Chalkbeat

We’re excited to welcome our summer interns, more new hires

This time last year, Chalkbeat had nine employees. Today, we have 24 plus six summer interns (and we’re hoping at least two of those internships turn into full-time positions).

Needless to say we’ve grown very quickly and we are excited to welcome new, great talent to our team.

Here’s a brief look at some of our new hires who have started already or plan to start soon:

In Indiana, we’ve brought on Hayleigh Colombo as a reporter and Shaina Cavazos as an intern.

In New York, we’ve brought on Mary Ellen McIntire and Jackie Schechter as interns and Jessica Glazer as a contract reporter.

In Tennessee, we’ve brought on Grace Tatter as our legislative reporter based in Nashville and Oliver Morrison as an intern based in Memphis.

In Colorado, we’ve brought on Monique Collins as an intern.

Finally, on our network team, we’ve hired Rebecca Ross as our chief operating officer. Rebecca has more than fifteen years of experience designing innovative programs and products that create social impact and building the capacity of organizations that execute them. She has been a Vice President at ideas42 and Seedco where her work focused on issues of poverty, education and financial services for the poor in New York City and nationally. Rebecca has a BA from Vassar College and a MPA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government.

Q&A

Coming soon: Meet Patrick Wall, our reporter in Newark

PHOTO: Janet Upadhye/DNAinfo
Patrick reporting in the Bronx in 2013.

Elizabeth Green, Chalkbeat’s CEO and editor-in-chief, introduces Chalkbeat Newark’s senior reporter.

In 2011, I spent a lot of late nights reporting in Newark.

I was on assignment for a national magazine to write about the immediate aftermath of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift. As it turned out, the story never ran. But even if it had, it still wouldn’t have included half of what I learned in Newark.

Seven years later, I couldn’t be more excited to launch Chalkbeat coverage in Newark. We’re committed to doing a different kind of journalism, writing not just about but also for the community whose story we’re telling.

In Newark, we’re starting out as a year-long pilot launching March 1, with hopes to continue our work longer. We accelerated this pilot with a preview story — because this moment in time is once again significant for Newark schools, and our reporter just couldn’t wait to get started.

That reporter is the brilliant and dedicated Patrick Wall, who is in the process of setting down his own roots in Newark. Here he is, in conversation with me:

You started your career focused on one thing — teaching — and not too long after that pivoted to another — journalism. What drew you to education and teaching, and what inspired you to make the switch to writing about education rather than practicing it?

As I was graduating college I joined Teach For America, the organization that provides (brief) training to people who commit to teaching in high-needs schools. I’d actually majored in film, but I was drawn to the idea of trying to help give young people some of the same opportunities that I felt I’d been afforded through education. I strongly believed (and still do) that public education is central to everything America claims to stand for — democracy, opportunity, equality — and that the condition of our schools is a measure of our commitment to those ideals.

But I soon found that believing strongly in education and being a strong educator are two very different things. First at a charter school in Gary, Indiana, then at a district school on Chicago’s South Side, I experienced firsthand the extraordinary demands put on teachers, the limited support they receive, and how they’re forced to contend with the by-products of poverty that students carry into the classroom.

Eventually I decided I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. As I was figuring out what to do next, I briefly ran an after-school program at a public school in a wealthy suburb in my native Ohio. The contrast between what I saw there — the cutting-edge facilities, the calm and orderly atmosphere, the students and staff who seemed to have everything they needed to function at a high level — and the inner-city school where I’d recently taught was shocking to me. I decided I wanted to understand that inequity, and tell others about it, which led me to journalism.

Welcome to Chalkbeat
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization covering the story of education in America. Our newest bureau is here in Newark. To get the latest on your local schools, and what changes here mean for schools across the U.S., sign up for our newsletters here. And tell us what stories you think we should be covering by filling out this brief survey here.

Your first journalism job was at DNAinfo, the late, great neighborhood news source, where you covered the South Bronx. You hadn’t ever lived in the South Bronx, and you were relatively new to New York City at that point. How did you get to know a new neighborhood with a lot of history — and where most of the residents didn’t look like you?

I tried to attend every community board meeting, precinct meeting, church festival, and school hearing that I could. I didn’t have a car, so I took the bus or walked everywhere — real “shoe-leather reporting.”

