Education reporter Rachel Alexander (Moriah Ratner/Special to Salem Reporter)

Editor’s note: This is the second of a continuing series of personal columns from the staff of Salem Reporter to the community explaining how we perform our journalism.

When I introduce myself to Salem-Keizer parents, there’s sometimes a moment of surprise.

“You’re a reporter?” they ask. “And I can call you?”

Few of the people who smile and take my card will reach out but telling people I’m there to ask questions and get answers for them is one of the best parts of my job.

I’ve always tried to keep community in mind in my work as a journalist, and at Salem Reporter, that’s more important than ever.

I’m a Washington native with deep roots in Oregon – my mother was born in Eugene, my husband grew up in Milwaukie, and my family’s summer traditions included four-generation poker games at the home my great-grandparents built outside of Elmira, overlooking a small, muddy stretch of the Long Tom River.

Now, I’m getting to know the Beaver State a second time through its schools, civic groups, public records laws and local roller derby leagues. (If you want to see me outside of work, I’m often at the Cherry City Roller Derby Madhouse, where I skate for the Boneyard Brawlers.)

I love covering education because local schools provide a window into some of the biggest issues in the nation, from poverty and income inequality to job readiness and shifting demographics.

Decisions made by Salem-Keizer officials and school board members affect almost everyone I talk to, whether they send their kids to school, work for the district or just pay taxes to cover local education.

Often, those decisions and their impact is buried in layers of jargon and acronyms or affected by dozens of federal and state education policies. My editor, Les Zaitz, is relentless in pushing me not just to understand what those decisions mean, but to bring it back to our readers in Salem. What does that mean for my kid’s school? What does that mean for my tax bill? Why should I care?

For the past few months, I’ve been keeping an eye on the district’s plan to redraw school boundaries.

It’s a process involving lots of committee meetings and thick binders of maps - the sort of thing that can seem boring on the surface. But the result will shift the schools that thousands of Salem kids attend, with implications for planned school construction, transportation and the racial makeup of local high schools.

I love when someone emails or calls and tells me they got a letter in the mail or heard about something changing at their kid’s school and asks me, “Can you look into it?” Many of my best stories have started with someone telling me about a problem they’re having or something in their life that just doesn’t quite make sense.

Whether you’ve been a subscriber since Salem Reporter started a few months ago or just stumbled across this column on your Facebook feed, I can guarantee that you know something about Salem that would help me do my job better. Don’t be shy about reaching out - I’m here to listen.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: (503) 575-1241 or [email protected]