When Jeffco Public Schools announced the possible closure of five elementary schools last spring, Chalkbeat reporter Yesenia Robles wanted to see firsthand what was at stake.
She arranged a visit to Pleasant View Elementary School in Golden, housed in a 1950s brick building in a neighborhood of apartment buildings, a mobile home park and aging stripmalls. There, she talked to a woman who runs an on-site pantry that hands out milk and eggs to needy families in a school building that lacks a full sprinkler system or adequate roof coverings.
Jeffco district staff at the time didn’t consider equity as a factor in selecting schools for possible closure. Yesenia’s coverage showing poor students would be disproportionately impacted by the proposal helped change the conversation. The school board voted to close Pleasant View but spare the four others, and new Superintendent Jason Glass cited Chalkbeat’s coverage and broader concerns about equity in his recent decision to put a moratorium on school closures.
These are the kinds of stories Chalkbeat is dedicated to covering — stories that inform, enlighten and make an impact, especially for students who historically have lacked access to a great education.
Now that a new school year has begun, we’re asking you to join us in informing and supporting our journalism. Below you’ll hear from Chalkbeat Colorado reporters about the stories they’re focusing on this year, but as you read, know that we can’t tell them without you. So please — reach out! Introduce yourself, submit a story tip, give us feedback or propose a First Person essay by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All this work demands time and talent — neither of which are free. If every Colorado reader gave $10 right now, we could raise $650,000 to support our mission this year. That’d be enough for all these stories and more. We hope those who can will consider making a $10 tax-deductible donation here.
Melanie Asmar, covering Denver Public Schools
Melanie’s aim is to unpack what reforms the state’s largest school district is undertaking, explain the reasoning behind them and the backlash against them, and examine whether they’re having the intended effect, such as improving student learning or increasing school integration.
One of the big DPS storylines is right in front of us: This fall’s school board election. With control of the seven-member board hanging in the balance, this election could be a referendum on Denver’s reforms, which include giving families a choice from a “portfolio” of schools, including traditional district-run, charter and innovation. We’ll be profiling the races and following the money.
Melanie also will be digging into DPS’s work to tackle the impacts of gentrification and efforts to better integrate schools, as well as its experiments with granting schools more autonomy.
Melanie has a talent for rich, narrative storytelling, bringing classroom scenes to life with telling details and dialogue. The judges of this year’s Education Writers Association awards agreed: Melanie was a finalist in beat reporting for her work covering DPS.
Nic Garcia, covering state education issues
Nic is all things state of Colorado, which means covering the state legislature, State Board of Education, Colorado Department of Education, and issues of statewide significance.
Nic is a product of Pueblo City Schools, which has seen its share of struggles, giving us a valuable perspective about challenges facing Colorado schools.
This coming year, he’ll be focusing on big conversations over how to best hold schools accountable for their performance educating kids, the eternal struggle over adequately funding schools in Colorado, and attempts to tackle teacher shortages in some areas and subjects.
Nic also will be mining education angles in the 2018 governor’s race — and there are many. A number of candidates, especially on the Democratic side, have long track records on education. We’re planning “education profiles” of the candidates, fleshing out their pasts and proposals.
We’ll be looking for more stories in rural Colorado, which is much more diverse than many rural areas in other states and faces its own distinct challenges, many centered on race and poverty.
Nic stands at an important intersection — explaining the goals of policymakers to educators, students and parents, and the realities of educators, students and parents to policymakers.
Yesenia Robles, covering suburban school districts and English language learners
Yesenia came to us a year ago from The Denver Post to flesh out a beat that is central to our mission — the suburbanization of poverty and how it is playing out in public schools.
As someone who was born in Mexico and grew up in Denver schools as an English language learner, Yesenia can relate to many of the students she writes about.
Yesenia will continue to invest significant resources in covering Aurora Public Schools, which has a high-needs student population and its own reform agenda under Superintendent Rico Munn. That will include chronicling this fall’s high-stakes school board election.
We’ve decided to turn more attention to a couple of high-poverty districts that haven’t gotten enough attention: Adams 14 in Commerce City and Westminster Public Schools. Both ran out of time last school year on the state’s “accountability clock,” and we’ll be paying close attention to how their state-approved improvement plans play out.
Both districts serve large numbers of English language learners. Are districts doing enough to help these students succeed? Who is failing and succeeding? We intend to find out.
Ann Schimke, covering early childhood education and healthy schools
The early childhood years are getting more emphasis in Colorado and nationally as policymakers, educators and funders realize how critical these years are to brain development and learning. No reporter in Colorado owns this subject like Ann Schimke.
This fall, look for a project from Ann and Yesenia examining life in a child care desert — a long-neglected Denver neighborhood where good options for early care are hard to find, and a variety of organizations and advocates are trying to change the narrative.
Ann also has taken a broader lens to covering how health intersects with schooling, expanding our coverage beyond traditional physical health issues (obesity, immunizations, and nutrition) to cover social and emotional learning, mental health, and childhood trauma.
Everyone is talking about social and emotional learning. One of Ann’s goals for this year is to take a thoughtful look at the growing arsenal of tools and approaches that help foster these skills.