Inside Chalkbeat

Go behind the scenes with the reporters of Chalkbeat Colorado

It’s been about a month since we announced our plans to change our name to Chalkbeat Colorado and launch a new website. Last week we re-introduced you to bureau chief Maura Walz, who talked about why she was excited for EdNews Colorado to become Chalkbeat Colorado.

This week we want you to meet our reporters in Colorado. Some have been with the organization for years, while others just recently joined us. Each of them answered questions about why they decided to join Chalkbeat and their most embarrassing or funny reporting moments. (You can check out our other reporters’ interviews in New York and Tennessee too!)

Nicholas Garcia, reporter nic

1. When you were hired: Oct. 23, 2013

2. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: I was the editor of Out Front, Colorado’s LGBT news organization. When I heard Chalkbeat was hiring, I contacted Alan, our publisher, immediately. I started covering education policy when I was in middle school for a student-produced supplement to Pueblo’s daily newspaper. I’ve always wanted to return to the beat. Education is the one governmental program that touches every citizen and resident, no matter how old they are. It connects us all.

3. Story you are most proud of: From December 2010 until June 2013 I reported on the Colorado Civil Union Act, a relationship recognition bill for same-sex couples that became law in May 2013. For three years I chronicled everything about the bill’s life: inception, death, rebirth — and everything in between. There were plenty of scoops, but there isn’t a single story I wrote that I’m most proud of. Rather, the longitude and depth of the coverage as a whole is what I stand behind. I can’t wait to bring the same thoroughness to Chalkbeat readers on issues like school accountability and the Common Core.

4. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: Mrs. Guagliardo, my high school journalism teacher, taught me how to laugh at myself. Mr. Ransome, my honors English 10 teacher, taught me how to read and think critically about what I was reading. Two lessons I use everyday.

5. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: The 2008 Democratic National Convention, where Barack Obama became the nominee for the party, was in my backyard. My college paper, The Metropolitan, had limited credentials. We were only allowed to be in the hall where they cram guests and dignitaries in, not on the spacious floor with the delegates and the media elite get to roam about more freely. I was assigned Hillary Clinton’s speech. The Pepsi Center was filled to capacity — well above fire code. Ushers were allowing only one person in for every one person out. While I waited in line, I noticed some ushers were allowing people who claimed their seats were being held — flat out lies — to pass. As Chelsea Clinton was finishing her stump, still five or six people in front of me, I made a mad sprint for the next entrance, cut the line, explained someone was holding my seat and was allowed in just as Hillary took the stage. There were no seats to be found in the nose bleed section, but there was a corner along a guardrail where I looked down and almost threw up. After regaining my exposure — somewhere around the third or fourth pantsuit/glass ceiling reference — I whipped out my notebook and started taking notes.

E-mail Nic at ngarcia@chalkbeat.org and follow him on Twitter at @nicgarcia.

 

Ann Schimke, reporterann

1. When you were hired: Dec. 2012

2. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: I was a freelance writer in northern Colorado before I came to Chalkbeat. Prior to that, I spent five years covering K-12 education at The Ann Arbor News in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I decided to join Chalkbeat because its mission and focus resonate with me both as a reporter and a parent. In addition, as a reporter focused on health issues in education, I believe I cover a unique beat that is not really covered by other Colorado news outlets in a consistent or cohesive way.

3. Story you are most proud of: As a Chalkbeat reporter, I am most proud of the story, “Amid angst over standardized tests, some parents say ‘no thanks,’” because it looked at a timely issue that on the surface is a small grassroots movement, but upon deeper investigation reveals an undercurrent of frustration at the highest levels of educational leadership. It also illuminates the mixed messages that Colorado districts get from the state about local control and the challenges parents face when they take a principled stand against commonly-accepted educational practices.

4. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: Mr. Rath worked in my high school’s “writing center,” helping kids with reports, college essays and other writing assignments. He was the nicest and most encouraging teacher I ever had. He was also my first editor in a sense, editing and proofreading a lot of my work for most of my high school career.

5. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: At the very first town council meeting I ever covered, in a tiny town in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, I had no idea what I was doing. I sat through the meeting quietly wondering why they talked about iced tea so much. It was only after the meeting when I talked to the town manager that I figured out iced tea was really ISTEA, a federal transportation law.

E-mail Ann at aschimke@chalkbeat.org.

 

Todd Engdahl, Capitol editortodd

1. When you were hired: I founded EdNewsColorado along with Alan Gottlieb, and we launched in January 2008.

2. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: The Denver Post, including stints as executive city editor and founding editor ofDenverPost.com. Started EdNews because I needed a job after being laid off from the Post.

3. Story you are most proud of: Recently, am most proud of the detailed continuing coverage and analysis I did on Colorado’s Lobato v. State school funding lawsuit and of the proposed school tax increase that was defeated this fall.

4. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: I’ve been out of school long enough that the influence of teachers has long ago been overwritten by that of colleagues, bosses, mentors and others.

5. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: Having my girlfriend (now wife) sneak Dexedrine into my hamburger to keep me awake while we were pulling an all-nighter to put out the college newspaper during campus protests in the ’70s.

