hi!

Chalkbeat’s newsroom is now 30+ strong, and growing. Meet our team.

Chalkbeat’s newest local leaders and our new slate of story editors. Clockwise from top: Colorado bureau chief Erica Meltzer, Tennessee bureau chief Jacinthia Jones, Indiana bureau chief Stephanie Wang, Newark correspondent Patrick Wall, story editor Julie Topping, story editor Carrie Melago, Chicago bureau chief Cassie Walker Burke, and story editor Sharon Noguchi.

We’ve added a lot of new people to our team here lately. I couldn’t be happier to tell you all about them!

First, a quick word on how we got here. Our hiring spree is brought to you partly by Chalkbeat’s expansion — hello, Chicago and Newark! — and partly because we’re beefing up the staff in existing bureaus.

Believe it or not (and some days I can’t), Chalkbeat is now one of the largest nonprofit news organizations in the country, with a newsroom of 30+ and more joining every month. We are really proud of the coverage we are adding as the country’s newsrooms shrink (or vanish). We are also acutely aware that it’s not nearly enough, which is why we’re determined to make sure that 30 is just the beginning.

I’m more confident every day we can do it — not least of all because of the talented team members who joined us in the past few months. They are journalists at the top of their field, from a mix of newspapers, digital startups, and magazines. They’re smart, they know a lot about their communities, and a ton about education. And they care. A lot. They represent the perfect Chalkbeat mix. Let me introduce them.

First, our bureau chiefs:

Jacinthia Jones began this week as Tennessee’s new bureau chief. Jacinthia comes to us from the Memphis Commercial Appeal, where she worked for 20 years as a reporter and editor and most recently oversaw a team of reporters including the education beat reporter. As a reporter, Jacinthia’s beats included City Hall, religion, social services, and education, and as an editor, she steered coverage of historic changes to the city’s schools. Jacinthia grew up in the Memphis suburbs, attended Shelby County schools, and knows the city inside and out. Jacinthia’s arrival means Marta Aldrich, who has led the bureau from Nashville, will now concentrate her firepower on covering the legislature and state issues as our senior statehouse correspondent.

We’re thrilled to announce Cassie Walker Burke as our founding Chicago bureau chief, starting early next month. Cassie is coming to us from Crain’s Chicago Business, where she has served on the senior leadership team as assistant managing editor. Before that, Cassie was a longtime editor at Chicago magazine, finishing her tenure there as executive editor. Cassie is a proven leader and strategic thinker who knows how to harness the potential of digital storytelling — and she knows how Chicago works. She began her career as an education reporter and is passionate about telling stories of how education policy plays out in neighborhoods and classrooms (read these stories for proof) and will bring no shortage of creative ideas to help us make an immediate impression in the city.

Jacinthia and Cassie join two other bureau chiefs who started at Chalkbeat this winter. In Colorado, Erica Meltzer came to us from the local digital startup Denverite and immediately began incorporating community engagement into our reporting practices. (This survey about Denver parents’ school choice experiences offers one example.) She’s also jumped into covering Colorado’s legislature.

In Indiana, Stephanie Wang joined our team from the Indianapolis Star, adding to our reporting power. She is helping our reporters explain the national context of Indiana’s embrace of public education options, as well as local insights into how schools and the city shape each other. She will also be reporting on the state’s expanding early childhood education efforts.

Erin Einhorn

And in Detroit, Erin Einhorn is now leading a growing team of journalists after two years of solo (and award-winning) reporting as a senior correspondent.

We made the exciting decision to bring on more editors so that bureau chiefs can invest their time in team leadership, community engagement, and reporting and writing stories of their own.

This spring, we’ve hired two top-tier story editors to join a team anchored by Julie Topping, the Detroit Free Press alumna who joined Chalkbeat in 2016 and now works with our reporters in Detroit and Tennessee.

Our journalists in Indiana and New York have already started working with Carrie Melago, whose first day at Chalkbeat coincided with New York City getting a new chancellor. Carrie joined our team from the Wall Street Journal, where she was most recently the newsroom training editor. Before working at the Journal, Carrie covered New York City schools (and other topics) for the New York Daily News as the partner-in-crime to Erin, and thorn-in-my-side to me, with a constant stream of scoops. (See this incredible “where are they now” story about a 1994 Harlem kindergarten class.)

Starting next month, Sharon Noguchi will work with our journalists in Chicago and Colorado. Sharon recently left the San Jose Mercury News, where she covered the education beat for years. (Here are some highlights.) Sharon also has extensive experience coaching up-and-coming reporters, including through leading a summer training program for high school journalists.

