Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Awards: Renaissance Schools - Philadelphia’s School Turnaround
Renaissance Schools - Philadelphia's School Turnaround Initiative
The most robust of the Enterprise Reporting projects, in terms of volume of news stories, involved ongoing updates on the Philadelphia School District’s efforts to turn around some of the city’s lowest-performing schools. Nine schools were assigned to three different turnaround models in 2011, following 14 schools that launched the initiative in 2010.
The Notebook, a respected school-news site, partnered with public broadcaster WHYY’s Newsworks. org, which matched the $5,000 Enterprise Award with another $5,000. That helped The Notebook hire freelancer Benjamin Herold to continue the reporting he began during the first year of the so-called Renaissance Schools initiative. Another $8,000 in funding from WHYY’s Newsworks.org also supported work by another reporter, Bill Hangley, whose reporting The Note- book supervised.
"We were able to create a 4/5-time position for Herold that is shared by both news organizations with Herold based at The Notebook."
- Paul Socolar, co-founder of The Notebook
Their investigation of the Martin Luther King charter school helped lead to the resignation of City School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and the chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.
The announcement of the award prompted deeper conversations about collaboration between Paul Socolar, co-founder and editor of The Notebook, and WHYY’s Chris Satullo, who have known each other for years. WHYY wanted to do more schools coverage. The Notebook was looking to reach a wider audience.
The Notebook’s coverage actually started earlier, in January 2010. Herold was contracted to work for the project on a short-term basis under other grant funding. Socolar feared the project would end until this competition came along.
The series expanded well beyond the scope of what the $5,000 could fund. One piece was commissioned by the Hechinger Report.
Socolar raised an additional $2,000 on Spot. us to help fund another story by Herold. The success of the partnership helped bring in additional funds, and ultimately WHYY and The Notebook agreed that it made sense to scale up the partnership. Socolar said, “We were able to create a 4/5-time position for Herold that is shared by both news organizations with Herold based at The Notebook.” Herold joined the Notebook staff in July 2011 and continues to cover Renaissance Schools as part of a broader Philadelphia public education beat.
The Notebook established a dedicated section of its website featuring the School Turnaround stories. And the topic of turnarounds was the focus of The Notebook’s October 2011 print edition.
With all the funding it has raised, The Notebook has posted at least 126 stories covering the initiative between November 2010 and August 2011. WHYY has linked to at least 60 of these stories on its Newsworks.org site and co-published about a half dozen.
During this time Newsworks also posted many Renaissance School stories from its own reporters covering WHYY’s targeted neighborhoods. The Notebook regularly linked to those in its daily “Notes from the News” and often ran separate, longer teasers to the WHYY stories. Content from the coverage is also featured on a page of the national news site Education Week.
As part of the collaboration, Herold received audio training from WHYY staff. He was also loaned equipment for radio reports.
Many of The Notebook stories elicited notable engagement from readers as measured by commenting activity. It was common for articles on popular or controversial issues to receive 30 or more comments and, in several cases, more than 100 comments were posted.
With the whole concept of “school turnarounds” continuing to get a lot of attention locally and nationally, Socolar said he is hoping to continue to develop print and online content on the topic, adding more interactive features to this section of The Notebook site as well as evergreen content. That will require additional funding.
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