Education In Their Own Words

Withstanding Trauma, Leading With Honesty, and More: The Education Stories That Stuck With Us

Our colleagues’ amazing work was inspiring—and sobering
By Stephen Sawchuk — December 21, 2022 4 min read
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We bring you the second installment of this “under the hood” series.

In Part 1, we had reporters talk a bit about their own thought processes as they conceived and executed important, emotionally resonant pieces.

In Part 2, we’ve asked reporters, editors, and other newsroom leaders to comment on the work that other team members did—and why it mattered to them, too.

Story #1:

How Much Trauma Can Our Schools Withstand?

Kladys Castellón prays during a vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

On May 24, I was at my desk when news broke about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Eventually it was reported that 19 students were killed, alongside two teachers. It was a surreal echo: Nearly 10 years earlier, I was in the same newsroom when 20 children and six adults were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I had no idea what Education Week would publish in response to this tragedy. What do you say to America’s educators who are grieving … again? Educatiors who have to plan how best to barricade their classroom doors? Who are already feeling overextended and exhausted?

Then came Catherine Gewertz’s poignant story. “Are we nearing the point where it’s just all too much?,” it asks. The answer is yes. And no. And that there’s still so much to celebrate about working in schools. Read it for yourself.

—Stacey Decker, Deputy Managing Editor, Digital | Read the story

Story #2:

Awake at 2 A.M., Agonizing Over Life-and-Death Decisions: A Superintendent’s Story

Craig McVay, superintendent of El Reno Public Schools in El Reno, Okla., pictured on Jan. 27, 2022.

Catherine Gewertz’s interview with an Oklahoma superintendent is one of the most honest I’ve seen in years of reporting and editing education stories. It was the peak period of the pandemic’s omicron surge and Catherine had been looking for an education leader who’d be willing to talk candidly about the chaos of staff and student absences and the pressure of daily, high-stakes decisions about keeping schools open.

She found the perfect subject in Craig McVay, the superintendent in El Reno, Okla.

McVay, a veteran superintendent nearing retirement, held nothing back. He described the daily scramble of finding subs for sick teachers—and all the subs getting sick themselves. His own COVID illness after subbing for two days, blaming himself for deciding not to wear a mask. Former colleagues who’d died during that awful stretch and the funeral he had to miss. And the sleepless nights on his front porch, endlessly asking himself if he was making the right calls.

“In my entire time as a school administrator, over 20 years, I’ve been able to make a decision, feel confident about that decision, and live with the consequences,” McVay said. “But beginning 21 months ago, not a single decision regarding COVID have I ever felt like, oh yeah, I’m positive this is the right way to go.”

The piece—all in McVay’s own words—struck a deep chord with other educators, including a superintendent more than 1,000 miles away who emailed McVay to thank him for making him feel less alone. We brought the two leaders together to talk about their shared experiences in this video.

— Lesli A. Maxwell, managing editor | Read the story

Story #3:

Revising America’s Racist Past

Image of an edit to a standard.

I’m cheating a bit, because I did in fact write this story, which focuses on how the public discourse around critical race theory is starting to trickle down to the classroom. But what ultimately made the project work were the absolutely incredible visuals that Education Week Creative Director Laura Baker and her team conceived for the package.

Cover: Volume 41, Issue 19, January 19, 2022. Revising Americas Racist Past: How the 'critical race theory' debate is changing standards.

The painted-out backgrounds; the red and blue pens; the images showing how the behind-the-scenes wordsmithing threaten to materially shift students’ understanding of core historical events—these powerful images all drive home what’s at stake here.

The insights in the package are concerning: States’ history and social studies expectations are starting to change as a result of political pressure. Some of the educators drafting these documents felt threatened. And sometimes whole drafts got thrown out or rewritten behind closed doors.

At every step, Laura and her team pushed me to explain why those findings mattered, and how we could ease our readers into some fairly high-level ideas and processes. The online version of the story also has several embedded tools that help readers make sense of the story—a primer on how a “standard” differs from curriculum, for example, and a sampling of public comments that accompanied one state’s draft.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. There were a lot of words in this story, but the pictures are what made it special.

—Stephen Sawchuk, assistant managing editor | Read the story

Story #4:

School Counselors and Psychologists Remain Scarce Even as Needs Rise

Image of mental health concept.

This March story from my colleagues Arianna Prothero and Maya Riser-Kositsky, with excellent support from our great visuals team, has stuck with me ever since I read it.

The COVID-19 pandemic piled an extraordinary heap of mental health challenges onto 50 million American children who already endured so much before many of their parents and grandparents lost their lives to a virus that’s still killing 300 people in America every day. It’s almost unbearable to think that so many of those kids attend a school where there’s no one like Teshia Stovall Dula, a counselor who’s so dedicated to her students that she paused her interview with Education Week to visit with one of them.

Whenever I read the frequent headlines about sinking test scores and unruly behavior in classrooms, I think about how severely our country is failing to give them the support they need to keep striving for better. I’m glad Ari, Maya, and everyone else who worked on this story shed light on this crucial issue.

—Mark Lieberman, staff writer | Read the story


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