Making a difference

Chalkbeat-led series wins a top prize from Indiana’s state journalism awards

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
English language learning teacher Alison Fleischer works with refugee students in a small group at Nora Elementary School in Washington Township last year.

Lost In Translation, a Chalkbeat-led joint project published in partnership with the Indianapolis Star and WFYI Public Media, was honored Friday by the Indiana Society of Professional Journalists as the best series of news stories produced in Indiana in 2015.

It was one of eight Chalkbeat stories that won awards in the competition. Chalkbeat also won first place for education coverage for The Basics of School Funding: Difficulty Defining Fairness, written by Shaina Cavazos and Scott Elliott.

The eight stories that were part of Lost In Translation were written by Chalkbeat’s Hayleigh Colombo, Shaina Cavazos and Scott Elliott, along with Stephanie Wang from the Indianapolis Star and Eric Weddle of WFYI.

The series explored an explosion of immigrant children attending Indianapolis schools and the struggles and successes of schools that have suddenly found themselves serving larger and larger percentages of kids who are learning English as a new language.

The series prompted the Indiana General Assembly to double the money set aside to support English language learning programs in the state budget. By last fall, Chalkbeat reported that money was helping expand efforts by local schools to serve those kids.

In all, Chalkbeat journalists won eight awards, up from four the prior year.

Other award-winning stories by Chalkbeat included:

Best education reporting

First place: The basics of school funding in Indiana: Difficulty defining fairness

Third place: Rich school, poor school: IPS push to even out funding could bring big changes

Best coverage of minority issues

Second place: The first thing schools often get wrong with English language learners is their names

Third place: Hispanics flee as fights, racial tension rile George Washington High School

Best coverage of children’s issues

Third place: Some immigrant children shut out of new preschool programs

Best investigative reporting

Third place: Charter school offered $100 reward to anyone who referred students who enrolled

Best journalism website

Second place: Chalkbeat Indiana

 

An Introduction

Indiana education is evolving. Here’s how Chalkbeat is growing to keep you informed.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Indianapolis Public Schools students line up at CFI 27.

When I first came to Indianapolis eight years ago, the failures of the city’s largest school district were on full display.

Indianapolis Public Schools was losing thousands of students to township, charter, and private schools. The continued dismal performance of several district schools put them on the brink of unprecedented state takeover.

Marion County was home to so many children living in poverty that they could fill the Indianapolis Colts’ football stadium, the local newspaper calculated, and then form a line outside it more than three miles long.

Among the first people I met in the city was an Indianapolis teacher who went Dumpster-diving at suburban schools for classroom supplies.

Still, the city was coming together in critical ways to support students and schools. Nonprofit organizations filled gaping needs, with school supplies, uniforms, and mentoring services. Education leaders searched for solutions as small-scale as targeted neighborhood initiatives and as big-picture as completely making over the entire school district.

Today, there’s a lot that has changed — and a lot that hasn’t. People across the state are re-thinking public education. Yet in many places, our students, teachers, and schools continue to face many of the same challenges.

I recently joined Chalkbeat as the new Indiana bureau chief to lead our coverage of the city’s schools and the state’s education policy landscape.

I’m coming from the Indianapolis Star, where I reported on education, politics, and diversity issues. I’d collaborated with Chalkbeat on stories about school integration and English-language learners.

I’ll be overseeing the work of our Chalkbeat Indiana reporting team: Shaina Cavazos covers state education policy, dissecting complex legislation and the politics that drive changes. Shaina has been investigating the underperforming Indiana Virtual School, raising ethical questions about its spending of public dollars, and revealing it hired few teachers and graduated few students.

Reporter Dylan Peers McCoy has been following the dramatic changes as Indianapolis Public Schools embraces charter partnerships, turning over control of some of its schools to outside groups.

I’ll also be contributing my own reporting, with a focus on charter schools and Indiana’s recent moves to publicly fund early childhood education, a topic that has gained greater attention with research showing how critical a child’s first years are to future academic success.

We’ll continue to do what Chalkbeat has always strived to do: provide strong, independent, in-depth coverage of efforts to improve public education for all kids, especially those from low-income families.

Please let me know about stories you’d like to see us write, or share feedback about anything our team has written. We’d love to hear from you.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@chalkbeat.org.

Holiday Reading

Here are five Chalkbeat stories to read this Presidents Day

PHOTO: Getty Images
A statue of George Washington with the American flag in the background in front of Independence Hall.

Happy Presidents Day! We’re off today, and we hope you’re enjoying a three-day weekend too.

I’m planning to spend part of today catching up on Chalkbeat stories. Since last summer, when I started as executive editor, I’ve felt like a student again. I’ve never worked in education journalism before, so I’ve tried to read as much as I can — and there’s no better place to start than Chalkbeat’s reporting.

In honor of the holiday celebrating George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and our other past presidents, I’ve rounded up a special reading list — for myself and for you, our trusted Chalkbeat community.

Two stories that take place in schools named after U.S. presidents:

Why one Brooklyn high school is making a big bet on teacher training

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

Two stories about local education leaders (even though they probably won’t ever get a national holiday in their honor):

Can this Detroit principal help her students learn quickly enough to save her school?

Meet the Memphis educator leading the charge to take down her city’s Confederate monuments

And one recent story that has nothing to do with Presidents Day but is so terrific I had to include it:

Tight-knit and tightly budgeted: Inside one of Denver’s smallest schools

-Bene

P.S. Got other education stories you think I should read? Send them my way!