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.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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