Welcome aboard

Stacy-Marie Ishmael joins Chalkbeat’s Board of Directors

Chalkbeat is thrilled to announce the expansion of its Board of Directors with the appointment of Stacy-Marie Ishmael, a leader in digital media and the future of journalism. The addition strengthens a growing organization that is now reporting on education in five local communities, bolstering Chalkbeat’s ability to meet expanding need for local news about education.

Ishmael, a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, joined the Chalkbeat board in September 2016.

“Our mission is to arm American communities with the information they need to build more equitable schools. We couldn’t have found a better leader to help us achieve our mission than Stacy-Marie,” said Chalkbeat board president and cofounder Sue Lehmann. “Her expertise in digital media, product, and news strategy will help Chalkbeat connect our award-winning, high-impact stories to broader audiences.”

Chalkbeat currently serves communities in four locations — New York, Colorado, Tennessee, and Indiana — and will launch in Detroit in January 2017. Chalkbeat’s reporting has spurred changes in education funding, legislation, policy, and practice and is regularly cited or republished in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Vox, the Commercial-Appeal, The Denver Post, The Detroit Free-Press, The Indianapolis Star, and more.

Ishmael joins a board that also includes Lehmann, cofounder and chief facilitator of the Student Success Network; Gideon Stein, the founder and CEO of LightSail Education; Jill Barkin, a vice president of board governance at Teach For America, and Kang-Xing Jin, a vice president of engineering at Facebook. Chalkbeat is led by cofounder, CEO, and editor-in-chief Elizabeth Green.

Ishmael, most recently managing editor for mobile at BuzzFeed News, is now researching mobile infrastructure for newsrooms at Stanford University as part of her JSK fellowship. At BuzzFeed News, Ishmael led the launch of and the editorial team for the BuzzFeed News apps on iOS and Android. She was also responsible for developing best practices for news on mobile across platforms.

Prior to BuzzFeed News, Ishmael worked at The Financial Times in various roles, including the first vice president for communities, where she created and led strategies to deepen meaningful relationships with global audiences.

Ishmael earned her undergraduate degree in international relations at the London School of Economics.

“At this pivotal moment in US history, strong schools and strong local journalism are more important than ever,” Ishmael said. “I’m proud to be able to join the board of an organization that is singularly focussed about a topic I care deeply about, and to help them build a sustainable path for journalism.”

“At Chalkbeat, we are determined to build a sustainable local news organization that can help steer the country toward stronger schools. We can’t do that without the strongest possible leaders,” said Elizabeth Green, Chalkbeat cofounder, CEO, and editor-in-chief. “Stacy-Marie brings us the vision and leadership we need to succeed.”

A previous addition to Chalkbeat’s board of directors was announced in December 2015.

About Chalkbeat:

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization committed to covering one of America’s most important stories: the effort to improve schools for all children, especially those who have historically lacked access to a quality education. Founded in 2013, Chalkbeat has bureaus in New York, Colorado, Tennessee, Indiana, and Detroit, with plans to expand to a number of new markets in the next five years. We believe that every child deserves an excellent education, and that a strong press is vital to making that happen. Our mission is to provide deep, unbiased, local coverage of education policy and practice to inform the decisions and actions that lead to better outcomes for children and families. Chalkbeat’s work has been written about by The Nieman Lab, USA Today, and The Columbia Journalism Review.

Chalkbeat

Coming soon (and hiring now): Chalkbeat in Chicago and Newark

Top: Chicago skyline via Flickr/Carroll. Bottom: Newark via Wikimedia Commons/Jamaalcobbs

Dear readers,

We have some exciting news: After hearing from community leaders across the country, we’ve selected the next two places where we’ll launch Chalkbeat coverage.

By early 2018 — just a year after launching in Detroit, our fifth city — we’ll have Chalkbeat coverage in Chicago and Newark, New Jersey.

The timing couldn’t be better. Both Chicago and Newark are in the midst of sweeping changes with far-reaching consequences for students and families, educators, and communities.

Chicago is living an education paradox: Poverty, violence, and deep segregation present steep challenges for students, their families, and their schools. After a last-minute budget deal, the city school district remains on the brink of financial disaster. At the same time, Chicago boasts one of the fastest-improving big city school systems in the nation, a conclusion so unexpected that a Stanford researcher double-checked his work before confirming it.

Amid these highs and lows, Chicago’s public schools face a slew of changes at every level of the school system. In the K-12 system, school closures and bureaucratic overhauls have made a complicated system more confusing for many families. City officials also want to lead the country by dramatically growing the number of children enrolled in public prekindergarten, and, controversially, by not allowing students to graduate unless they have a plan for what to do next.

In Newark, meanwhile, an effort to overhaul the local schools with performance pay for teachers and more charter schools — driven in part by Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation in 2010 — initially led to a three-year test score decline that has recently bounced back and turned positive in English, according to a new study.

