said.
Stoeffler closed his remarks with words he said have resonated with him for many years from Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s 1966 “Ripple of Hope” speech in Cape Town, South Africa:
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”