Rachel Otwell

Journalist / Illinois Edition Producer / Host of: The Scene, Heartland & The P-Units

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community, and diverse culture. She produces NPR Illinois' original program, Illinois Edition. She also hosts The Scene, which airs on Thursdays and features cultural happenings in the central Illinois region.

She's a graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield. While working toward that degree she spent a session covering the state legislature for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio with a focus on fracking. Rachel also holds degrees from UIS in Liberal & Integrative Studies, Women & Gender Studies, and African-American Studies. She's tutored Rwandan refugees in Ohio, volunteered at a Kenyan orphanage,  served as an activities assistant at a nursing home, and volunteered at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. 

Rachel started a career in public media in 2011 when she interned for the National Public Radio program Tell Me More with Michel Martin in Washington, DC. Her reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

As the state legislature threatens additional cuts to local schools, education officials are firing back. Some say taking more money away from students would be morally reprehensible.

Brian Charles Patterson is an artist from Utah who creates unique video and audio compilations. His exhibit that addresses climate change is called, 'As Long As There Is No Tomorrow.' It will be at the at DEMO Project (732 N. 4th St.) now through March 29th. The opening is Friday night from 6 to 9 at the Springfield Art Association.

sps186.org

Dozens of District 186 employees will be without a job come the end of the school year. A week ago the interim superintendent, Bob Hill, suggested cutting teaching jobs at all levels. On Tuesday he came to the board with further cuts, including in technology and special education. 

Rachel Otwell

War Magic is a local folk band that you probably haven't heart of. The group's been called "dream-folk" and "neo-folk" - and they've only played a handful of shows in town. Alistair Reynolds and Mark Reynolds recently joined us to talk about their project and share some of their unique music: 

provided by District 186

As Springfield public schools look to save around $5 million dollars, jobs and programs are on the chopping block. And yet, some say even those cuts would not save enough. 

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Most teenagers spend more time on the internet chatting with friends than reading books - let alone poetry. However, the art form has seen a recent resurgence, and in some circles is even considered "hip." In Springfield, 14 area high school students recently competed in the regional version of the Poetry Out Loud contest to recite a wide variety of poems from memory.

Often times, the strongest advocates for students with disabilities are their parents. Dr. Holly Novak is a member of the group Springfield Parents For Students with Disabilities. On Saturday the group hosts its "6th Annual Disability to Possibility Conference" from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm at Southeast High School.

Springfield District 186 plans to give parents and students a shorter deadline for immunizations and physicals next school year. They'll have to be completed by the 10th day of school, which means around the end of August. That's much sooner than this year's mid-October deadline. Around 500 students failed to comply and some were out of school for up to 3 weeks.

Ingrid Taylar/Flickr

Monday's ice storm didn’t stop Springfield public schools from holding classes. But it also meant many school buses were late to pick up students. Parents complained of students waiting up to 45 minutes in the cold and freezing rain as buses maneuvered the slick roads. Many took to the district’s Facebook page to hurl insults about the decision to keep school open.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Many people are aware that the Illinois Lottery helps fund schools. But just how much do the proceeds actually help? Well, that's what we aimed to find out:

    

Most of the money for the state's public schools K-12 come from local sources, like property taxes. The state contributes a large portion as well, and the lottery profits are part of that, but just how much? To find that out, our first stop is the Hometown Pantry at the intersection of Edwards and MacArthur in Springfield.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

It took about a year - but Springfield has officially found a replacement for its previous district 186 superintendent. Jennifer Gill will take over the role on May 1st. She's been a teacher and administrator in the district. She'll be leaving her current role as the director of teaching and learning for the McLean County Unit 5 School District. This interview begins with Gill reflecting on how she became a third-generation educator:

Springfield's district 186 is struggling to fill a 5 million dollar gap in the budget for the coming school year. A group of parents and community members say they have an answer to supplementing the district's budget: raise property taxes. But passing a referendum will prove challenging. And if it's going to happen, some say efforts to get the word out need to ramp up now. 

http://thecomplaintlinemusic.com

It's no secret that marriage, disagreements, and nagging can sometimes go hand-in-hand.

And, with lyrics highlighting the challenges of romantic relationships, a local wedded pair has started a band together - calling it 'The Complaint Line'.

The duo is joined by two others who complete the rock set. The group (Shawnda Phillips on bass and vocals, John Phillips on guitar and vocals, Dayton Cripe on guitar and vocals, and Randy Anderson on drums) recently joined Rachel Otwell in the Suggs Studio for this performance and chat: 

(We're revisiting this year-old interview since the musical has made a return. Friday and Saturday are the final performances at The Legacy Theatre in Springfield. Tickets here.)

