Tennessee

Meet Chalkbeat Tennessee’s newest reporter

It’s been about a month since we launched Chalkbeat Tennessee and we want to thank all of our readers for their interest in our coverage so far. Last week we introduced you to Daarel Burnette, our Tennessee bureau chief, and this week we want you to get to know Jackie Zubrzycki, our newest hire.

Jackie, and our other reporters in New York and Colorado, answered questions like why they decided to join Chalkbeat and which teacher most helped them to get where they are today.

Jaclyn (Jackie) Zubrzycki, reporter jackie

1. When you were hired: October 2013

2. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: I covered urban school districts and leadership for Education Week and lived in Washington, D.C., where I also taught for two years and worked at an environmental nonprofit. I came to Chalkbeat because I was interested in being closer to the stories I was telling than I got to be as a national reporter.

Memphis is a great place to be exploring how people are trying to improve schools, and the results – intended and unintended – of that work.  It’s a story with national implications. I’m also looking forward to learning about how education fits into a city with such a fascinating history, and how schools affect the quality of people’s lives here.

I was also drawn to Chalkbeat’s start-up energy and its mission: Providing nuanced, independent journalism about what’s working and what’s not working in education.

3. What story you are most proud of: I like stories that leave you with a question. I wrote about some of the issues that came up in New Orleans after most of the city’s teachers had been laid off and were replaced by a younger, less-experienced group of teachers. That change came along with a complex set of questions about community, race, and what it means for schools to be “better,” and I finished writing knowing there was a lot left to learn and tell. A teenager who was expelled after getting something like 240 detentions from a very strict charter school surprised me when it turned out that he actually loved his school, despite its strict rules. Reporting about Memphis schools for Education Week left me very curious about what comes next.

I also like trying to understand how education and schools interact with other parts of society. For example, one story showed how schools and the juvenile justice  system often fail to collaborate, which means kids in many states can fall through the cracks when they try to return from juvenile detention centers to public schools. I spoke to a boy who was just getting back from a facility who had a maturity many of my friends would envy. I also wrote about how many kids with low test scores in Detroit are suffering from high blood lead levels.

I’m also on a mission to disprove researchers’ assumptions that reporters always oversimplify their work. Here’s a piece on Responsive Classroom, for instance.

My most-read story ever, however, was about whether schools should still teach cursive. It turns out people have very strong opinions about handwriting!

4. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: The teachers who have helped me most in recent years are all the teachers in my life now: My mom, who teaches third grade; my many friends who are current and former teachers; and my former colleagues, whose hard work, humor, and thoughtfulness still inspire me. It was a teacher-friend who encouraged me to give journalism a try!

My choir directors over the years, my yoga teachers, and my high school English teachers come to mind as people who both challenged me and kept me grounded.

5. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: When I was reporting on New Jersey schools, one district spokeswoman who shall remain unnamed told me that some of the construction contracts in the district are still tied to the mafia. (!) That led to a conversation about a mob-funded wedding and my own stories about a distant uncle’s ties to the Polish mob.

After about 5 minutes of exchanging stories and laughing, though, she got really serious: “But please, don’t report on that…I want you to LIVE!”

Also, while I’ve got your attention: For readers’ reference, I pronounce my last name Zoo – Brick – Ee. Since I’ve started reporting, no one has asked if they could call me “Ms. Zoo,” which my middle schoolers in Washington were dying to do. 

E-mail Jackie at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @JZubrzycki.

 

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.