Today we got to visit American Electric Power’s Mountaineer Plant in New Haven, West Virginia. AEP is the nation’s largest utility, serving more than 5 million customers in 11 states. The company also burns more coal and emits more CO2 than anybody else in the country. As lawmakers in Congress are debating national climate change legislation, which would put a price on carbon pollution for the first time in US history, the company has started a pilot project, which Matt Wald of the New York Times describes pretty well here. Here you can find a 2-minute video on the project — if you are not into the whole “reading” thing.
But by far the best documentary summary of the role coal power place in US energy economics and the impact it has on global warming you see below. The video is part of Frontline’s fantastic documentary “Heat,” which you watch in full length and for for free here.
The drive from New Orleans to Charleston, West Virginia, took 14 hours. We left in the morning after meeting with one of our favorite people in the New Orleans education reform stories: Duke Bradley III. He has got a law degree, worked for politicians and think tanks. And now he is the founding principal of an elementary school in the Lower 9th Ward. The Benjamin E. Mays Preparatory School is Duke’s brainchild and the product of a year-long research process with New Leaders for New Schools. The man is dynamic, determined, and bright… Keep on fighting the good fight, Duke! And all the best from West Viriginia.
What a crazy weekend! We have been working our butts off, and tomorrow we are heading out of town just as a tropical storm is nearing the coast… School will be canceled and thus a meeting we were supposed to have at a charter school in the 9th Ward will be shortened from two hours to about 30 minutes.
This afternoon we met with Paul Vallas who is in running in Recovery School District for the city of New Orleans. He has quite a resume as a reformer having tackled big education system overhauls in Chicago and Philadelphia — and he has his own Wikipedia page (see below). What the entry neglects to mention is that Vallas talks faster than any lawyer gone auctioneer and is rangy both in physique and scope of conversation. He is a kind public servant as well, seeing that he gave us almost 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon.
Here is the Wiki-Entry:
During his tenure as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools from 1995 to 2001, he led an effort to reform the school system, and his work was cited by President Bill Clinton for raising test scores, improving relations with the teachers’ union, balancing the budget, and instituting several new programs included mandatory summer school, after school programs, and expanding alternative, charter, and magnet schools.
The position of CEO of the CPS was created by Mayor Richard M. Daley after he successfully convinced the Illinois State Legislature to place CPS under mayoral control. Vallas had previously directed the budget arm of the Illinois State Legislature and served as budget director for Daley.
Controversy plagued Vallas towards the end of his reign as CPS CEO. Following criticism from the mayor, and the election of a union president who ran on an anti-Vallas platform, Vallas resigned in 2001 and ran for Governor of Illinois as a Democrat. Vallas placed second in the Democratic primary, losing narrowly to now-former-Governor Rod Blagojevich while running ahead of former state Attorney General Roland Burris.
Following the election, Vallas was appointed CEO of School District of Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, he presided over the nation’s largest experiment in privatized management of schools, with the management of over 40 schools turned over to outside for-profits, nonprofits, and universities beginning in Fall 2002.
In 2005, Vallas considered challenging Blagojevich again for Illinois governor in the Democratic Primary but decided against it. He then signed a two-year contract (2007–2008) as superintendent of the Recovery School District of Louisiana.
On April 28, 2008 he appeared before the City Club of Chicago and on Chicago news shows discussing a possible run for governor in 2010. In February 2009, Vallas gave an interview to Carol Marin in the Chicago Sun-Times and stated that he planned to return to Cook County, Illinois in 2009 and run as a Republican for Cook County Board president in 2010.
On June 11, 2009, Vallas announced that he would not be a candidate for President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 2010. Vallas stated that he could not “begin a political campaign while trying to finish what he started–rebuild the school system there in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”
It’s our second day in New Orleans for our story in public education reform in the Big Easy, and we have already been inspired by a handful of remarkable educators who are using innovative concepts to make a real difference for the kids who need the most help. Johannes and I experienced first hand the impact Alissa Rutledge is having on students at Dibert elementary school during her second year of Teach for America, saw how principal Adam Meinig is turning under-served children into young scholars and community leaders at KIPP Believe, and spoke on the phone with Paul Pastorek, the controversial superintendent for education in Louisiana.
