We’re your Chalkbeat Indiana team, and we’re excited to be here

Students sit on a rug and raise their hands during class, as their teacher claps her hands together at the front of the class.
Back-to-school season is in full swing in Indianapolis. Many students have already been back in class for a month. (Aleksandra Appleton / Chalkbeat)

Whether or not you’re headed back to the classroom, there’s something special about back-to-school season. It’s a fresh start to buy that new planner and start project planning and goal setting.

And this school year was also a new start for the Chalkbeat Indiana team. With the addition of two new members, our bureau is fully staffed and excited about the work ahead. 

It’s never a dull moment covering schools, and we want to bring you the news you need to make your decisions about education in Indianapolis and Indiana overall.

Maybe you’ll read a story and decide to contact a local official to share your thoughts on a topic. Maybe what you read will inform your vote in the upcoming election. Or maybe an article will give you a glimpse into the successes and the challenges that students and teachers are having in the classroom.

And while we’re bringing you the news, we also want to get to know you. 

Invite us to your events. Ask us to visit your classroom. Send us an email to tell us your story. Also, be sure to sign up for our newsletter here.

In the meantime, allow us to introduce ourselves with old photos and fun facts.

Aleksandra Appleton, pictured here in kindergarten, covers statewide education issues for Chalkbeat Indiana. (Courtesy of Aleksandra Appleton)

Aleksandra Appleton, statewide education reporter

Where I’ve been: Everywhere! I was born in Serbia before moving to the U.S. at 5 years old. I grew up in southern and central California and then moved to New York for grad school. I started as an education reporter in Fresno, California, and then covered schools in Las Vegas before moving to Indiana in 2021. 

What I do: I write about education statewide. This includes covering education bills coming out of the legislature when it’s in session. During the off months, I write about how state policies affect schools and students across Indiana. 

Fun facts to know about me: I have a very fun 4-year-old who knows more about cars than me. We grew our first vegetable garden this summer and it was a surprise success. I can’t tell you anything about sports, but I know the words to the musical episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” by heart. 

How to reach me: aappleton@chalkbeat.org

What I’m looking forward to the most about the 22-23 school year: I’m looking forward to seeing the effects of the ideas Indiana has put in place to help students recover from the effects of COVID, like its multimillion dollar investments in tutoring and literacy instruction. I’m also interested in what schools are going to do with their federal relief funds this year. 

Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis Public Schools, and as a student went through Montessori and International Baccalaureate programs. (Courtesy of Amelia Pak-Harvey)

Amelia Pak-Harvey, Indianapolis schools reporter

Where I’ve been: I’m from North Carolina but attended college in Boston, and from there covered Lowell Public Schools in Lowell, Mass. I later moved to Las Vegas to cover the massive Clark County School District. In 2020, I moved to Indianapolis to cover city hall for the Indianapolis Star. 

What I do: I cover Indianapolis Public Schools and the other public school systems in Marion County. That means sitting through long board meetings so you don’t have to! It also means keeping tabs on the shift within IPS from neighborhood to choice or charter schools, and understanding how the pandemic continues to impact Indianapolis students. 

Fun facts to know about me: I started on piano at a young age thanks to a strict Korean mom. My high school job was playing for churches in rural North Carolina, and I can tell you it’s not as cute or impressive as playing side gigs as an adult. 

How to reach me: apak-harvey@chalkbeat.org, or at 919-619-8258.

What I’m looking forward to the most about the 22-23 school year: I’m looking forward to the students finally getting to enjoy their first truly normal return to school since COVID, and hoping to get acquainted with IPS and its stakeholders.

MJ Slaby runs down the driveway after her first day of kindergarten. (Courtesy of MJ Slaby)

MJ Slaby, bureau chief

Where I’ve been: I grew up in northern Indiana and graduated from IU Bloomington. I’ve covered education for newspapers in Lafayette, Bloomington and most recently here in Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Star. In between, I’ve also worked as a journalist in Knoxville, Tenn., and Pittsburgh, Pa. I started at Chalkbeat in August.

What I do: As the bureau chief, I lead our Indiana team, helping to develop story ideas and edit drafts. I also work with the larger Chalkbeat team on photos, graphics, social media, our daily newsletter and ways to meet and engage with readers like you. My job is leading the day-to-day while also thinking about the big picture and goals for the team. Plus, I’m planning to do some reporting too.

Fun facts to know about me: I grew up near where the time zone changed in northern Indiana, so my school was on a different time than my house. I was a big Notre Dame women’s basketball fan as a kid and a few summers ago, I covered the WNBA as a freelancer. You can catch me at the farmers’ market most Saturdays because it’s my dog’s favorite place to visit (I’m a fan too).

How to reach me: mslaby@chalkbeat.org or 317-671-3376

What I’m looking forward to the most about the 22-23 school year: I’m excited to work with this group of journalists and the stories they will tell about what it’s like to be in school right now and the stories that explain all the complexities around education in Indiana. I’m also excited to meet readers and have events that bring us together.

Andrew Ujifusa (pictured behind a Komodo dragon) has previously worked as a journalist in Maryland and Mississippi, and taught English at two high schools in Japan. (Courtesy of Andrew Ujifusa)

Andrew Ujifusa, story editor

Where I’ve been: I am a New York native, and after I left college I worked in Japan for a year as an English teacher and as an occasional writer for a Japanese-English bilingual newspaper in Los Angeles. I also worked at local papers in Maryland and Mississippi. Before coming to Chalkbeat, I covered national education politics and policy for Education Week.

What I do: As a story editor, I work closely with bureau chiefs and reporters in Indiana and Philadelphia, Pa., on everything from story ideas and coverage priorities to editing pieces for clarity, newsiness, and style.

Fun facts to know about me: I’ve put a radio collar on a (tranquilized) African elephant, counted eggs as they were laid by a sea turtle on the beach in the dead of night, and I support the New York Mets, Utah Jazz, Washington Mystics, and Arsenal.

How to reach me: aujifusa@chalkbeat.org

What I’m looking forward to the most about the 22-23 school year: I’m intrigued to see how nimble and thoughtful schools are in dealing with such a daunting variety of challenges, from structural concerns like enrollment shifts and learning recovery, to the ways national politics are influencing state and local K-12 decisions. But I’m also excited to work with a new, smart, and hard-working Chalkbeat Indiana team that’s ready to deliver for readers.

MJ Slaby is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact MJ at mslaby@chalkbeat.org.

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