While reporting a recent story about teacher recruiting, new Civil Beat education reporter Suevon Lee got a fast lesson of her own in the persistent challenges facing Hawaii’s public schools.

Suevon talked to passionate teachers who endure relatively low pay and high living expenses. The reporting offered her a first-hand look at why so many of their peers leave Hawaii schools after a few years — and the cost of the state’s chronic shortage of qualified teachers.

“We owe it to readers to dig deeply into the struggles facing schools and pinpoint what’s not working and why,” she said. “But another important part of the beat is identifying the committed parents, teachers, principals – and the schools – that are doing innovative, creative work.”

We’re thrilled that Suevon, a veteran journalist who most recently worked in Los Angeles covering national legal issues for Law360, has joined Civil Beat as part of a grant-funded initiative to beef up our education coverage.

Veteran journalist Suevon Lee is Civil Beat’s new education reporter. Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

Suevon’s position is funded by a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Chamberlin Family Foundation, a California-based foundation committed to supporting people and ideas that create strong public schools.

Its founders, Steve and Susan Chamberlin, are graduates of Roosevelt High School in Honolulu and have strong ties to Hawaii.  They have made gifts in support of Teach for America Hawaii and the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum in Honolulu, among several others.

“We’re proud to be supporting the independent and in-depth journalism of Honolulu Civil Beat. By shining a spotlight on education issues, we believe HCB will spark discussion about how to strengthen Hawaii’s public schools and provide the best education possible for our young people,” reads a statement from the Chamberlin Family Foundation.

“This is important to us because we believe our public education system is the foundation for a thriving community.”

Civil Beat retains complete independence and control in deciding what stories are covered. As with all of our foundation grants, Civil Beat fully adheres to the set of guiding principles recently published by the American Press Institute.

The grant allows Civil Beat to dig deep into critical issues facing state’s schools.

Public schools continue to suffer from rundown facilities, high teacher turnover and low test scores, while per-pupil taxpayer spending by the Hawaii Department of Education is among the highest in the nation. And in Honolulu, more than one out of every three students attend private schools — the highest rate in the nation.

Meanwhile, the newly hired state schools superintendent takes over Aug. 1.

An essential part of her job, said Suevon, involves providing transparency to readers about how decisions are made and how money is spent in the nation’s only statewide school system.

“Decisions made at all sorts of levels will impact students and their futures for years to come, so to be able to stay on top of those developments is the key to education reporting,” she said.

A native of the Washington, D.C., area, Suevon brings a wealth of journalism experience to her new beat.

Her reporting career started at the Ocala Star-Banner in Florida. Since then, she’s interned for ProPublica, one of the nation’s most prominent investigative news sites, worked as a senior editor for a website covering business law, and served as editor-in-chief of KoreAm Journal, which chronicled the Korean-American experience in the U.S.

So far, she’s found Hawaii to her liking. She’s already tried her hand at surfing and navigating many of Oahu’s ridge hikes. “I’m also trying to sample as much of Hawaii’s food culture as I can,” she said.

We hope that Suevon’s reporting — and Civil Beat’s expanded education coverage — will help inform the broader civic conversation about the future of Hawaii’s schools.

If you’ve got story ideas or just want to chat about education with Suevon, she can be contacted at slee@civilbeat.org, on Twitter @suevlee or at (808) 222-7462.

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