the road to chalkbeat

Go behind the scenes with the reporters of Chalkbeat New York

It’s been about a month since we announced our plans to change our name to Chalkbeat New York and launch a new website. Last week we re-introduced you to bureau chief Philissa Cramer, who talked about why she was excited for GothamSchools to become Chalkbeat New York.

The exciting evolution would not be possible without our team of top-notch journalists, who traverse the city to bring you daily news about New York City’s schools. So this week we want to introduce you to our reporters in New York — whose experience in the organization ranges from several years to just a few weeks.

Below, they share why they are passionate about education reporting, what teachers helped them get where they are today, and embarrassing stories from the job. You can read more about Chalkbeat’s Colorado and Tennessee reporters, too.

Sarah Darville, reporter
On the team since September 2013

sarah

1. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: Most recently I was writing for the Nieman Journalism Lab, and before that I was studying at Columbia. I was an intern for GothamSchools in 2011, and became really impressed with what Philissa and Elizabeth [Green] were doing. When that was over, I stayed in touch, freelancing a bit and watching the site expand. When I graduated, I was thrilled to come back and be a part of a growing nonprofit news organization focusing on an issue I care about.

2. Story you are most proud of: I’ll go with a recent one about the issues remaining for special education teachers dealing with the city’s information system for those students. Those issues affect thousands of people every day, and they haven’t seen significant improvements.

3. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: (Besides my two-time Teacher of the Year/all-time mom of the year?) My first journalism teacher, Mrs. Atkinson, for letting me loose upon my high school and backing me up when I inevitably got into trouble for it.

4. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: I once spent a long time wandering around City Hall … looking for City Hall. Was no one else expecting a skyscraper? It’s New York City!

E-mail Sarah at sdarville@chalkbeat.org and follow her on Twitter at @sarahdarv.

Geoff Decker, senior reporter
On the team since June 2011
geoff

1. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: Freelance sports writer covering mostly competitive running and sports media; student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

2. Story are you most proud of: The story I’m most proud of is covering a high school football game that included students who had just been through hell on account of Superstorm Sandy. The football game was the first time they had seen each other and it was an emotional reunion to cover.

3. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: David Lewis and Indrani Sen, my journalism co-professors at CUNY. As editors, they constantly made my stories better, as teachers they pushed me to be a better reporter, and as informal publicists, got my stories picked up in the New York Times — and on the radar of hiring editors.

4. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: A month into the job, I left on my bike one morning to interview the founding principal of a new school in Bedford-Stuyvesant and didn’t come home for another 36 hours, when a judge released me from Brooklyn’s central booking. Want details? Shoot me an email.

E-mail Geoff at gdecker@chalkbeat.org and follow him on Twitter at @GDeckernews.

Emma Sokoloff-Rubin, community editor/reporter
On the team since January 2013
ESR Selfie w better light

1. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: I was on a research fellowship in Buenos Aires and met a group of high school students on the night they staged a takeover of their school building. They were protesting changes to the national curriculum that they said had been made without student input. Over the next month, students across the city joined the protest and occupied more than 50 high schools. I tried to piece together as much of the backstory on education in Buenos Aires as I could in a short time, but I’m sure I missed many details. Joining Chalkbeat gave me the chance to learn and write about education as an ongoing, evolving story, this time as part of a dynamic and talented team.

2. Story you are most proud of: As Chalkbeat New York’s community editor as well as a reporter, I’m always on the lookout for stories like this one that highlight local efforts and priorities.

3. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: Fred Strebeigh, who teaches creative nonfiction writing at Yale University. He saw that I loved writing and interviewing and convinced me to give journalism a shot.

4. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: When I stopped by a newly-occupied high school in Buenos Aires and was turned away at the door by three 15-year-olds who told me, “We haven’t developed our press strategy yet.”

E-mail Emma at emmasr@chalkbeat.org and follow her on Twitter at @emmarsr.

Patrick Wall, reporter
On the team since October 2013patrick

1 Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: DNAinfo, covering the South Bronx. I decided to join Chalkbeat because it’s a smart, dynamic, growing news organization covering a topic — education — that I believe is vitally important and fascinating.

2. Story you are most proud of: I’m proud of our recent story about some students who have been trapped in a sort of graduation limbo, where a few points on an exit exam has kept them from earning diplomas. I think it illustrates the unintended consequences that can sometimes accompany well-intentioned policy changes — in this case, the move to raise graduation standards.

3. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: I’ve been fortunate enough to have had amazing teachers at every grade level since I started pre-school. That being said, I still think about lessons I learned from a few of my graduate school journalism professors just about every day on the job.

4. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: In my last job I was covering a news conference where the New York City mayor was touting a new parking app for smartphones. I asked whether that posed any distracted-driving dangers and he replied, without missing a beat, that there were many instances when people should avoid using the app, such as while driving their cars … or taking a shower.

E-mail Patrick at pwall@chalkbeat.org and follow him on Twitter at @patrick_wall.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede