2011 Linda Lenz Acceptance Remarks

Like many of you here, I love journalism and am passionate about the good it can do when it is done well. And I am fortunate to have been able to work at it my entire adult life – and get paid for it. Now I have won an award that recognizes the heart of what we do, not just the head. And it feels good.

I’m going to guess that most of you know that Catalyst covers the Chicago Public Schools but don’t know much else. So as publisher, I’m going to seize the occasion to tell you our story. In a nutshell, we are our journalistic watchdog and resource for school improvement in Chicago.

From the start, we have operated on the premise that to change CPS, there needs to be well-informed decisions in many sectors and that grass-roots activists, parents and teachers need the same information as administrators and policy makers.

We started as a newsmagazine but in recent years have expanded our product mix – hasn’t everyone – to better serve our various audiences.
• Catalyst In Depth, our flagship print quarterly, goes to leaders at all levels, including local school council members, aldermen and legislators.
• Catalyst In the Know is a newsletter to help parents navigate the system. We print it in English and Spanish and, currently, distribute it to 80,000 parents in poor communities.
• Through a collaboration with the Chicago News Cooperative, some of our stories have appeared in the New York Times, and we just signed a content-sharing agreement with Education Week, the country’s newspaper of record on education.
• All of our work is online, but our web site mainly serves up our coverage of education news and invites reader comments.

So how do we pay for this? Overwhelming with foundation grants. Chicago’s foundations have been steadfast in their commitment to school improvement. They understand the need to keep everyone informed, and they may see us as a way to keep tabs on their bigger investments.

We also receive tremendous support from the nonprofit that embraced us when we were just an education reporter’s idea And that is the Community Renewal Society, which also publishes the investigative newsmagazine, The Chicago Reporter.

There has never been a dull moment on the education beat. And now we have a new mayor, and the city has a new opportunity to think critically about the direction of school reform. Many good things happened during Mayor Daley’s reign over the school system – and Gery Chico will be more than happy to tell you about them.

But they lacked the coherence that is especially needed when money is tight. The Consortium on Chicago School Research once wrote about Christmas tree schools – they had lots of attractive baubles but no clear focus. The same can be said of the school system — and Rahm Emanuel’s education platform. We will see if he can be educated.

A new mayor also gives CPS the opportunity to look on Studs’ people — the grass-roots – in a new light. There is research that underscores the value of parent and community engagement – even for test scores — but CPS has rarely acted on it.

In closing, I would like to recognize my staff. I founded Catalyst, but the editorial product that you see comes from others. (I tell people I used to be a journalist, and now I am a fundraiser.) Three of our five staffers are here and I would like them to waive: Lorraine Forte, the editor; Sarah Karp, the deputy editor; and Debra Williams, the community editor.

Thank you for helping me win this award. I am truly thrilled to have it.