 

Finally Patrick Wall, our newly minted Newark correspondent, is working with Sara Mosle, an award-winning journalist with an education focus, as he launches our coverage there. Sara, who has taught in and reported about Newark, recently wrapped up a Spencer Fellowship and is also teaching at Columbia University’s journalism school while working with us part-time. She’s written about education for many publications, including the New York Times Magazine, where we recommend reading this 1997 profile of New York City’s chancellor for a reminder of how much has changed, and how much hasn’t, in the education world.

Impressed? Me too. Now guess what: you too can join this A-list roster, because we are still hiring. We are seeking a director of product, a New York bureau chief, a second national reporter, and reporters in Chicago. Check out — and please, liberally forward! — our open positions here.

survey says

More bullying reported at New York City schools, study shows

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

More New York City students say there is bullying in their schools, a report released Monday showed. The findings also revealed that many schools reporting the greatest number of violent incidents on campus have no social workers on staff.

The report was commissioned by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer also released an audit of how school safety matters are recorded, and concluded that the education department should provide more oversight and streamline incident reporting rules.

“The audit found clear breakdowns in communication in the reporting and tracking of incidents and actions taken,” according to a press release from Stringer’s office.

The education department disputed some of the comptroller’s findings, and in a written statement, spokeswoman Miranda Barbot wrote: “We have detailed protocols in place to ensure allegations of bullying are immediately reported, investigated and addressed, and are investing in both anti-bullying initiatives and mental health supports.”

But the pair of reports raises scrutiny of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school discipline reforms, which favor  “restorative” practices that emphasize mediation over punishment, and make it harder to suspend students.

Advocates of the de Blasio reforms say the shift is necessary because black and Hispanic students are more likely to be arrested or disciplined at school. Research has shown such disciplinary action can lead to higher dropout rates. Critics of the reforms, meanwhile, say the changes have created more chaotic schools.

The findings are also likely to add to a chorus of parents and elected officials who say more emotional supports are needed for the city’s most vulnerable students. Students who experience a mental health crisis during the school day may be handcuffed and shuttled to hospitals. The city’s latest budget, which was approved last week, includes an additional $2 million to hire social workers and guidance counselors in schools that currently don’t have any.

Here are some highlights from the reports.

More students report there is bullying in their schools — but the data comes with a catch.

Last year, the education department’s annual survey showed that 82 percent of students said their peers “harass, bully, or intimidate others in school.” That’s up year over year, and up significantly from 65 percent of students in 2012, which was the lowest rate recorded since at least 2010. (De Blasio’s discipline reforms started to take effect around 2015.)

A note about these numbers: Prior to 2017, the survey asked whether students harass, bully or intimidate other students none, some, most, or all of the time. The most recent survey responses were slightly different: none of the time, rarely, some of the time, or most of the time — a change that may have artificially inflated the bullying numbers.

That’s enough to render the survey data unreliable said Max Eden, a researcher who has studied school climate for the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute — a critic of the mayor’s discipline reforms. Still, taken with other findings, it’s reasonable to think that bullying is on the rise at city schools, he said.

Among the other evidence: A first-of-its-kind report, released this month under a new city law, that showed substantiated bullying incidents are on track to increase this year.

Schools that log the most violent incidents often lack mental health supports.

Guidance counselors and social workers are key when it comes to creating safe schools because they can help address the root cause of violent or troublesome behavior, advocates who want more mental health supports say.

But many of the city’s neediest schools go without that help.

Of the schools reporting the most violent incidents on campus, 36 percent lack a full-time social worker, the comptroller found. On campuses where there are social workers, caseloads are a staggering 700 to one. That far exceeds the recommended ratio from the National Association of Social Workers of 250 general education students per social worker — and it’s higher than the citywide average of 612 students per social worker, according to the comptroller.

The comptroller’ compares that to the ratio of New York Police Department school safety agents who are placed in schools: There is one safety agent per 228 students, according to the report.

“Our city is failing to meet the social and emotional needs of our students,” Councilman Mark Treyger, of Brooklyn, who has pushed the city to report more up-to-date bullying data and to hire more school counselors, said in an emailed statement.

Schools may be underreporting violent incidents, something the education department disputes.

In a separate audit, the comptroller compared logs kept by school safety agents to incident reports filed by school leaders. In 21 percent of cases, incidents that were noted by safety agents were not reflected in the school reports.

The school data, in turn, are used to report incidents to the state for its Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR. The discrepancy could raise questions about the already-controversial reporting system. (VADIR has been criticized for classifying schoolyard incidents as serious offenses, and the state has tweaked its definitions in response to those kinds of concerns.)

This finding also comes with some caveats. The comptroller looked at only 10 schools — a tiny sample of the city’s portfolio of about 1,800. And the education department took issue with the methodology.

In its response to the audit, education department officials said that the police data doesn’t align with the state’s reporting categories, and that the information may not be comparable because of student privacy concerns and recordkeeping issues on campuses where multiple schools share a building.  

