A light at the end of the tunnel

It happens every  year, no matter how hard we plan and scheme to avoid it. It sucks away our weekends, our evenings and sometimes, it seems, our sanity. It’s when we start apologizing to each other for our meltdowns. And when many of us succomb to colds and flu. We always reach a point when we wonder, “is it worth it?” And then the first steps of closure quietly arrive. Our spirits are revived. Laughter fills the hallways. And poor Mala’s bloodshot eyes start to clear up and regain their sparkle.

It’s the annual Schools, etc. grind. The time of year when our editorial team is in overdrive, working feverishly to complete our guide to Maricopa County schools, which goes in the mail later this month. It’s when Mala Blomquist, whose job as calendar and directories editor always involves combing through mountains of paper and emails  to create comprehensive summaries of events and opportunities for Valley families, finds herself doing what amounts to seven or eight times her normal output over the course of two or three months.

She starts in late August, when she begins research to find new schools and educational opportunities that have opened since we last published our book. In September, she sends hundreds of emails to these sources, inviting them to complete a questionnaire so we can share with our readers rich descriptions of each school’s focus and strengths. Surprisingly, many programs do not respond — despite numerous emails and Mala’s gentle phone call reminders. We shake our heads about it. Why would any school not choose to participate? We’re giving them a chance to promote their programs and it costs them nothing. Absolutely nothing. And yet the lack of response each year is mind-boggling.

As she continues to prod non-respondents, Mala begins the laborious task of data entry on the questionnaires she has received. It takes weeks before she can output a document that she and Assistant Editor Mary L. Holden fact-check scrupulously before it comes to my desk for review.

Mala gets very quiet when deadlines are most urgent. Then she apologizes for the uncharacteristic gray cloud that hovers around her head as her eyes and mind grow more and more weary. “I’m sorry I melted down yesterday,” she told me one morning. “Huh?” I said. “I didn’t notice.”

What I did notice was how very deeply she cares about getting this book right. How very dedicated she is to getting as much information as she possibly can about every school that’s available to parents in Maricopa County. To her great dismay, some schools do not respond despite her repeated attempts to include them. So she does her own legwork to make sure these schools are still open and she lists them anyway, providing at minimum an address and grade range, so that families living in these geographic areas at least know they’re there.

Mala was in the office all day the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which also happened to be her daughter Mylan’s 15th birthday. That’s dedication. I apologized to her profusely that day — as I did to Mary and Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams, who were there with us. Mala’s response was typical: “It needs to get done.” Mary and Michelle (whose sniffles indicated she was catching the flu I had last week) had the same, upbeat attitude.

How do you thank employees like this? I am humbled by their dedication. I am proud of their professionalism. And I’m very excited to share our new Schools, etc. book with you.

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