E-mail Todd at tengdahl@chalkbeat.org and follow him on Twitter at @ToddEngdahl.

 

Kate Schimel, reporterkate

1. When you were hired: September 2013

2. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: I interned with GothamSchools (in New York) and EdNews Colorado several years ago. Coming back to cover public schools exclusively and especially rural schools was a total dream for me.

3. Story you are most proud of: I recently reported on a new program Denver Public Schools is planning to roll out to track its students. It’s a pretty fascinating program that uses benchmarks to check students for college and career readiness as early as kindergarten. We managed to get a hold of preliminary plans for the new program so readers could get a glimpse into the future of their school system.

4. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: Ms. Arapkiles at Boulder High School. She told my parents, much to their chagrin, that I shouldn’t go into science and pushed me to become a writer, instead.

5. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: I was so absorbed in taking notes at a recent event I didn’t realize I was standing right behind the mayor of Denver with TV cameras trained on him and my face all wrinkled in concentration. I sidled out of the frame and hoped they didn’t use that footage.

Follow Kate at kschimel@chalkbeat.org and follow her on Twitter at @kateschimel.

survey says

More bullying reported at New York City schools, study shows

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

More New York City students say there is bullying in their schools, a report released Monday showed. The findings also revealed that many schools reporting the greatest number of violent incidents on campus have no social workers on staff.

The report was commissioned by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer also released an audit of how school safety matters are recorded, and concluded that the education department should provide more oversight and streamline incident reporting rules.

“The audit found clear breakdowns in communication in the reporting and tracking of incidents and actions taken,” according to a press release from Stringer’s office.

The education department disputed some of the comptroller’s findings, and in a written statement, spokeswoman Miranda Barbot wrote: “We have detailed protocols in place to ensure allegations of bullying are immediately reported, investigated and addressed, and are investing in both anti-bullying initiatives and mental health supports.”

But the pair of reports raises scrutiny of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school discipline reforms, which favor  “restorative” practices that emphasize mediation over punishment, and make it harder to suspend students.

Advocates of the de Blasio reforms say the shift is necessary because black and Hispanic students are more likely to be arrested or disciplined at school. Research has shown such disciplinary action can lead to higher dropout rates. Critics of the reforms, meanwhile, say the changes have created more chaotic schools.

The findings are also likely to add to a chorus of parents and elected officials who say more emotional supports are needed for the city’s most vulnerable students. Students who experience a mental health crisis during the school day may be handcuffed and shuttled to hospitals. The city’s latest budget, which was approved last week, includes an additional $2 million to hire social workers and guidance counselors in schools that currently don’t have any.

Here are some highlights from the reports.

More students report there is bullying in their schools — but the data comes with a catch.

Last year, the education department’s annual survey showed that 82 percent of students said their peers “harass, bully, or intimidate others in school.” That’s up year over year, and up significantly from 65 percent of students in 2012, which was the lowest rate recorded since at least 2010. (De Blasio’s discipline reforms started to take effect around 2015.)

A note about these numbers: Prior to 2017, the survey asked whether students harass, bully or intimidate other students none, some, most, or all of the time. The most recent survey responses were slightly different: none of the time, rarely, some of the time, or most of the time — a change that may have artificially inflated the bullying numbers.

That’s enough to render the survey data unreliable said Max Eden, a researcher who has studied school climate for the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute — a critic of the mayor’s discipline reforms. Still, taken with other findings, it’s reasonable to think that bullying is on the rise at city schools, he said.

Among the other evidence: A first-of-its-kind report, released this month under a new city law, that showed substantiated bullying incidents are on track to increase this year.

Schools that log the most violent incidents often lack mental health supports.

Guidance counselors and social workers are key when it comes to creating safe schools because they can help address the root cause of violent or troublesome behavior, advocates who want more mental health supports say.

But many of the city’s neediest schools go without that help.

Of the schools reporting the most violent incidents on campus, 36 percent lack a full-time social worker, the comptroller found. On campuses where there are social workers, caseloads are a staggering 700 to one. That far exceeds the recommended ratio from the National Association of Social Workers of 250 general education students per social worker — and it’s higher than the citywide average of 612 students per social worker, according to the comptroller.

The comptroller’ compares that to the ratio of New York Police Department school safety agents who are placed in schools: There is one safety agent per 228 students, according to the report.

“Our city is failing to meet the social and emotional needs of our students,” Councilman Mark Treyger, of Brooklyn, who has pushed the city to report more up-to-date bullying data and to hire more school counselors, said in an emailed statement.

Schools may be underreporting violent incidents, something the education department disputes.

In a separate audit, the comptroller compared logs kept by school safety agents to incident reports filed by school leaders. In 21 percent of cases, incidents that were noted by safety agents were not reflected in the school reports.

The school data, in turn, are used to report incidents to the state for its Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR. The discrepancy could raise questions about the already-controversial reporting system. (VADIR has been criticized for classifying schoolyard incidents as serious offenses, and the state has tweaked its definitions in response to those kinds of concerns.)

