A little more than six years ago, I got a phone call from an unrecognized number as I was about to walk into a movie theater with some friends.

A recent college graduate, I had applied to a bunch of job listings, and “Jim from Unified Newspaper Group” didn’t ring a bell. He asked if I had a few minutes to talk.

Of course, I didn’t; I was about to see Despicable Me 2 (for the second time). I told him I’d call him back later if that was OK.

Flabbergasted, he said, “Uh, sure.”

As I sat down in the theater, the brain of someone who had enjoyed two months of unemployment post-graduation began to reconsider whether that’s how the call should’ve been handled.

By the time I got home and frantically wrote a “thank you” email to Jim and asked when we could talk. I was sure I had blown my best chance at a job in journalism up to that point.

Within a month, I had not only gotten that follow up call with Jim, but an in-person interview and a job offer – one that he had acknowledged seemed unlikely after our initial interaction.

If you had told me then what the next six years would hold for my life, both personal and professional, at that time, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.

It’s inspired what will be, at least for now, my next career move, as I head to The Cap Times to cover K-12 education in Madison.

When I got that offer from Jim six years ago, I was willing to cover whatever topic he’d pay me to write about. Now, I can’t imagine covering anything outside the world of education, with its mix of complexity and inspiration.

After covering the Verona Area School District for that entire time, bringing two new print publications to life and becoming an assistant editor here, I’m confident this is among the best places for young journalists to learn the craft.

In an industry facing challenges both internally and externally, there aren’t editors like Jim everywhere – someone who takes the time outside of their own crazily busy schedule to work one-on-one with reporters, someone who cares more about those conversations than his own coverage, oftentimes.

He has helped me hone my writing and reporting skills, which has in turn helped readers remain better informed on every topic I covered. Without his guidance, my coverage would have been much harder to read, if nothing else.

There also aren’t a ton of companies in this industry like Woodward Communications, Inc., our parent company here at UNG.

When I started, the higher ups had already authorized bringing the Fitchburg Star back into print. I got to jump right into that project and had the first centerpiece in the return paper March 2013.

Four years later, I got to bring another publication into print. This one, Corre la Voz, was entirely new, and aimed at a community we had never reached before: VASD households with parents who primarily spoke Spanish.

New editorial print products aren’t the norm in news right now, but Woodward gave us the latitude to try things and find out if we could be successful.

While I’ll always have a special place in my memories for the work on those publications, the most enjoyable work I’ve done here has been covering VASD.

It’s a fascinating district, and while it has its challenges, the people inside it are working to make it the best it can be every day. From the school board and administration to classroom teachers and aides, the passion, care and love they have for your children has stood out to me in nearly every story I’ve written.

Seeing teachers help students connect to history through sports or music, watching children under 10 help their community through fundraisers or clothing drives and listening to leaders discuss the design of a brand new high school – all of it took time and effort from the adults who work with your children. It left me inspired nearly every time I left a classroom, and talking to high schoolers has given me plenty of hope for the future.

Thank you to everyone who has been a part of making the past six years successful for me, whether you gave me feedback on a story, sat for an interview or simply read my coverage.

As Kimberly Wethal takes over the beat, know that she’s just a phone call away for a story idea – unless she’s going to see the next Despicable Me sequel, in which case she might have to call you back.

It worked out fine for me that way, at least.

Scott Girard covered the Verona Area School District from 2013-2019 and became assistant editor in 2016.