What Mr. Pastorek and fellow reformer Paul Vallas (who we will meet in person on Sunday) are undertaking here has been described as historic and ambitious by critics and supporters alike. The best — and certainly most comprehensive — summary of their struggle to turn one of the worst public education system in the country around was published in August 2008 by Paul Tough, editor at the New York Times Magazine. It’s a must-read for anybody interested in New Orleans, public education, and social policy.
Here are some of the educational superheroes we met:
Stern.de, the online portal of Germany’s premier newsweekly, published our story on Wurstfest! You can follow this link to read my introductory text and see 22 of Johannes finest pictures with captions by yours truly — if you know “Deutsch”, that is. And please remember: Wurstfest is in full swing until Sunday, November 8. So if you get that sausage and beer craving, stop on by.
When Johannes and I went back to New Braunfels on Saturday, day two of Wurstfest, we knew we needed a game plan to produce a well-rounded photo reportage. Thus we came up with the most German of all organizational tools: a to-do list including topics, portraits, and scenes we wanted to capture. Johannes worked harder than I have ever seen a photographer work, and below you can see some of his images. (If you are interested in purchasing any of his work, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.johannesarlt.com)
We also ventured outside of Landa Park to see other examples of how the community capitalizes on its German roots. Every other store seems to include some German word or phrase — even if there is nothing German about the business whatsoever. See the “Freiheit Contry Store.”
The “Friesenhaus” downtown serves German food and baked goods. But nowhere in Deutschland would you ever find a business establishment named after a northern people that also carries southern folklore clothing including leather pants and “dirndls.”
But “Deutsch” sells in New Braunfels. Local business leaders are hoping that visitors will spend upwards of $10 million dollars in New Braunfels and its surrounding communities over the ten days that Wurstfest is in session.
If you are interested in studying the history of Texas-German culture and language, visit the Texas German Dialect Project, started by University of Texas linguist Hans Lander. The website will allow you to access all kinds of nifty information, including a language archive that doubles as an oral history project.
Ja, so deutsch ist Texas: The 49th Wurstfest got underway at precisely 5.01 pm on Friday with the ceremonial “Biting of the Wurst.” Two dozen organizers and festival staff dressed in Bavarian-style garb climbed on top of the main stage in New Braunfels’ Wursthalle, simultaniously chomped down on locally smoked sausage links, and declared the biggest German culture festival in the US “eröffnet.” Over the next ten days more 150 000 visitors will roam the fairgrounds at Landa Park to celebrate Wurst, Bier, and Gemütlichkeit.
During our visit Johannes and I listened in on a planning meeting of the “Opas” (German for “grandfathers”), the senior festival staff who organize the event every year and dress in red and green southern German folklore. The mayor, the district attorney, local business leaders — all of them are part of this local fraternity.
We also got to chat with Alex Meixner, leader of the Alex Meixner Band. He plays 150 Polka shows a year, has been nominated for a Grammy, and is what Johannes lovingly calls a “Rampensau,” someone who lives to perform in front of an audience. But that love is reciprocated: New Braunfels adores him. His band will play nearly a dozen shows over the course of the first weekend alone.
And, finally, the main protagonist: Die Wurst. On a stick. We like to think of it as “Sausage with a Texas Twist.”
Here is my proposal to you:
Instead of writing a long research paper for your multimedia class, I will put together a multimedia blog on a reporting road trip including embedded video, photography, and daily blog posts. From October 30 to November 16 my friend Johannes Arlt and I are traveling across to the US to work on three feature stories: Wurstfest and German culture in Texas, public education reform in New Orleans, and coal power in West Virginia. What better way to document our journey and adventures than through a multimedia experience?
Everyday I will post at least one new blog entry including a minimum of 100 words, one hyperlink, and one element of visual media (either photography or video). These entries can include research relevant to our stories, journal entries detailing on-site experiences, and summaries of news articles relevant to our topic-at-hand.
The goal of this experiment is to figure out how blogging can help me tell better stories and/or act as a research tool for future reporting trips.
I am looking forward to discussing my proposal with you in class.