Inside Chalkbeat

Introducing myself and Chalkbeat’s effort to serve you better

Good morning, future Chalkbeat Colorado readers! (It’s got a nice ring to it, right?)

As promised, we want to continue to update you about our journey to becoming Chalkbeat. (In case you missed it, we told you why we’re changing our name to Chalkbeat, re-introduced you to our bureau chief Maura Walz and also took you behind the scenes with our old and new reporters.)

Today, I want to tell you briefly about my job as “director of engagement.” I was hired as a reporter at GothamSchools in New York in April and then became Chalkbeat’s first “director of engagement” a couple months ago. We define engagement as “the body of work that maximizes our readers’ opportunities to access, learn from, interact with, and act on our journalism.” In simpler terms, it means I want to get more people to read, share and talk about our stories.

Reporters can write dozens of stories a day that expose problems or spur debate, but if no one sees those stories, does the reporting even matter? Bet you can guess my answer. I’ll be making sure our reporting makes it to the people who need it most. (You can read more about my engagement strategy and my background in this Q&A published by ReportHers).

While I’ll be overseeing our engagement efforts at all four of our bureaus, I’ll be based in New York and will work closely with Colorado community editor Tiffany Montano and New York community editor Emma Sokoloff-Rubin – you’ll hear from both of them next week.

Here’s what my job means for Chalkbeat Colorado readers:

1. A stronger sense of community. We want Chalkbeat Colorado to be a place where educators, policymakers and families can come to voice their concerns, talk to one another and ultimately, act in a way that leads to better schools for everyone. One way I want to achieve that is by improving our comments section. So I’ve worked with our bureau chiefs to write a new comments policy that will be shared with you and enforced regularly once our new site launches. We hope that our renewed focus on our comments section will create a more welcoming venue for reader comments that lead to productive conversation.

2. Having an advocate in the newsroom. My goal is to bring a user and reader perspective to our newsroom as often as possible. I want to make sure our stories are easy to understand and that readers feel like their voices are being heard. My job is to remind our reporters and editors every day that ultimately, we are here to serve you.

3.  More opportunities to contribute to our reporting and interact with reporters. Some of our best stories come from our tips e-mail address and we often read valuable insights in our comments section and on Twitter. I’ll be advising each bureau on how best to build relationships with readers and I’ll also be devising ways for readers to contribute to the content on our website.

One example is our School Snapshot project, in which we asked you all to submit photos of something that makes your school special or unique and tell us about it. We’re extending the deadline until the end of this month and if you haven’t submitted one yet, you can check out the photos from each of our bureaus below for some inspiration! And if you have any questions about my job or suggestions about what my job should be, e-mail me at aanand@chalkbeat.org or Tweet me at @anikaanand00.

Photo submitted by Wendy Daniel, a fifth grade teacher at Mesa elementary in Cortez, Colorado. She wrote, “When a parent called me concerned because her child told her that he ate his science test, I had to explain!!! It was an animal cell replica made out of edible clay and if they replicated it correctly, they got to eat their science test!!!”
Photo submitted by Wendy Daniel, a fifth grade teacher at Mesa elementary in Cortez, Colorado. She wrote, “When a parent called me concerned because her child told her that he ate his science test, I had to explain!!! It was an animal cell replica made out of edible clay and if they replicated it correctly, they got to eat their science test!!!”
Photo submitted by assistant principal Matt Ridenour of Wea Ridge Elementary in Lafayette, Indiana. He writes, “The attached picture is what makes Lafayette’s Wea Ridge Elementary unique and cool. Assistant principal,  Matt Ridenour, raised money this summer to purchase this bicycle rickshaw. It is used to support our positive behavior program by giving deserving students rides through the school’s hallways. The picture is of assistant principal Matt Ridenour and Rep. Sheila Klinker.”
Photo submitted by assistant principal Matt Ridenour of Wea Ridge Elementary in Lafayette, Indiana. He writes, “The attached picture is what makes Lafayette’s Wea Ridge Elementary unique and cool. Assistant principal,  Matt Ridenour, raised money this summer to purchase this bicycle rickshaw. It is used to support our positive behavior program by giving deserving students rides through the school’s hallways. The picture is of assistant principal Matt Ridenour and Rep. Sheila Klinker.”