Meet us

Chalkbeat Chicago reporter Adeshina Emmanuel on race, public schools, and “tough love” in CPS

Last week, I gave you an overview of our plans for Chalkbeat Chicago and shared an inside look at our first community event in Washington Park. (Stay tuned: Several more community events are on the way.) Today, I’m excited to offer a deeper introduction to my first hire: Adeshina Emmanuel, an Uptown native who is a Chicago Public Schools grad. Ever want to talk public schools? Adeshina attended five CPS schools, graduating in 2007 from Friedrich Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center.

Adeshina has been plenty busy since then: staff jobs at the Chicago Sun-Times, DNAinfo Chicago, and the Chicago Reporter; writing for Chicago magazine, In These Times, Ebony, the Chicago Reader, and Columbia Journalism Review; and leading in-depth reporting projects through City Bureau, a Chicago civic journalism lab. His writing and reporting about race and class is insightful and honest, and I’m excited to be working alongside him to tell the complex story of Chicago public education.

Since he’s the new guy, I asked him to answer a few questions about himself and his approach to the education beat.

You’ve primarily been writing about race and class in Chicago. Why are you diving so deeply into education at this point in your career?

It’s a natural progression. This new role gives me the opportunity to examine race and class through the lens of education, while connecting the dots to politics, finance, and other forces shaping our public school and charter systems. We can’t have a serious conversation about American inequality without considering how these dynamics help shape and manifest in public educational institutions such as CPS, especially in an infamously segregated and racially problematic city like Chicago.

You’re a graduate of Chicago Public Schools. Looking back as an adult, how would you describe your experiences?

CPS was far from perfect—but I wouldn’t be the journalist, or person, I am today without a lot of the guidance, love, and tough love from the schools I attended. That includes students, principals, assistant principals, school disciplinarians, teachers, teachers assistants, security guards, school counselors, basketball coaches, and more.

I won’t get into my whole CPS journey. But there’s a crucial moment I’d like to share. It’s a story about how one selective-enrollment school in Lake View pushed me out and how a neighborhood school in Uptown took me in—and helped shape who I am.

Third grade was a rough year for me. I was an emotional and outspoken know-it-all who clashed often with his teacher and spent a lot of time in the office accused of disobeying authority. My greatest nemesis—if a third-grader can really have a nemesis—was a sixth-grade boy who was in my older sister’s homeroom and rode the school bus with us. He had a habit of making suggestive and demeaning comments to her. The bully and I had fought one-on-one at least twice, and he beat me up pretty bad both times. I never told my parents or anybody at school.

One day, he touched my sister—again—as we rode the school bus home. We confronted the bully with some friends, and, this time, our clash got back to officials at our school. We were pressured to find another school.

My mom decided on our neighborhood school, Joseph Stockton Elementary (now Courtenay, after a 2013 consolidation). At Stockton, I found a sense of family that had been lacking at my previous school. The teachers and administrators knew my mother, and many of the mothers at the school knew each other from the neighborhood.

At Stockton, I fell in love with the written word. I remember my fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Simmons, who was one of the first to encourage my craft. My fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Zaccor, challenged me with books beyond my grade level like Native Son and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. My basketball coach, Mr. Yolich, taught me about hard work and self-discipline both in the classroom and on the court. Yolich, who grew up in Uptown like me and was very involved in the community, was well put together, respectful and laid back—but blunt—and I looked up to him as a role model.

These are just some of the people at CPS who have changed my life for the better and taught me the power of a loving and engaged school community.

What do you think is missing in the conversation about Chicago education?

I wouldn’t say these things are missing, just that we need them to be more prominent in our conversation.

We need to talk more—and with more honesty—about the ways that racism and other forms of systemic oppression have affected schools historically and today. We need more discussion about the link between poverty, trauma and violence in youth. We need to take a more intersectional view of the forces students face when they hail from various marginalized groups or identities, especially gender nonconforming people, immigrants, students with mental illness, and students with disabilities. We need more of a solutions approach to the conversation about Chicago education—and to not simply call out issues. We need more continuous focus on the resilience, imagination, and courage exercised by students and educators pushing for solutions to problems in education, not just when there’s a headline grabbing event like a walkout, a school closing or a hunger strike. Everyday efforts can be both empowering and instructive.

What is your philosophy about engaging the communities that you cover?

Be present, listen, collaborate, and report back.

I approach community engagement with an open ear for how people describe their relationship with institutions, their personal histories, and how their stories relate to both the history of their community and the history of the institutions that serve the area. I also want to take stock of what’s working, what’s not working, and what they feel they need to solve their problems. Each person’s perspective is like a thread. It’s my job as a journalist to help weave these threads into a narrative.

How can readers reach you?

On Twitter, @public_ade, and via email, at [email protected]. Or, if you see me, say hi. I’ll be out there.