This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Lauren Jacobs, coordinator of the Philadelphia Cross City Campaign for School Reform, a coalition of local organizing and advocacy groups working to improve Philadelphia’s schools, is a "hopeful activist."
She has worked for five years facilitating collaboration among Cross City member groups such as Good Schools Pennsylvania, ACTION United, Philadelphia Student Union, and Youth United for Change to strategize about how to achieve greater equity in District schools. Jacobs, 47, says part of what keeps her hopeful about her campaign for better schools is the Notebook‘s commitment to keeping the District transparent and accountable.
"The number one thing that I consider important about the Notebook is [its] investigative journalism," Jacobs said. "At a time when everyone is bemoaning the near-death of investigative journalism, the Notebook‘s doing it."
Jacobs recalled an instance when the newspaper had requested data from the District about teacher equity. The District released the data just before an edition of the Notebook was to go to press, but despite having little time, the staff was able to provide a deep analysis of the numbers and print it in a user-friendly fashion in time for that edition, she said.
Jacobs said that data spread was a crucial tool used by the Effective Teaching Campaign, a coalition of more than 20 groups led by Cross City and the Education First Compact that addresses the high teacher turnover in high-poverty neighborhoods and promotes more equitable distribution of teachers.
Impressed with the Notebook‘s analysis of information and wanting to be a part of an organization that helps drive and inform her own work, Jacobs signed on as a member when the Notebook launched its membership program two years ago.
"I want my work to be grounded in facts, not myths, [and] the Notebook has the ability to take masses of numbers and figure out what the really important data points are," she said.
Jacobs, a lawyer who has practiced in the area of anti-poverty reform, grew up outside of Boston and worked in Washington, D.C., on federal education policy before moving to Philadelphia in 1995. It was then that she discovered the Notebook, making it her "number one source" to support her work.
Jacobs said that she knew about a few of the players in the city’s education system, having worked on a vocational education reform project, but reading the Notebook became a major part of how she acquainted herself with the issues affecting District schools. She said the paper’s website is also a valuable resource that allows her to get a historical perspective on topics through its links to older articles.
Now, Jacobs tells any newcomers to Philadelphia who are interested in education to "spend a few hours on the Notebook website" getting acquainted with issues in the city.
"The Notebook keeps a focus on issues not just week to week, but year to year," she said. "It’s one of the few ways we have in the city to keep history on the table."