Idaho Education News reporter earns national fellowship

Some exciting news to share here today: I have been selected as an Education Writers Association reporting fellow for 2018.

This is a big deal to me (more on that later), but more important, this is kind of a coming-of-age moment for Idaho Education News. With EWA’s expert guidance and financial backing, I plan to continue taking a close look at Idaho’s struggles to convince high school graduates to continue their education.

So, first things first. A big thank you to our friends at EWA, for their generous support and for believing in this project. I’m very impressed — and more than a little bit humbled — when I see what the other EWA fellows will take on this year. We’re in some talented company.

What does all this means for you, as a reader? I will spend much of 2018 looking at Idaho’s ambitious but elusive “60 percent” postsecondary completion goal — and what it will take to move that stubborn, low number.

We recently published a four-day series on the 60 percent goal in December. We broke ground. We reported that Idaho has committed more than $100 million to try to nudge its postsecondary numbers upward. We took a hard look at the affordability issues that can be a dealbreaker for would-be college students. And we explained why it will take more time, and more money, to get to the 60 percent goal.

But for me, the highlight of the project was interviewing students and advisers, to get an on-the-ground perspective on the one issue that is shaping Idaho’s education debate. As we wrapped up the series, I realized there was more to do. I wanted to dig into Idaho’s demographic gaps — and the challenges facing students in poverty and students of color.

That’s where EWA’s fellowship comes in.

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We’ll be able to spend considerable time this year traveling to rural Idaho for phase two of this project. (If you’re a teacher, adviser, student or parent with a story you’d like to share, please email me at [email protected]. I’d like to hear from you.)

We’ll also be able to look beyond Idaho. I want to look at what other rural states are doing to reach their own postsecondary goals. When we hit the road, we’ll try to answer two questions:

  1. What’s working?
  2. And could it work in Idaho?

And when we’re done reporting and writing, we plan to continue the conversation by hosting community meetings — thanks again to EWA’s support. Details to come.

On more of a personal note, this fellowship means a lot to me. It validates what I believed five years ago when I left daily newspapering to join the launch of Idaho Education News. I believed then, and even more firmly believe now, that startup web-based niche products can produce good and important journalism.

I’m proud of our partnerships in Idaho — with KIVI and KNIN TV, Boise State Public Radio and Idaho Public Television. These partnerships have made us a stronger and more visible product, and I believe it reflects well on what we have to offer.

I’m also proud that we’re starting to build a national reputation. We recently launched a partnership with the Hechinger Report — an award-winning independent news site shining a light on school innovation and equity issues. Through the EWA fellowship, I believe we’ll have a rare journalistic opportunity. We’ll have the chance to study an issue that’s crucial to our state and our young people, and produce journalism of national significance.

When we started this news site in 2013, that’s where we believed we could go. Now we’re one big step closer. And since we’re a small staff with big aspirations — and a team that has to work together and cover for each other — this fellowship speaks volumes for our whole staff. Simply put, I couldn’t have done this alone. And I’m glad I didn’t have to try.

I believe we have even better days ahead.

But today is a really good day.

Thank you for letting me tell you about it.

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