Inside Chalkbeat

Introducing myself and Chalkbeat's effort to serve you better

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Anika Anand

Good morning, Chalkbeat Indiana readers!

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 created Chalkbeat and introduced you to our bureau chief Scott Elliott.)

I’m Anika Anand and today I want to tell you briefly about my job as “director of engagement.” I was hired as a reporter at GothamSchools– one of the websites that helped create Chalkbeat– 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 New York community editor Emma Sokoloff-Rubin and Colorado community editor Tiffany Montano– you’ll hear from both of them next week. We hope to hire a community editor in Indiana soon!

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

1. A strong sense of community: We want Chalkbeat Indiana 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. 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 to 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 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: Scott Elliott
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 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!!!”

 

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.”

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.