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What does an education reporter do over winter break?

I’m about to head into the hardest part of my job as an education reporter so far: winter break.

Now, at first, I thought summer break would be horrid. I was sure I’d never find stories, and I’d be constantly at a loss for things to cover when the schools were out. But it turns out, schools around here are hardly out, and some of the most important work of the year actually occurs over the summer. I did more enterprise over the summer than I could have hoped. It kind of rocked.

Somehow, I don’t think the two weeks stretch of winter break I’m heading into is going to have the same effect.

Today, we got e-mails from our local editor and the projects editor asking for some enterprise ideas. My ed is looking for ideas to see us through the end of the year, including that two week stretch. (We have a daily A1 enterprise list, so that every day at least one more in-depth local story is reported and planned to run out front.) The projects editor wanted ideas for long-term Sunday packages next year. I have a few ideas for projects. For my editor though? I have several ideas, but all of them sort of require people to be around to accomplish. :/ So I can see him through the next two weeks. After that, until at least New Years, I’m really thinking, well, I’m pretty well screwed.

The other reporters also were saying they have nothing coming up for their enterprise list, that “so and so is on vacation,” or “I have no meetings” (which sounds like heaven to me, but I digress). But really, nobody else’s beat entirely shuts down for two weeks.

I asked for some pointers on where I should be looking for these ideas/what I should aim for. One thing to look into is maintenance, what are they doing over break? I know at my school, we always came back to a brightly polished gym floor. I’m also going to talk to some of the technology people, because I remember over spring break they discarded/replaced a ton of “obsolete” computers.

Other than that, I remember graduation rates came out the week I was hired but before I started here. I believe it was either the very end of December or very beginning of January. So that’s a given, and I’m trying to pre-report as much of that as I can swing. And ISTEP results (our standardized tests) are due out in the coming weeks, so possibly something there. But both of those still require people who are hard enough to track down when they aren’t gallivanting (and rightfully so) around on vacation. So there’s that.

I do have a few other non-education stories I’ve been saving. Normally, I’d just forward them on to the features reporter or my editor to assign out. But I figure since I don’t have a ton of education stuff to keep me busy, I can maybe do a few things off my beat for fun.

I also need to check and make sure I don’t have a schools page those weeks. Somehow, I don’t think they’ve thought that through. But I did. And it’ll never happen.

But really, what does an education reporter do over winter break?! Any tips or suggestions?

3 Responses to “What does an education reporter do over winter break?”

  1. Adam G Says:

    – Mad rush to get applications in to colleges with a Jan. 1 deadline

    – Any problems at schools in the area that may be addressed with post-Winter Break restructuring of discipline code, student handbook?

    – I don’t know if Indiana does state report cards for schools like Ohio does, and/or when they’re released. Could do an accountability follow-up on schools that have needed improvement in the past six months. Where are they now?

    – Does Indiana do teacher of the year? Maybe a feature. Talk to past teachers of the year to compile of list of where they are now and what to look for in the next batch of candidates.

    Hope at least one of these helped!

  2. Kiyoshi Martinez Says:

    I’d highly recommend checking out state funding on a district by district comparison. This data should be available to you by the state board of education (I know in Illinois they have it all online).

    Depending on how the state education funding formula works, you could look look at how economic factors and student population plays a role that works for/against (probably against) the districts.

    For instance, in Illinois (notoriously bad for education funding), the formula takes into account how many students you have in your district. For districts that didn’t see a rise in population over the past few years, they received little to no increase in funding, and that was generally below the rate of inflation.

    Inflation gets to be a huge issue with things like transportation, energy, fuel, salaries, benefits, supplies, etc.

    A good thing to take a look at and graph would be how the ratio between funding from the district to funding from the state has changed. In a majority of cases in IL, that ratio showed a shifted burden on funding from the district.

    I also know in many cases, the state passed laws requiring the district to do additional things, but it ended up being unfunded. For instance: requiring environmentally friendly cleaning products.

    In a related story, another huge problem I found was with special education funding. In Illinois, they passed a law stating how much reimbursement the district would receive per teacher for special education. Then they never bothered to adjust that rate for inflation… ever. Imagine not getting a raise from one of your employers for 20 years. That’s pretty much what Illinois did for special education funding, which districts are mandated by law to provide.

    Sorry for the long essay, but hopefully this gives you some great ideas for your beat.

  3. Meranda Says:

    Thanks for the ideas guys! I sent in a list of some enterprise to work on this afternoon, and some long-range enterprise for the beginning of next year. Plus, I have a few ideas I’m timing out to report ahead on and then just write those weeks.

    Also, found out today, those two weeks of schools pages? Full steam ahead. =P I have a hard enough time filing them when school’s actually in session. But I guess I’ll manage.