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 [email protected] 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 [email protected]

 

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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @kateschimel.

Chalkbeat

Coming soon (and hiring now): Chalkbeat in Chicago and Newark

Top: Chicago skyline via Flickr/Carroll. Bottom: Newark via Wikimedia Commons/Jamaalcobbs

Dear readers,

We have some exciting news: After hearing from community leaders across the country, we’ve selected the next two places where we’ll launch Chalkbeat coverage.

By early 2018 — just a year after launching in Detroit, our fifth city — we’ll have Chalkbeat coverage in Chicago and Newark, New Jersey.

The timing couldn’t be better. Both Chicago and Newark are in the midst of sweeping changes with far-reaching consequences for students and families, educators, and communities.

Chicago is living an education paradox: Poverty, violence, and deep segregation present steep challenges for students, their families, and their schools. After a last-minute budget deal, the city school district remains on the brink of financial disaster. At the same time, Chicago boasts one of the fastest-improving big city school systems in the nation, a conclusion so unexpected that a Stanford researcher double-checked his work before confirming it.

Amid these highs and lows, Chicago’s public schools face a slew of changes at every level of the school system. In the K-12 system, school closures and bureaucratic overhauls have made a complicated system more confusing for many families. City officials also want to lead the country by dramatically growing the number of children enrolled in public prekindergarten, and, controversially, by not allowing students to graduate unless they have a plan for what to do next.

In Newark, meanwhile, an effort to overhaul the local schools with performance pay for teachers and more charter schools — driven in part by Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation in 2010 — initially led to a three-year test score decline that has recently bounced back and turned positive in English, according to a new study.

Today, one third of Newark students are enrolled in charter schools, one of the highest percentages in the country. The school district, meanwhile, is returning to the control of a locally elected school board after years of being run by state-appointed managers. As we’re seeing in Detroit, where a similar transition is underway, the shift to local control comes with great optimism — and high stakes.

Both cities have important stories that the whole country can learn from. But while there are talented journalists producing great stories about education in both Chicago and Newark, both cities lack the depth of coverage they will need to navigate so much change.

Chicago recently lost a longtime news source dedicated to covering schools, Catalyst. And the two major Chicago newspapers have seen their reporting teams diminish significantly, in keeping with trends in newsrooms across the country. The local public radio station, WBEZ, has admirably stepped up to fill gaps, creating a dedicated education reporting team. But there is much more in-depth daily reporting to be done.

In Newark, the local newspaper, the Star-Ledger, has also seen its reporting resources diminish in recent years. And while a laudable nonprofit news organization, NJ Spotlight, has offered thoughtful and high-impact coverage of education across New Jersey, dedicated education coverage by and for Newark has been unsettlingly scarce, especially for a city that is so often in the national headlines.

Community leaders in Chicago and Newark asked us to launch Chalkbeat coverage in their cities because they want to change that. So do we. As we expand our coverage, our goal is to scrutinize and explain what’s changing, what’s working, and what’s at stake as the cities’ schools transform. Readers in Chicago and Newark also deserve to hear — and share — firsthand accounts of the parents, students, and teachers who are living through the changes.

For Chalkbeat’s readers in our five existing locations and across the country, the expansion means that we’ll be connecting even more local dots through our national coverage. Our new national newsletter — sign up now!— will be a great place to read the highlights from Chicago and Newark and learn how how they fit into the unfolding national story of efforts to improve education for poor children.

The growth also means that we’re hiring. We’re already looking to fill two new positions, story editor and Detroit reporter, and have some other roles open, too. Now, we’re opening searches for someone to lead our team in Chicago and a senior reporter in Newark, where we’re launching a one-year pilot as we explore more permanent coverage. If you or someone you know is a fit for any of these positions, let us know now. We are lucky to work with some of the most talented journalists in the country, and we can’t wait to expand our team.

And for our future readers in Chicago and Newark — we won’t be able to do this without you. If you have ideas for us, feel free to reach out now. You can also sign up here to to get updates about our launches in Chicago, Newark, or both.

This post has been updated to more accurately describe the findings of a recent study of Newark school reforms.

Student count

Aurora school enrollment continues sharp decline, but budget woes not expected

A kindergarten teacher at Kenton Elementary in Aurora helps a student practice saying and writing numbers on a Thursday afternoon in February. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

The number of students enrolled in Aurora schools this fall dropped by almost twice as much as last year, part of a trend district officials have blamed in part on gentrification as housing prices in Aurora climb.

This year, as of Oct. 2, the district has enrolled 41,294 students from preschool through 12th grade. That’s 867 fewer students than last year — and almost twice the number of students lost between 2015 and 2016.

Last October, staff told the board that district enrollment had dropped by a historic amount. At the time, enrollment was 41,926, down 643 from 2015. By the end of the 2016-17 school year, the district had enrolled almost 200 more students.

But in Colorado, school districts are given money on a per-student count that’s based on the number of students enrolled on count day, which this year was Oct. 2.

The district expects to see a similar decline in students again next school year, but expects that new developments start bringing more children to the district in the future.

The good news, provided in the update given to the Aurora school board Tuesday night, is that district officials saw it coming this time.

“The magnitude of the impact is not the same as last year,” said Superintendent Rico Munn. “This kind of decline is now something we will predict and budget to.”

Because enrollment numbers are higher than what officials predicted, the budget that the board approved over the summer should not need adjustments for the current year.

Last year, Aurora Public Schools had to cut more than $3 million in the middle of the year. District officials also worked on gathering input and finding ways to shrink the 2017-18 budget by up to $31 million, but better than expected funding from the state meant the district didn’t end up cutting the full $31 million.

The district may look for ways to trim the budget again next year in anticipation of another anticipated enrollment decline.

Board members asked about other factors that may be contributing to enrollment declines, such as school reputations, and asked about how staff predict future enrollment.

Superintendent Munn told the board that the enrollment decreases are changing several conversations in the district.

“APS was not in the business of marketing our schools,” Munn said. But this year, the district launched an interactive map with school information on the district website to help feature all schools, their programs and their performance measures, and has been doing outreach to the approximately 4,000 Aurora students who leave to attend neighboring districts.

Three schools also received district-level help in creating targeted marketing.

One of those three schools was South Middle School, a low-performing school in the northwest part of the district where enrollment declines are especially drastic.

This year, after receiving some marketing assistance, South was one of few schools in the district that saw enrollment increased. The school’s Oct. 2 enrollment was 825, up from 734 last year.