Chalkbeat

Welcome to Chalkbeat Tennessee, your new home for education news

Dear readers,

We are very excited to introduce Chalkbeat Tennessee, a news site focused on delivering you the most relevant news about education policy and practice right here in our community.

Since first soft-launching in October, we have leapt right to work, hiring two reporters, writing stories about lots of change in Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District, and (as you can see) building a lovely new website to improve your reading experience.

This is an exciting period for Tennessee schools. In 2010, as part of the Race to the Top initiative, Tennessee received $501 million to fund several initiatives to turn around low-performing schools, improve teacher quality, and provide more school choice for students. Meanwhile, less than a year after Shelby County Schools underwent one of the largest school system mergers in the country, six municipalities are splitting to form their own school systems.

To hone our efforts, we have selected three areas of focus that each of our reporters will cover over the next year: implementation of the Common Core, admissions and enrollment, and efforts to improve teachers’ effectiveness.

  • Tennessee’s adoption of Common Core has fundamentally changed what students learn in the classroom. Our entire team will be exploring how those changes affect teachers’ jobs, schools’ test scores, and taxpayers’ pockets.
  • Tennessee’s legislature has opened the doors to the creation of new school districts, charter schools, and a state-run district. That’s created more choice for parents. Jaclyn Zubrzycki will be exploring how parents navigate those choices and what these changes mean for the state’s lowest-performing students.
  • Finally, Tennessee’s teachers are undergoing dramatic changes in how they’re hired, placed, supported, and evaluated. Tajuana Cheshier will be reporting on how effective those efforts are in improving Tennessee’s teaching force.

But our stories will be strongest if we get your help. Here are a few ways to pitch in:

First, meet our community editor, Tajuana Cheshier, who will be creating more opportunities for you to interact with our reporters, share your experiences, and help deepen our coverage of public schools. To start, please consider submitting to our new First Person section, which will highlight the experiences of teachers, administrators, students, policymakers, and parents. To find out more or pitch an idea, e-mail Tajuana at [email protected].

Another way to share your experiences and thoughts with us is through our comments section. Here is a look at our comments policy, which we will be enforcing aggressively with the help of our engagement director, Anika Anand. We want Chalkbeat Tennessee to be a place where educators, policymakers, and families can come to voice their concerns, talk to one another and ultimately, act in a way that leads to better schools for everyone. So please, be courteous and respectful in your comments so that we can all learn something from each other.

Here are some other ways to stay up to date on our reporting and help us make our reporting the best it can be:

  • Sign up for our morning Rise & Shine newsletter, which includes the day’s major education Tennessee and national headlines.
  • Follow us on Twitter  and Like us on Facebook
  • Got a story idea for us? Send an e-mail to [email protected]
  • Fill out our survey to tell us what stories you want to read and learn more about Chalkbeat.

Happy reading,

Daarel Burnette II, Chalkbeat Tennessee bureau chief

Elizabeth Green, Chalkbeat editor-in-chief

Story booth

A Detroit student speaks: ‘DPS has expanded my horizon for me to see a whole new world.’

KrisTia Maxwell is a student at Detroit's Marcus Garvey Academy

When KrisTia Maxwell started in the Detroit Public Schools as a 5-year-old kindergartener, she was nervous and shy and “didn’t know what was going to happen to me.”

Now, eight years later, she’s in middle school at Detroit’s Marcus Garvey Academy and says Detroit public schools (now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District) have helped make her the active, successful student she’s become.

“DPS has expanded my horizon for me to see a whole new world,” she said.

Her years at Marcus Garvey have included involvement in the National Junior Honor Society, the Girl Scouts, and the cheer team and basketball teams, among other activities.

The school “has improved me in all sorts of subjects and … given me opportunities to express myself and be who I am,” she said.

KrisTia told her Detroit schools story in a story booth outside the School Days storytelling event that was hosted in March by Chalkbeat and the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers at the Charles H. Wright Museum.

The event brought educators, parents and students together to tell their stories on stage at the Wright but it also invited other Detroiters to share their stories in a booth set up by Chalkbeat and the Skillman Foundation. (Skillman also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

In her story, KrisTia said her school “is half of me. It’s an important part and I’m going to attempt to do whatever I can to accomplish getting my 4.0 GPA and just doing great and … making my mom proud.”

If you have a story to tell — or know someone who does — please let us know.

Watch KrisTia’s full story below:

KrisTia Maxwell from Chalkbeat on Vimeo.

Story booth

A Detroit teacher speaks: The tragic reason why her students don’t always do their homework or come to class on time

Detroit teacher Janine Scott explains what people' don't understand about her students.

When Janine Scott tells people that she teaches in Detroit, she often gets looks of pity.

“You poor thing!” she said people tell her as they make negative comments about the children she works with.

But those people don’t understand her students, she said.

“I ask [my students] things like why are you late, or why didn’t you do your homework or what happened or why didn’t you even come to school?” Scott said.

“And then I’ll get something like well, Miss Scott, I had to get my little brothers and sisters up, and had to feed them and and comb their hair and get them ready for school, had to wait on their bus with them. And my kids will come in third hour. Or they’ll tell me about the drama that happened last night or they’ll tell me about their friend that died in their arms the night before.”

Scott told her story of teaching in the Detroit schools in a story booth outside the School Days storytelling event.

The event, cosponsored by Chalkbeat and the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, was held at the Charles H. Wright Museum last month and featured Detroit parents, educators, and a student telling stories on stage about schools in Detroit.

But the stories on stage were just a start. Chalkbeat is looking to tell many more stories about Detroit parents, students and teachers. The story booth set up by Chalkbeat and the Skillman Foundation in the lobby of the Wright Museum ahead of our event was one way to do this. (Skillman also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

When Scott came into the booth, she talked about things her students must endure to get to school at all.  

“All of a sudden that little mediocre C that they get in my class becomes a great grade because in order for them to even navigate through that environment and get to school and learn something, that’s an amazing thing,” Scott said. “See a lot of people don’t even make it that far but my kids do.”

Watch Scott’s story below and if you have a story to tell about Detroit schools — or know someone who does — please let us know.