 

This photo was submitted by a Stuyvesant student with photo credits to Carol Deng and Jonathan Lee who are seniors at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. The person writes, “Stuyvesant High School. Study hard. Play hard. Senior Pajama day 2013.”
This photo was submitted by a Stuyvesant student with photo credits to Carol Deng and Jonathan Lee who are seniors at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. The person writes, “Stuyvesant High School. Study hard. Play hard. Senior Pajama day 2013.”
Photo submitted by Ted Beasley Jr., the supervising producer of Germantown Community Television in Germanton, Tennessee (a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee). He writes that the television and theater programs at Germantown High School are both operated by students in the production workshop class and teachers. GHS-TV is the community television station for the city, and he writes that in the photo, “Our students are in the middle of a taping for our newscast,  Wake Up, Germantown!. The students pictured are (from left) headlines anchors Kayla Myers & Kelsey Kimble and sports anchor Cooper Terle. All are in the 12th grade.”
Photo submitted by Ted Beasley Jr., the supervising producer of Germantown Community Television in Germanton, Tennessee (a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee). He writes that the television and theater programs at Germantown High School are both operated by students in the production workshop class and teachers. GHS-TV is the community television station for the city, and he writes that in the photo, “Our students are in the middle of a taping for our newscast, Wake Up, Germantown!. The students pictured are (from left) headlines anchors Kayla Myers & Kelsey Kimble and sports anchor Cooper Terle. All are in the 12th grade.”

 

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.

Inside Chalkbeat

Meet the talented people who will help us push Chalkbeat into the future

As the new school year kicks off, we’re both looking forward and looking back.

This has been a significant year for us. We covered important stories, broke big news, and launched coverage in two new cities, Newark and Chicago. We also expanded our team. We’re now one of the country’s largest nonprofit newsrooms, and certainly one of the largest telling local stories — at a time when local coverage is shrinking across the country.

In the year ahead, we will continue to tell the story of education in America by investigating both local realities and the national trends that shape them. We kicked things off this summer with a listening tour (stay tuned for more of what we heard at those events). We’re also taking some big steps toward strengthening the other parts of our work. We’re going to further diversify our revenue so we can guarantee the very best and always entirely independent coverage of public schools for a long time to come. We’re going to invest in technology and design, to help us reach and engage more readers. And we’re going to chart a clear path for the significant growth we need to take on to step up to the challenges of the times.

To do that, we’ve brought on a new cohort of leaders in the news business. I am so thrilled to introduce Maria Archangelo, our new senior director of partnerships, who will lead the charge in diversifying and growing our revenue; Becca Aaronson, our new director of product, who will guide strategic investment in our core technology and internal capabilities; and Alison Go, who is working with us to design Chalkbeat’s growth plan.

We are also expanding our national team with the addition of Francisco Vara-Orta as a national reporter and data specialist for Chalkbeat. Francisco’s skills will give Chalkbeat the ability to more closely cover several organizations working to influence schools nationwide and enable us to better use data to find and tell stories in all of Chalkbeat’s bureaus.

 

Maria Archangelo

Photo: Alan Petersime

Maria comes to Chalkbeat after working as publisher and executive director of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a 24-year-old nonprofit education news organization. Most of her 30-year career has been spent in traditional media. She worked as a reporter at the Baltimore Sun and an editor at the Sun’s community newspapers, and was editor of the daily newspaper in the capital of Vermont. Dismayed by the changes in the industry, Maria decided to devote herself to growing revenue for journalism and joined the business side. From 2006 to 2012 she served as publisher of the award-winning Stowe Reporter in Stowe, VT. She also helped lead an innovative international community magazine project and took a (brief) side trip into communications and marketing. She graduated from Temple University with bachelor of arts in journalism.

Becca Aaronson

Photo Alan Petersime

Before Chalkbeat, Becca spent nearly eight years at fellow nonprofit news organization The Texas Tribune, where she was their first-ever product manager. She was responsible for creating and managing the Tribune’s product roadmap, leading their website redesign, conducting user research, and ensuring that technology products aligned with audience and brand strategy. Over the course of her Tribune tenure, she wore many hats, including softball coach of The Runoffs. She co-founded the Tribune’s data visuals team, where she designed, built, and managed several award-winning investigative projects. And while covering health care from 2012 to 2014, she gained 5,000 Twitter followers on the day she live-tweeted the Wendy Davis abortion filibuster. Becca has a bachelor’s degree in cultural theory from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif.

Alison Go

Alison is working on growth initiatives across various teams at Chalkbeat. Previously, she was a product manager at Facebook, Amazon (Audible), and Rent the Runway, and in a former life, she was a journalist at U.S. News & World Report (covering higher ed!), the Boston Globe, and the San Jose Mercury News. Alison received her MBA from Wharton and undergrad degree from the University of Michigan.

Francisco Vara-Orta

Francisco joins Chalkbeat in September as a national reporter and data specialist. He was previously at Education Week, where he covered philanthropy and parent engagement and managed data projects, and an open records researcher at Investigative Reporters and Editors. Before that, he reported for the San Antonio Express-News, Houston Chronicle, and the Austin Business Journal, among other news organizations. He holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s University in his hometown of San Antonio, and earned a master’s degree in data and investigative journalism from Mizzou as a Thurgood Marshall Fellow. Follow him @fvaraorta.