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Go behind the scenes with the reporters of Chalkbeat Colorado

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

This week we want you to meet our reporters in Colorado. Some have been with the organization for years, while others just recently joined us. Each of them answered questions about why they decided to join Chalkbeat and their most embarrassing or funny reporting moments. (You can check out our other reporters’ interviews in New York and Tennessee too!)

Nicholas Garcia, reporter

1. When you were hired: Oct. 23, 2013

2. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: I was the editor of Out Front, Colorado’s LGBT news organization. When I heard Chalkbeat was hiring, I contacted Alan, our publisher, immediately. I started covering education policy when I was in middle school for a student-produced supplement to Pueblo’s daily newspaper. I’ve always wanted to return to the beat. Education is the one governmental program that touches every citizen and resident, no matter how old they are. It connects us all.

3. Story you are most proud of: From December 2010 until June 2013 I reported on the Colorado Civil Union Act, a relationship recognition bill for same-sex couples that became law in May 2013. For three years I chronicled everything about the bill’s life: inception, death, rebirth — and everything in between. There were plenty of scoops, but there isn’t a single story I wrote that I’m most proud of. Rather, the longitude and depth of the coverage as a whole is what I stand behind. I can’t wait to bring the same thoroughness to Chalkbeat readers on issues like school accountability and the Common Core.

4. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: Mrs. Guagliardo, my high school journalism teacher, taught me how to laugh at myself. Mr. Ransome, my honors English 10 teacher, taught me how to read and think critically about what I was reading. Two lessons I use everyday.

5. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: The 2008 Democratic National Convention, where Barack Obama became the nominee for the party, was in my backyard. My college paper, The Metropolitan, had limited credentials. We were only allowed to be in the hall where they cram guests and dignitaries in, not on the spacious floor with the delegates and the media elite get to roam about more freely. I was assigned Hillary Clinton’s speech. The Pepsi Center was filled to capacity — well above fire code. Ushers were allowing only one person in for every one person out. While I waited in line, I noticed some ushers were allowing people who claimed their seats were being held — flat out lies — to pass. As Chelsea Clinton was finishing her stump, still five or six people in front of me, I made a mad sprint for the next entrance, cut the line, explained someone was holding my seat and was allowed in just as Hillary took the stage. There were no seats to be found in the nose bleed section, but there was a corner along a guardrail where I looked down and almost threw up. After regaining my exposure — somewhere around the third or fourth pantsuit/glass ceiling reference — I whipped out my notebook and started taking notes.

E-mail Nic at ngarcia@chalkbeat.org and follow him on Twitter at @nicgarcia.

Ann Schimke, reporter

1. When you were hired: Dec. 2012

2. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: I was a freelance writer in northern Colorado before I came to Chalkbeat. Prior to that, I spent five years covering K-12 education at The Ann Arbor News in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I decided to join Chalkbeat because its mission and focus resonate with me both as a reporter and a parent. In addition, as a reporter focused on health issues in education, I believe I cover a unique beat that is not really covered by other Colorado news outlets in a consistent or cohesive way.

3. Story you are most proud of: As a Chalkbeat reporter, I am most proud of the story, “Amid angst over standardized tests, some parents say ‘no thanks,’” because it looked at a timely issue that on the surface is a small grassroots movement, but upon deeper investigation reveals an undercurrent of frustration at the highest levels of educational leadership. It also illuminates the mixed messages that Colorado districts get from the state about local control and the challenges parents face when they take a principled stand against commonly-accepted educational practices.

4. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: Mr. Rath worked in my high school’s “writing center,” helping kids with reports, college essays and other writing assignments. He was the nicest and most encouraging teacher I ever had. He was also my first editor in a sense, editing and proofreading a lot of my work for most of my high school career.

5. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: At the very first town council meeting I ever covered, in a tiny town in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, I had no idea what I was doing. I sat through the meeting quietly wondering why they talked about iced tea so much. It was only after the meeting when I talked to the town manager that I figured out iced tea was really ISTEA, a federal transportation law.

E-mail Ann at aschimke@chalkbeat.org.

Todd Engdahl, Capitol editor

1. When you were hired: I founded EdNewsColorado along with Alan Gottlieb, and we launched in January 2008.

2. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: The Denver Post, including stints as executive city editor and founding editor ofDenverPost.com. Started EdNews because I needed a job after being laid off from the Post.

3. Story you are most proud of: Recently, am most proud of the detailed continuing coverage and analysis I did on Colorado’s Lobato v. State school funding lawsuit and of the proposed school tax increase that was defeated this fall.

4. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: I’ve been out of school long enough that the influence of teachers has long ago been overwritten by that of colleagues, bosses, mentors and others.

5. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: Having my girlfriend (now wife) sneak Dexedrine into my hamburger to keep me awake while we were pulling an all-nighter to put out the college newspaper during campus protests in the ’70s.

E-mail Todd at tengdahl@chalkbeat.org and follow him on Twitter at @ToddEngdahl.

Kate Schimel, reporter

1. When you were hired: September 2013

2. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: I interned with GothamSchools (in New York) and EdNews Colorado several years ago. Coming back to cover public schools exclusively and especially rural schools was a total dream for me.

3. Story you are most proud of: I recently reported on a new program Denver Public Schools is planning to roll out to track its students. It’s a pretty fascinating program that uses benchmarks to check students for college and career readiness as early as kindergarten. We managed to get a hold of preliminary plans for the new program so readers could get a glimpse into the future of their school system.

4. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: Ms. Arapkiles at Boulder High School. She told my parents, much to their chagrin, that I shouldn’t go into science and pushed me to become a writer, instead.

5. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: I was so absorbed in taking notes at a recent event I didn’t realize I was standing right behind the mayor of Denver with TV cameras trained on him and my face all wrinkled in concentration. I sidled out of the frame and hoped they didn’t use that footage.

Follow Kate at kschimel@chalkbeat.org and follow her on Twitter at @kateschimel.

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