 Kevin Veara’s interests and passions may seem a bit unrelated. From wildlife preservation, to tattoos, to bird-watching and painting. Lately he’s been working to restore the presence of wildlife – on his own property and through his art. His work is on display at the UIS Visual Arts Gallery and there’s an opening reception tonight there from 5:30 to 8. WUIS’ Rachel Otwell recently spoke with Veara:

Governor Quinn spent much of his State of the State address on Wednesday addressing education. He says investing in education is a sure way to grow jobs as well as the economy. It's a sentiment that's hard to argue with. His focus on early education was an echo of President Obama's own emphasis on the subject in his last two State of the Union addresses, and Quinn has also previously pushed the idea of making pre-K more widely available. New this year though, Quinn says he wants to double the amount of MAP scholarships offered, which help low-income students attend state universities.

The UIS team name will remain the same, after over a year of discussions on whether or not to change it. A consultant group hired by the university came up with suggestions like  the Springers, Sabers, and Mammoths. The consultant group cost the university nearly $20,000. After putting together a task force and soliciting the opinions of students, alumni, and faculty, a decision has been made. UIS Chancellor Susan Koch told WUIS, "Prairie Stars may not be the perfect name, but it's our name. And it's been our name since the 1970s ...

http://schoolchoiceweek.com

 Ask any teacher, superintendent, or government official about it and many would say education funding is in need of some serious change. Local districts are struggling to make ends meet as state and federal appropriations drop - and that means layoffs, school closures, and even shortening the school day in some cases. Some education reform activists say the answer to fixing this problem and others within the system is something called "school choice."

 Four extra days of class have been added to the calendar for Springfield public schools, pushing the last day to June 4th. WUIS took a look at how it's decided that school should be canceled ...

uis.edu

Newly approved tuition increases at the University of Illinois mean that four years of college on the flagship campus will top $100,000 for many students. Trustees voted Thursday to raise tuition by 1.7 %. They also increased fees and housing costs. Vice President for Academic Affairs Christopher Pierre says the increases sticks to a university plan to keep increases in line with inflation.

The story of The Odd Couple is one that's been told not only on stage, but as a movie, TV series - even a cartoon. The story is a classic one full of comedic one-liners, but also a lot of heart. Starring in a new local production is radio personality Johnny Molson, and the head of the Hoogland Center for the Arts, Gus Gordon. They recently joined us for this interview, which begins with Gordon explaining why he thinks it's a good fit for local audiences: 

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Mulligan Munro is a folk band consisting of Mark Butler, Maureen Douglas, Don Wright, and Mark Hudson. The group brings an eclectic set of influences to the table, resulting in a repertoire of pub-friendly songs that sound uniquely their own. Mulligan Munro recently joined WUIS in the Suggs Studio for this performance and interview: 

blacksheepspringfield.com

A new record store is opening in Springfield this weekend. Making a profit off vinyl records may sound risky, but the four co-owners have a lot experience building a following in the punk music scene especially. Kevin Bradford recently joined us to talk about it. He owns Black Sheep Cafe, a music venue, and will be one of the co-owners of the record store at 1107 South Grand, called Dumb Records: 

Jennifer Gill was chosen as the new superintendent for Springfield District 186 after a months-long search. But negotiations have yet to be finalized.   Gill, who currently works for McLean County schools, says the holidays slowed talks, but expects a contract will get done.

Ted Morrissey teaches English to high school and college students in Williamsville and Springfield. He manages to write plenty of his own material in his free time. He joined us recently to talk about his unique writing style, what writings he has in the works - and his recently published novella titled 'Figures in Blue':    

Photo by Dan LoGrasso / A Feral Gentleman Productions

December visitors to downtown Springfield's Café Andiamo will be greeted by the photography of artist and Springfield native Dan LoGrasso. A veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, LoGrasso has honed his camera skills as a military journalist on multiple international and domestic deployments.

Local band Epsom is Steven Sgro on vocals and guitar, Scott Faingold on vocals, Timothy Harte on drums, and Kristopher Zander on guitar. The group describes their music as "gratuitous shock rock." They joined us recently in the Suggs Studio for this set of performances and an interview: 

uis.edu/visualarts/gallery/

The UIS Visual Arts Gallery hosts multiple exhibits throughout the year that highlight the work of contemporary artists from all over the country. But once annually, the gallery walls are filled with mostly local art - and it's all for sale to the highest bidder. Jeff Robinson heads the UIS gallery - he recently told us all about plans for this year's silent auction,  December 2nd through the 12th: 

Rachel Otwell

When high school students in district 186 are expelled they're left with few options to obtain a diploma or GED. Over a decade ago, the Springfield NAACP started an initiative to address the number of black students being expelled. Since the year 2000, expelled high schoolers have been provided an alternative through those efforts - thanks in large part to retired teachers.

Zach Ayappa  is a 23 year old with a lot of passion for two things in particular: hip hop and God. The rapper goes by 'Momma's Boy' - it's a name that lends to starting conversation about his adoption, a topic he raps about along with Christianity. Ayappa hails from Sherman and brings his performances to churches around central Illinois. We caught up with him for an interview and performance at  a baptist church on Springfield's east side: 

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