Today, one third of Newark students are enrolled in charter schools, one of the highest percentages in the country. The school district, meanwhile, is returning to the control of a locally elected school board after years of being run by state-appointed managers. As we’re seeing in Detroit, where a similar transition is underway, the shift to local control comes with great optimism — and high stakes.

Both cities have important stories that the whole country can learn from. But while there are talented journalists producing great stories about education in both Chicago and Newark, both cities lack the depth of coverage they will need to navigate so much change.

Chicago recently lost a longtime news source dedicated to covering schools, Catalyst. And the two major Chicago newspapers have seen their reporting teams diminish significantly, in keeping with trends in newsrooms across the country. The local public radio station, WBEZ, has admirably stepped up to fill gaps, creating a dedicated education reporting team. But there is much more in-depth daily reporting to be done.

In Newark, the local newspaper, the Star-Ledger, has also seen its reporting resources diminish in recent years. And while a laudable nonprofit news organization, NJ Spotlight, has offered thoughtful and high-impact coverage of education across New Jersey, dedicated education coverage by and for Newark has been unsettlingly scarce, especially for a city that is so often in the national headlines.

Community leaders in Chicago and Newark asked us to launch Chalkbeat coverage in their cities because they want to change that. So do we. As we expand our coverage, our goal is to scrutinize and explain what’s changing, what’s working, and what’s at stake as the cities’ schools transform. Readers in Chicago and Newark also deserve to hear — and share — firsthand accounts of the parents, students, and teachers who are living through the changes.

For Chalkbeat’s readers in our five existing locations and across the country, the expansion means that we’ll be connecting even more local dots through our national coverage. Our new national newsletter — sign up now!— will be a great place to read the highlights from Chicago and Newark and learn how how they fit into the unfolding national story of efforts to improve education for poor children.

The growth also means that we’re hiring. We’re already looking to fill two new positions, story editor and Detroit reporter, and have some other roles open, too. Now, we’re opening searches for someone to lead our team in Chicago and a senior reporter in Newark, where we’re launching a one-year pilot as we explore more permanent coverage. If you or someone you know is a fit for any of these positions, let us know now. We are lucky to work with some of the most talented journalists in the country, and we can’t wait to expand our team.

And for our future readers in Chicago and Newark — we won’t be able to do this without you. If you have ideas for us, feel free to reach out now. You can also sign up here to to get updates about our launches in Chicago, Newark, or both.

This post has been updated to more accurately describe the findings of a recent study of Newark school reforms.

Student count

Aurora school enrollment continues sharp decline, but budget woes not expected

A kindergarten teacher at Kenton Elementary in Aurora helps a student practice saying and writing numbers on a Thursday afternoon in February. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

The number of students enrolled in Aurora schools this fall dropped by almost twice as much as last year, part of a trend district officials have blamed in part on gentrification as housing prices in Aurora climb.

This year, as of Oct. 2, the district has enrolled 41,294 students from preschool through 12th grade. That’s 867 fewer students than last year — and almost twice the number of students lost between 2015 and 2016.

Last October, staff told the board that district enrollment had dropped by a historic amount. At the time, enrollment was 41,926, down 643 from 2015. By the end of the 2016-17 school year, the district had enrolled almost 200 more students.

But in Colorado, school districts are given money on a per-student count that’s based on the number of students enrolled on count day, which this year was Oct. 2.

The district expects to see a similar decline in students again next school year, but expects that new developments start bringing more children to the district in the future.

The good news, provided in the update given to the Aurora school board Tuesday night, is that district officials saw it coming this time.

“The magnitude of the impact is not the same as last year,” said Superintendent Rico Munn. “This kind of decline is now something we will predict and budget to.”

Because enrollment numbers are higher than what officials predicted, the budget that the board approved over the summer should not need adjustments for the current year.

Last year, Aurora Public Schools had to cut more than $3 million in the middle of the year. District officials also worked on gathering input and finding ways to shrink the 2017-18 budget by up to $31 million, but better than expected funding from the state meant the district didn’t end up cutting the full $31 million.

The district may look for ways to trim the budget again next year in anticipation of another anticipated enrollment decline.

Board members asked about other factors that may be contributing to enrollment declines, such as school reputations, and asked about how staff predict future enrollment.

Superintendent Munn told the board that the enrollment decreases are changing several conversations in the district.

“APS was not in the business of marketing our schools,” Munn said. But this year, the district launched an interactive map with school information on the district website to help feature all schools, their programs and their performance measures, and has been doing outreach to the approximately 4,000 Aurora students who leave to attend neighboring districts.

Three schools also received district-level help in creating targeted marketing.

One of those three schools was South Middle School, a low-performing school in the northwest part of the district where enrollment declines are especially drastic.

This year, after receiving some marketing assistance, South was one of few schools in the district that saw enrollment increased. The school’s Oct. 2 enrollment was 825, up from 734 last year.