I was always aware of my identity as a white, middle-class professional in a predominantly black and Hispanic  community that’s part of the country’s poorest Congressional district. That meant constantly checking my assumptions and having a lot of humility. I was an outsider, so it was incumbent upon me to learn the local context, understand what issues mattered to the local community, and spot and try to correct my own blind spots.

If that sounds like a lot of work, it was also probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a job. I got to spend time with immigrant parents who’d banded together to improve their local schools, a food-justice activist who wanted to turn a school bus into a rolling farmers market, and a local rapper who performed in a psychedelic Darth Vader mask.

After working at DNAinfo, you came to Chalkbeat, where you covered New York City schools. What’s one of the most interesting stories you covered while on the New York City school beat?

Probably the series of stories about a low-performing high school in Canarsie, Brooklyn. The city had just launched a massive turnaround program that the mayor promised would transform long-struggling schools. We wanted to show what that looked like at the classroom level.

What I found were dedicated teachers and school leaders trying to move the school forward. But it sometimes felt like as they scrambled to meet an ever-growing list of demands from above, they were trying to improve everything at once but actually changing very little. All the while, their students — many of them brilliant, perceptive, and hilarious — nonetheless showed up to class tired, hungry, stressed, and overwhelmed.

The story left me daunted by the challenges facing high-poverty schools, but inspired by the people inside them.

You’re now planning to move to Newark, New Jersey, and jump onto the Newark beat. As soon as we mentioned the possibility of opening reporting in Newark, you made your passion for the city clear. What makes Newark’s education story so compelling to you?

Newark’s schools, like the city itself, have such a rich history. They’ve been subject to massive demographic changes, occasional mismanagement, and sustained efforts to improve them by civic groups and philanthropies, parents and educators, and, most recently, a hard-charging cadre of self-described reformers.

Now, the city is beginning a pivotal new chapter as it regains control of the schools after a 22-year state takeover. I’m eager to report on how the school board uses its new authority, how the charter sector continues to evolve, and how Newark’s families keep pushing for the best education possible for their children.

I couldn’t imagine a more exciting place to report on public education right now.

How can readers reach you if they want to get to know you?

My email is pwall@chalkbeat.org, and you can follow me on Twitter at @patrick_wall. Plus get all the latest updates from Chalkbeat Newark by signing up here.

I’m eager for your thoughts on stories I should write, questions I can explore, schools I should visit, and local spots I must try!

Well Fed

Bill that would provide free lunch for more Colorado students moves forward

PHOTO: Helen Richardson, The Denver Post

A bill that would expand a state subsidy for school lunches passed the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

Colorado already picks up the cost of school lunch for elementary-aged children who qualify for reduced-price but not free meals under the federal lunch program. This bill would expand the benefit to cover middle school students.

The five yes votes included two Republicans, state Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, and state Sen. Kevin Priola of Brighton. That’s enough Republican support to get this bill out of the Senate and over to the House, where Democrats have a majority.

The state program supplements the federal school lunch program. The federal government picks up the whole cost for families who earn less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or $31,980 for a family of four, and most of the cost for families who earn up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $45,510 for a family of four. For kindergarten through fifth grade students in the latter group, the state covers the 40 cents that children who qualify for reduced-price lunch would otherwise have to pay.

School nutritionists said they see a big drop-off in students eating hot lunch in middle school, when some low-income parents become responsible for lunch fees after having them covered when their children were younger. The Cherry Creek School District, which continues to cover those fees out of its own funds, doesn’t see the same drop off.

Fabiola Flores, a junior at DSST: College View and a youth member of Padres y Jovenes Unidos, told the committee about a time she lost the loose change she carried to elementary school for lunch and was handed a hard peanut butter sandwich instead of the hot meal her classmates got.

“This bill is bigger than me,” she said. “Every day, I see students not eat because they don’t want to add fees. This bill can be the difference between a student having a hot lunch or going hungry.”

The bill would authorize the state to spend between $500,000 and $750,000 a year to pay that 40 cents for middle school students who qualify. Legislative analysts estimated the state could provide 1.4 million free lunches for $564,000 in the first year.

“We want our kids to be focused on academics and not on ‘where is my next meal coming from?’” said state Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat who co-sponsored the bill.

Two Republican senators, Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Tim Neville of Littleton, voted no. Hill noted that school districts could choose to cover the extra 40 cents themselves if they saw a need.

“I support the idea, but when I look at the overall budget, the only thing that gives is K-12 education or higher ed,” he said. “In this case, if it comes out of K-12 education, it goes from one bucket to another.”