We’re your Chalkbeat Detroit team, and we’re ready for the new school year

Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti and Detroit Public Schools Board President Angelique Peterson-Mayberry speak with a classroom of full of students.
Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti and Detroit Public Schools Board President Angelique Peterson Mayberry speak with students about how excited they are to be back in person learning this school year on September 7, 2021. (Di’Amond Moore / Detroit Free Press)

It’s been well over 30 years since I had a first day of school, but I still get excited around this time of year. As an education journalist for ages, I’ve always seen the new year as a time for a reset — a time to develop new goals and set new priorities for the kind of stories I want to write.

Our team at Chalkbeat Detroit has been talking a lot about goals lately. We know schools are still struggling to recover from the pandemic, and our coverage plans are aimed at tracking how educators are tackling these challenges. There are some weighty issues at the forefront, such as chronic absenteeism, enrollment losses, learning difficulties, mental health strains, school funding inequities, and staffing shortages. (Read more about the issues we’ll be watching this school year in Detroit)

But we also want to have fun. We want to write stories that make you smile. We want to track progress and write about promising initiatives that are helping students succeed. We want to visit more classrooms (please invite us!). We want to elevate the voices of students, teachers, and parents — the folks who have the most at stake in policy decisions made at the district and state levels. If you have a story to tell, reach out to us.

In the spirit of having fun, read below for an introduction to the members of our team, with old childhood photos and some fun facts about us.

We want to get to know our Chalkbeat Detroit readers, too, so be sure to save our individual email addresses and reach out to us. You can reach the whole team by emailing us at detroit.tips@chalkbeat.org

Also, be sure to sign up for our newsletter here.

Lori Higgins is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Detroit. She has never gotten over her mother sending her to school on picture day with lopsided ponytails. (Courtesy of Lori Higgins)

Lori Higgins, bureau chief

Where I’ve been: I’m a Chicago native, spent nearly 19 years as an education reporter for the Detroit Free Press, and did stints writing about education in Wisconsin and Kansas. I’ve been at Chalkbeat nearly four years.

What I do: As bureau chief, I lead a group of three reporters, helping them develop and execute story ideas, editing their work for accuracy and proper context. I lead our goal-setting, keep us organized (mostly), and ensure we have a steady pace of stories for our readers, and I manage our relationships in the community.

Fun facts to know about me: In high school, I was a championship typist and a baton twirler (not at the same time). I love to sew bags and other fun items. I know the joys and pains of being a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. I have a cat, Lucy, who runs my house and my life.

How to reach me: lhiggins@chalkbeat.org

What I’m looking forward to the most about the 22-23 school year: I’m looking forward to giving students, parents, and teachers a voice in a big way in our coverage.

Ethan Bakuli covers the Detroit Public Schools Community District and is an avid Boston Celtics fan. (Courtesy of Ethan Bakuli)

Ethan Bakuli, reporter

Where I’ve been: I moved to the east side of Detroit in 2021. Before that I worked at a local paper in Burlington, Vermont. I grew up in western Massachusetts.

What I do: I cover Detroit public schools for its students, families, and teachers.

Fun facts to know about me: I’m an avid reader and record collector, alongside being a  loyal Boston Celtics and Arsenal F.C. fan.

How to reach me: ebakuli@chalkbeat.org

What I’m looking forward to the most about the 22-23 school year: The chance to visit classrooms and connect with students and families out in the community.

Koby Levin covers early childhood education and K-12 education issues and is looking forward to visiting a lot of classrooms this school year. (Courtesy Koby Levin)

Koby Levin, reporter

Where I’ve been: On the east side of Detroit for the last four years. Before that, I worked for a community newspaper in southwest Missouri. I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Bloomfield Township, Michigan.

What I do: I inform Michiganders about inequities in our education system. I also write about early childhood education and school choice.

Fun facts to know about me: I speak fluent Spanish because I attended a language immersion program at a public school in Maryland. I played soccer in college and still play soccer and hockey whenever I get the chance.

How to reach me: klevin@chalkbeat.org

What I’m looking forward to the most about the 22-23 school year: I’m hoping to visit a lot of classrooms. One of the joys of my job is watching teaching and learning up close.

Tracie Mauriello covers state education policy for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan. She loves to volunteer at a cat cafe. (Courtesy of Tracie Mauriello)

Tracie Mauriello, state education policy reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan.

Where I’ve been: I came here three years ago for a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan and fell in love with the state. Previously, I worked in Washington, D.C. and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covering state and federal politics and policy for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where I was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team. Before that I was an education writer for newspapers in Ohio and in my home state of Connecticut.

What I do: I help Chalkbeat readers understand how laws affect them. I spend a lot of time trying to understand the nuances of policies, but what I really like to do is visit schools to see how decisions made in Lansing change what happens in classrooms.

Fun facts to know about me: I volunteer at a cat cafe. I directed a children’s theater company. I have performed on stage in front of three presidents, once in a beaver suit. I can beat you at Ms. Pac-Man.

How to reach me: tmauriello@chalkbeat.org

What I’m looking forward to the most about the 22-23 school year: I’m looking forward to a close-up look at some of the innovative uses that districts find for federal COVID-relief money. I also hope this year to learn more about the particular challenges facing rural districts.

Krishnan Anantharaman never took a drum lesson, but spent four years on the drumline for the very competitive South Brunswick H.S. Viking Marching Band in New Jersey, working his way up from cymbals to snare. (Courtesy of Krishnan Anantharaman)

Krishnan Anantharaman, story editor

Where I’ve been: I grew up in New York City and New Jersey, and worked at The Wall Street Journal, Automotive News and PolitiFact. I’ve lived in suburban Detroit for two decades.

What I do: I work with the reporters and bureau chiefs in Detroit and Tennessee to develop and refine story ideas; edit stories for mechanics, clarity and structure; and prepare stories for publication.

Fun facts to know about me: I help administer free and fair elections for the City of Pontiac as a poll inspector and precinct co-chair. And I’m fond of vintage “Sesame Street.”

How to reach me: kanantharaman@chalkbeat.org

What I’m looking forward to the most about the 22-23 school year: Watching the youngest of my three children go through his last year of high school and discover what’s next.

The Latest

The state superintendent said cuts to staff won’t be prevalent in all districts. But educators say the “fiscal cliff” existed in the state well before federal COVID relief funds.

Teachers at Thirkell Elementary-Middle School in Detroit have complained about the now-suspended principal at recent school board meetings.

After a December exercise failed to prevent a remote day debacle in February, the city’s Education Department hopes the drill will demonstrate the systems’ ability to handle the load.

The nonprofit Need in Deed supports public school teachers as they guide their students through challenging topics and world events.

Roughly 80% of teenagers using the program identify as Black, Latino, Asian-American or Native American, and almost 70% identified as female, according to the city data.

Chicago Public Schools’ newly proposed safety plan for schools would get rid of campus police and require more training and implementation of restorative justice practices.