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.

the starting line

Chalkbeat’s launching a newsletter all about early childhood. Sign up here.

PHOTO: Craig F. Walker, Denver Post

Our newest newsletter is called The Starting Line, and it’s all about early childhood — those brain-building years from birth to 8 years old.

As the Chalkbeat team has grown over the last five years, so has our coverage of early childhood education. Now, we’re making an even bigger investment in the topic with a monthly newsletter that will feature key early childhood stories from Chalkbeat as well as other news outlets.

In recent months, we’ve written stories about new child care rules that could threaten funding for hundreds of Illinois providers, Teach For America’s efforts to mint preschool teachers in Colorado, and discussions among Indiana leaders about where to find the money for new preschool seats.

Our goal is to keep you informed about broad policy issues in the early childhood world while also sharing on-the-ground stories that provide a window into how it all plays out in the lives of real people.

Expect to see the first issue of The Starting Line in early November. And remember to let us know what you think as it takes shape. If there’s a compelling early childhood topic, trend or study you’d like us to dig into, or an early childhood leader we should profile, let us know.

If you’re interested in receiving The Starting Line, sign up below. Then, send this link to a friend or colleague who cares about early childhood issues, too.

Finally, for those of you who want even more Chalkbeat, we have a ton of other newsletters as well: local dispatches from each of our bureaus — Chicago, Colorado, Detroit, Indiana, Newark, New York, and Tennessee — plus a national newsletter, one designed especially for teachers, and a Spanish-language roundup out of Colorado. Sign up for all our newsletters here.

Inside Chalkbeat

‘If they know we regularly care’: Our New York bureau and its newest reporter are listening up

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza high-fives students at P.S. 78 on Staten Island as they leave after the first day of the 2018-2019 school year.

A new name has been popping up at Chalkbeat as our organization continues to grow, and the byline belongs to Reema Amin.

This latest addition to the New York reporting team, which I began overseeing as bureau chief in September, was off to attend her first press conference — held by the mayor, schools chancellor, and teachers union chief — before her first day on the job had ended.

She was instrumental to our reporting on the teachers contract, announced last week, and has already visited Albany, where she will be reporting occasionally on state education policy. Like all members of the New York bureau, she contributed this week to our joint reporting project with ProPublica, exploring whether counselors in New York City schools can really meet students’ needs, especially as student homelessness has reached an all-time high.

Chalkbeat reporter Reema Amin

And most recently, she looked at how a proposed rule change by the Department of Homeland Security could, if adopted, discourage immigrant families from applying for benefits, such as Medicaid, which in turn could threaten the financial viability of the city’s school-based health clinics.  

Reema grew up in Hoffman Estates, a suburb of Chicago, and has worked as a breaking-news reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. She most recently covered the Virginia statehouse for the Daily Press, a newspaper serving communities in the southeastern corner of the state, and co-hosted a politics podcast for the paper.

In Virginia, Reema had just begun covering a rural county when she happened to attend a school board meeting and noticed a distraught mother, whom no one was listening to. Reema did listen. Jessica Leitch had been struggling to get her autistic son the special education services he needed — and qualified for.

Parents like Leitch, Reema said, “keep meticulous records” — they must to advocate for their children. Using this paper trail to start her own investigation, Reema sought out other parents and made public records requests and soon was combing through hundreds of pages of documents to uncover how the district led the region in special education complaints.

One of Reema’s key strategies as a reporter, she says, is to keep in touch with as many different people — parents, teachers, students, education officials and policymakers — as possible on a daily basis. “If they know we regularly care,” she says, “they’re more likely to share” their own experiences and concerns, a philosophy Chalkbeat also embraces.

Reema is joining a veteran Chalkbeat news team in New York.

Reporter Christina Veiga, who joined the bureau in 2016 from the Miami Herald, where she worked for more than a half-dozen years covering city government and later the Miami-Dade Schools, has kept Chalkbeat readers apprised of the latest news about the schools chancellor, the debate over the admissions process to the city’s specialized high schools, and the unfolding push for greater integration in districts on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and in Brooklyn.

Alex Zimmerman, who has written for the Village Voice, the Pittsburgh City Paper, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette among other publications, also joined Chalkbeat in 2016. He has reported on the specialized high school debate, on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Renewal and community schools program, the largest of its kind in the country, and whether heavy investments in wraparound social services in schools can really move the needle on students’ academic achievement. He has also provided occasional dispatches from the city’s charter-school sector and explored the challenges faced by students with disabilities.

Our story editor, Carrie Melago, works with me editing stories and helping guide coverage (as well as serving as story editor for our Indiana bureau). Carrie previously honed her sharp news instincts as a reporter and editor at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News.

My own interest in education began in New York and later Newark, cities where I taught taught for seven years. (I’m also the story editor for Chalkbeat’s Newark bureau.)  Inequities I witnessed as a teacher inspired me to write about these experiences, which in time led to my reporting on education for The New York Times, The New Yorker, and the Atlantic.

Over these same years, the city’s schools — and education nationally — have experienced seismic shifts. In my first classroom in the 1990s, teachers still wrote with chalk, there was no school email or classroom computers. Now teachers can plan lessons — or marches — on Facebook; parents can vent about busing woes on Twitter, and students are regularly part of the online discussion. And some things we really wish had changed haven’t: rates of childhood poverty, homelessness and segregation.

In the New York bureau, we will be tackling some of these subjects anew or as part of our ongoing reporting. We will be making deliberate efforts to engage more with the communities we cover and to amplify their voices. Christina will be looking deeper into one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature education initiatives — his push to rapidly expand early-childhood education. And building on Reema’s and Alex’s past reporting on students with disabilities, we will be taking a harder look at special education in the city. And as classrooms remain the heart of any school, we will be spending more time there. We want to hear from you –whether you are a teacher, a parent, a student, or those responsible for imagining and implementing education policy. Stay tuned for news of our first listening tour, where we come to you to hear your concerns and questions, so we can then go out and address them through our reporting.  

We welcome feedback — about the stories we’ve done, the stories we’re doing and those we’ve missed and should now pursue. You can always reach out to ny.tips@chalkbeat.org. And if you haven’t already, please subscribe to one or all of our newsletters. We look forward to the continuing conversation.