How did a “C” student with a reading disability end up running the top news company in Saline County? Shelli Poole was always quick to catch on to a concept, just not great at reading a book to get to that point. Born and raised in Arkansas, she did well early in school, even moving up a grade for reading and other classes. But like many people with dyslexia, she eventually hit a wall.
At age 12, she was skipping school in favor of sleeping in and watching The Price Is Right, Card Sharks, The Newlywed Game – you name it. A game show paradise for adolescents, but it wasn’t going to help her succeed in life. (Outside of perhaps becoming a game show host. And she hasn’t ruled out that possibility.)
You may have never been on the to-do list of a truant officer in your life… 6th grade Shelli did not know such a job existed. She didn’t even know the word “truant.” But one day, while she was eating Cracklin’ Oat Bran and lounging on the velour wagon-wheel-themed couch, the doorbell rang. It was just before the Showcase Showdown on The Price Is Right. Not good timing for a Tupperware rep to visit. Looking through the peephole, Shelli didn’t see a salesperson.
She saw a tall man with a badge and a clipboard. She didn’t answer. He waited. He knocked. She sweated. He knocked again. She cracked open the door enough for a nose and an eyeball. She’ll tell you to this day, she doesn’t remember what he said exactly, but it was scary enough to get her to school that day – and make perfect attendance for the rest of the year.
Still, the upper grades of education loomed, and larger reading assignments came along with it. Junior high and high school also came with new struggles to find your place among the masses. Shelli had a skill for conversation and making friends. She didn’t have a problem there. She also didn’t have a problem proving her smarts. She tested in the high 90s on standardized tests, but continued to lag in regular school work.
Bottom line: She couldn’t make it to the end of the page. “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “White Fang,” “Canterbury Tales,” all those books you’re supposed to read in school… It just could not be achieved. It didn’t help that most people didn’t know yet what ADHD was, and yeah she had that going for her too.
She skipped school a little more, got behind before the tests… and tried a little self medication. Alcohol and marijuana were surprisingly obtainable for a 17-year-old in the 1980s. Barely getting by, she graduated high school with a 2.67 grade point average and then went back to watching game shows with no concept of the future. Months later, at the aggressive behest of her mother, Shelli became “motivated” to get off the couch.
While she qualified for college, and was actually recruited, she really did not care to continue with book learning. So off to work it was. Ironically, she worked as a receptionist for a college for about a year. Soon, a good friend moved to Los Angeles and Shelli decided to go as well. What was she going to do in Los Angeles? Who knows? Just anything different. After doing a whole lot of playing guitar, eating cheap fried chicken, keeping the fringe straight on her leather jacket and poof high in her blonde hair, she somehow ended… up… in… college. Not that kind.
Shelli had a longtime love with creating art and decided a commercial art degree might help her get a job that she actually cared about. After all, she had flaked on 80% of the job assignments that Meade Employment agency gave her. While studying, she worked for Bright Ideas advertising agency in Tarzana. She was learning how the business works from inside and out. It was 1991 and it proved a difficult year for her employer who ended up laying off several people, including Shelli. She also nearly graduated from Watterson College in Sherman Oaks – there wasn’t a lot of reading in art school it turns out – but they went out of business first. Don’t be sad. They still gave her a Commercial Art diploma – and some of her money back. No job, no school, back to Arkansas.
Looking for a job with a diploma from an out-of-business art school isn’t as easy as it sounds. The indignant laughter of potential employers – including Spectrum Magazine in particular – crushed her spirit to say the least.
Much older at this point, it was time for Shelli to attend University. She was several years older than the other students and a single mom at this time. But there comes a point in your life where the obstacles don’t matter. So it was “giddyup” with daycare, school loans, and several part-time jobs at once, as a radio DJ, dry cleaner clerk, makeup salesperson and more. She got awards in school, she made connections in the media business, and she graduated with another “C” average.
Apparently employers didn’t care about her grade point average because she immediately got a job in the news room at the local NBC television affiliate. A year later, she was married and moving to Fayetteville with the family. She worked at a couple of TV stations there, in sales and TV commercial production. Her husband’s employment led the family to the Dallas, Texas area where she worked for the City of Allen in video production. Part of that job meant being a captive audience to the city council and school board meetings. It was there that Shelli learned about the power of local government. When her husband’s job in telecom vanished due to the collapse of WorldCom, the family once again returned to Arkansas. Looking for any job at all, Shelli ended up at the Arkansas State Highway Department (now ARDOT) as an entry level clerk. She soon was promoted to a job doing the graphic design and layout of ARDOT’s magazine and employee newsletter, among other publications. And she learned more about government advice politics as well.
Meanwhile, living in Benton, she was learning about her new city. Coincidentally, something new called “blogging” was coming to the forefront. This made it easy for anyone to share their opinions and expertise on the internet – and maybe look kind of professional while doing it. She started with a blog about Benton, called “Bent On Benton.”
With success from that project, Poole founded MySaline.com in 2007. The website took off with a strong and growing readership. It grew exponentially, and actually became too big to handle alongside a full-time job. Imagine how the overwhelmed pothead high school grad on the couch would look at this situation where she had created two very important full-time jobs for herself. She came to a point though where she had to choose one. It’s heady stuff giving up your security for freedom. Anyone who has ever owned a business knows it’s not easy or always fun or even lucrative. But it’s your baby. And when your baby talks, you cheer. When your baby walks, you rejoice. When your baby flies, you stand back and let it.
Grateful every day for the fight, the promise, the potential, the fans and the freedom, Shelli Poole has been producing news media since 2007. She’s still getting to know Saline County’s culture, politics, organizations, crime, business and just plain residents.
And yeah she wrote this. And yeah she fully expects someone to email her to say there’s a glaring typo. It’s fine. That’s a new friend emailing.
Shelli Poole has two grown children, Ian Russell and Gray Russell; and one grandchild, Sage Russell. Her parents are Roger and Thelma Poole of Bryant.