While everyone is on spring break, we looked back on our reporting over the last six months. Each of the Minneapolis Schools Voices reporters chose two stories that stood out to them since we launched. At least one of their stories is their own. The reporters also include why they chose the stories and include some behind-the-scenes tidbits from their work.
This article on parent engagement is one of the pieces that the Minneapolis Schools Voices team and I threw around for weeks prior to actually deciding to work on it. When I started this story I prioritized the voices of parents and I started to reach out across my network, and throughout the process I began to see how nuanced the story of parent engagement needed to be. I also appreciate reporting that allows me to connect with folks directly and this story is one of my favorites because of that.
My favorite Minneapolis Schools Voices story is Anna Koenning’s story on Reid Wixson. That piece just really brought together some of the most important parts of the community journalism work we get to do, and it was fantastically written by Anna. Wixson’s story reminded me of my days in choir at high school, but even better, and the narrative braided throughout Anna’s story kept me glued to my seat.
As a former orchestra kid and the sister of an orchestra teacher, this story was so much fun to report and write. I was so glad I got to visit Reid’s orchestra class during rehearsal to take pictures, and it was a blast to hear them play and watch Reid in action. He even asked for my advice on staying in tempo! As a young reporter and a newcomer to MPS, the weedy stories about finances and superintendents are challenging learning experiences for me. I love when I get to report on the things I know, like music and sports.
I loved editing these stories of Cirien’s. My jaw dropped several times while reading about Flory’s childhood experiences and their impact on her teaching career, and her current lifestyle is nothing short of inspirational. We decided to divide the story into two parts because it was really long, but every word was valuable, entertaining, and heartwarming. Feature stories are the reason I got into journalism, and it’s so impactful to see and hear from the individuals who make our schools and communities what they are.
This article included all of the enjoyable parts of reporting about Minneapolis Public Schools. Anna and I worked on this together. Having a small team to work with has been one of the highlights of starting the Minneapolis Schools Voices newsletter. For this article, we were at an in-person event at Hall. We were able to speak with an astronaut, a teacher, two parents, a student, a grandmother, community volunteers, a school board member, and a district administrator. It was the whole ecosystem of people who make up a school community. There were lots of kids, and everyone was excited to celebrate the investment the district had made in school and community. I hope that came through in the article for readers.
School finance and budgets get a bad rap as boring and hard to understand. But to me, they’re one of the most important pieces to understanding our school district. At the end of the day, funding determines whether students have what they need to learn at school. The idea for this article came about because many parents I’ve talked to don’t understand why their school doesn’t have a particular service or program. I asked the district to let me talk to principals, who represented different grade levels and student populations, about how they build their budgets. I would have preferred to conduct the interviews after principals had seen their budgets for this year, but the district said it had to happen in advance of that. I was impressed with the principals I spoke with for the article. They were all trying to gather feedback in a way that works for their school community and then take that feedback to build budgets to meet student needs. Because our district is underfunded by the State, principals are making difficult tradeoffs for their schools.
As the managing editor of Minneapolis Schools Voices, I don’t typically report on the schools. But when the district got hit with a ransomware attack, I couldn’t help but get involved. I know a lot of people in the information technology world, especially in education. I ended up tracking the eventual revelation that a group named Medusa was behind the MPS “encryption event.”
My connections to the education IT industry were beneficial because the district was incredibly quiet while the systems networks were down and/or not working properly. For a few weeks, no one was sure how severe the attack was. I sent the limited MPS communication about the “encryption event” to my sources and they used their own experiences with ransomware attacks to inform me, and thus the readers, that something serious was going on. I stayed on the story because people in the IT industry were confirming it was a big deal.
As a reporter it was frustrating to not be able to get more information from the district but utilizing credible, outside sources affirmed that this story was worth reporting on. As a reminder, the district is posting updates about the ransomware attack on its Restoring MPS Systems and Protecting Personal Data webpage.
Right as the newly elected school board members were transitioning into their new roles in January, the district was holding community engagement sessions about a new Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent. The sessions were sparsely attended and held during one of the snowiest winters on record. Yet our entire Minneapolis Schools Voices staff fanned out and reported from the majority of the sessions.
I appreciate this article because the reporters took the sessions seriously even if the energy was lacking or turnout was low. The reporters worked together to produce a collaborative article on the themes they saw across the engagement sessions. In the middle of their reporting, the school board announced it was delaying its superintendent search until September. Despite the community feedback not being utilized immediately, this article will be an informative piece to come back to when the search resumes and the district again seeks community input.