SoCal Public Radio Restaffs Education Desk, Launches “Good Schools”

While none of us was paying attention this past winter, Maura Walz left Chalkbeat and headed West to KPCC Los Angeles Public Radio, where she now edits the station’s education team

Arriving in November, Walz was part of a restaffing of nearly the entire education team. Deepa Fernandes was on early childhood, and Adolfo Guzman-Lopez was doing everything else. Editor Evelyn Larrubia had moved up to management, and her replacement as editor had moved to the political desk. Breaking education news reporter Annie Gilbertson had moved on to do investigative reporting, and was eventually replaced by Seattle’s Kyle Stokes. Priska Neely is now the arts education reporter.

Balancing news, features, and other beats in a new town is no easy task. But in a phone interview, Walz said that her goal for the team has been to mix breaking news with deeper, more localized coverage. “We should be doing the same type of really really strong watchdog work that Annie made the desk known for, but also trying to root our coverage in what’s happening in the classroom.” She calls the latter part — linking policy and real-world impact her “Chalkbeat lens.” 

“To me, breaking news and parent and teacher perspectives sort of feed on each other,” said Walz. “The news coverage is better when you have the steady stream stories showing why things are the way they are. Good news coverage able to get that context.”

To be sure, the media environment she finds herself in is less crowded than the one she left behind in New York City, though the LA Times is hard to ignore. The shooting in San Bernardino was an all hands on deck kind of story, and the threats against the LAUSD school system were a bit of a challenge for someone who had arrived recently. Stokes wasn’t hired yet. “I was still getting to know people and the system,” said Walz. “I felt very very green.”

Now pretty well settled in, Walz has been deeply involved in the station’s #GoodSchools series, in partnership with a hosted show the station airs called Take Two. 

ICYMI: Our series #goodschools, a look into SoCal education options, continues. Today: Magnet schools.

Posted by Take Two on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Other segments from the Good schools series includes:

7 things to know about homeschooling in California 

How funding factors in to what makes a good school

9 things to know about private schools in LA 

Jay and Mark Duplass on what ‘Togetherness’ says about LA schools

7 things to know about dual-language schools in LA

4 lessons in compromise on choosing schools in LA

Why ‘school choice’ matters—even if you don’t have a kid

“The thing that I personally wanted for the series to accomplish was to ground personal decisionmaking and the aggregate influence on what kind of system we have,” said Walz. “How do those two planes interact.”

The timing for the couldn’t have been better, given LAUSD’s new chancellor and all the chatter about charter school expansion, and the annual school decision panic that some parents go through.

It didn’t hurt that the show host was also in the process of picking a school — or that the station was big enough and closely connected enough with the entertainment business to be able to book the Duplass brothers.

I’m still waiting for segments about parenting/education angles in New Girl, Girlfriend’s Guide To Divorce, and Transparent. I’m also hoping that the show does more about school integration and racial privilege.

In the near term, the show is also planning a few additional segments, including ones on special education and the role of outside philanthropy. (Speaking of which, grant funding for the station seems to have been much less of an issue for KPCC than for, say, the LA Times. Walz says that she keeps an eye on how many stories have been produced on grant-funded topics (arts and early childhood, for example), but that’s about it.) 

Related posts:  KPCC Responds To CJR Story – Plus A Headline ApologyThe Sony WikiLeaks Hack Gets an Education Angle — Sorta*Just How White Is Education Journalism?Three Ways To Write About Education.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.