This finding also comes with some caveats. The comptroller looked at only 10 schools — a tiny sample of the city’s portfolio of about 1,800. And the education department took issue with the methodology.

In its response to the audit, education department officials said that the police data doesn’t align with the state’s reporting categories, and that the information may not be comparable because of student privacy concerns and recordkeeping issues on campuses where multiple schools share a building.  

Meet us

Chalkbeat Chicago reporter Adeshina Emmanuel on race, public schools, and “tough love” in CPS

Last week, I gave you an overview of our plans for Chalkbeat Chicago and shared an inside look at our first community event in Washington Park. (Stay tuned: Several more community events are on the way.) Today, I’m excited to offer a deeper introduction to my first hire: Adeshina Emmanuel, an Uptown native who is a Chicago Public Schools grad. Ever want to talk public schools? Adeshina attended five CPS schools, graduating in 2007 from Friedrich Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center.

Adeshina has been plenty busy since then: staff jobs at the Chicago Sun-Times, DNAinfo Chicago, and the Chicago Reporter; writing for Chicago magazine, In These Times, Ebony, the Chicago Reader, and Columbia Journalism Review; and leading in-depth reporting projects through City Bureau, a Chicago civic journalism lab. His writing and reporting about race and class is insightful and honest, and I’m excited to be working alongside him to tell the complex story of Chicago public education.

Since he’s the new guy, I asked him to answer a few questions about himself and his approach to the education beat.

You’ve primarily been writing about race and class in Chicago. Why are you diving so deeply into education at this point in your career?

It’s a natural progression. This new role gives me the opportunity to examine race and class through the lens of education, while connecting the dots to politics, finance, and other forces shaping our public school and charter systems. We can’t have a serious conversation about American inequality without considering how these dynamics help shape and manifest in public educational institutions such as CPS, especially in an infamously segregated and racially problematic city like Chicago.

You’re a graduate of Chicago Public Schools. Looking back as an adult, how would you describe your experiences?

CPS was far from perfect—but I wouldn’t be the journalist, or person, I am today without a lot of the guidance, love, and tough love from the schools I attended. That includes students, principals, assistant principals, school disciplinarians, teachers, teachers assistants, security guards, school counselors, basketball coaches, and more.

I won’t get into my whole CPS journey. But there’s a crucial moment I’d like to share. It’s a story about how one selective-enrollment school in Lake View pushed me out and how a neighborhood school in Uptown took me in—and helped shape who I am.

Third grade was a rough year for me. I was an emotional and outspoken know-it-all who clashed often with his teacher and spent a lot of time in the office accused of disobeying authority. My greatest nemesis—if a third-grader can really have a nemesis—was a sixth-grade boy who was in my older sister’s homeroom and rode the school bus with us. He had a habit of making suggestive and demeaning comments to her. The bully and I had fought one-on-one at least twice, and he beat me up pretty bad both times. I never told my parents or anybody at school.

One day, he touched my sister—again—as we rode the school bus home. We confronted the bully with some friends, and, this time, our clash got back to officials at our school. We were pressured to find another school.

My mom decided on our neighborhood school, Joseph Stockton Elementary (now Courtenay, after a 2013 consolidation). At Stockton, I found a sense of family that had been lacking at my previous school. The teachers and administrators knew my mother, and many of the mothers at the school knew each other from the neighborhood.

At Stockton, I fell in love with the written word. I remember my fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Simmons, who was one of the first to encourage my craft. My fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Zaccor, challenged me with books beyond my grade level like Native Son and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. My basketball coach, Mr. Yolich, taught me about hard work and self-discipline both in the classroom and on the court. Yolich, who grew up in Uptown like me and was very involved in the community, was well put together, respectful and laid back—but blunt—and I looked up to him as a role model.

These are just some of the people at CPS who have changed my life for the better and taught me the power of a loving and engaged school community.

What do you think is missing in the conversation about Chicago education?

I wouldn’t say these things are missing, just that we need them to be more prominent in our conversation.

We need to talk more—and with more honesty—about the ways that racism and other forms of systemic oppression have affected schools historically and today. We need more discussion about the link between poverty, trauma and violence in youth. We need to take a more intersectional view of the forces students face when they hail from various marginalized groups or identities, especially gender nonconforming people, immigrants, students with mental illness, and students with disabilities. We need more of a solutions approach to the conversation about Chicago education—and to not simply call out issues. We need more continuous focus on the resilience, imagination, and courage exercised by students and educators pushing for solutions to problems in education, not just when there’s a headline grabbing event like a walkout, a school closing or a hunger strike. Everyday efforts can be both empowering and instructive.

What is your philosophy about engaging the communities that you cover?

Be present, listen, collaborate, and report back.

I approach community engagement with an open ear for how people describe their relationship with institutions, their personal histories, and how their stories relate to both the history of their community and the history of the institutions that serve the area. I also want to take stock of what’s working, what’s not working, and what they feel they need to solve their problems. Each person’s perspective is like a thread. It’s my job as a journalist to help weave these threads into a narrative.

How can readers reach you?

On Twitter, @public_ade, and via email, at aemmanuel@chalkbeat.org. Or, if you see me, say hi. I’ll be out there.