Sarah Whites-Koditschek

Reporter

Sarah Whites-Koditschek is a Little Rock-based reporter for Arkansas Public Media covering education, healthcare, state politics, and criminal justice issues. Formerly she worked as a reporter and producer for WHYY in Philadelphia..

Sarah is a graduate of Smith College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies. She was a student at the Stabile Center For Investigative Journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

She has won reporting awards from the Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists in Arkansas as well the Public Radio News Directors Inc. She also won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Regional Award.

Contact Sarah at sarah@arkansaspublicmedia.org or 501-683-8655.

Ways to Connect

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Eric Westcott is the manager of Central Rental and Supply, a construction equipment company that sits about three miles from Premium Protein Products, a meat rendering plant that turns animal carcasses into pet food.  

“Imagine the most disgusting smell you’ve ever smelled in your life and then add the heat, and that’s what we deal with here in Russellville,” he said.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Brad Graham is driving his truck along the edge of a catfish pond near Lake Village, blowing a soybean grain mixture into the water.

“My stepdad was into fish farming, and I just decided I wanted to do a little bit of farming,” he says.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

In Brinkley, halfway between Memphis and Little Rock, Sandra Kemmer is volunteering in a local cafe to promote the area’s economy by giving out rice products on metal trays.

“Hey ya’ll. You can have some cookies when you come back; it’s rice month,” she tells a couple passing by her stand.

Agriculture is the center of life here, but for decades rural towns like Brinkley have been dwindling and with them a linchpin of daily life, the town newspaper.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansas soybean farmers who rely on a chemical called Dicamba to kill weeds must stop using it during the growing season next year. That’s because it has allegedly been drifting to neighboring farms and killing crops.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Victims of Hurricane Maria are weighing the possibility of a fresh start in Arkansas this winter.

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville is among a handful of schools on the United States’ mainland offering tuition help to Puerto Rican students whose universities were damaged and closed after the storm.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

A group of teens play volleyball during recess at a youth lockup facility in Harrisburg in Northeast Arkansas. They are in custody for doing things like breaking and entering, possessing a firearm, or stealing a car, and they will be there anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

On their 60th anniversary return to Central High School last week, the  Little Rock Nine — the nine students who desegregated Central in 1957 — called for continued efforts toward integration in education.

Arkansas Public Media spoke with professor Erica Frankenberg of Penn State University about her study on the re-segregation of the South.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

The anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock has brought national attention to Little Rock and renewed interest in the nine students who made history this month 60 years ago, even as a number of Little Rock residents talk of re-segregation of the school district and the ongoing state control of the city's public schools. 

At a symposium on Saturday, the Little Rock Nine and their families told stories about segregation. Ernest Green’s sister Judy said their parents inspired them to stand up.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Mortgage backers Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have recently changed lending rules to give more leeway to borrowers like Kristen Griffin with high student loans.

Griffin is a librarian at Nemo Vista High School in Center Ridge. She and her husband Mark are window-shopping on Zillow while their 2-year-old son Fletcher sleeps nearby.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Leadership of the Little Rock School District is praising the settlement of a years-long lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in the district.

It has agreed to pay $100,000 in attorneys' fees, and to improve facilities and advanced learning opportunities in schools with majority black student populations.

National Park Service / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

It’s been 60 years since Central High School was forced to desegregate, but a federal lawsuit now claims the Little Rock School District is racially biased when it comes to investing in facilities and programs.

Proving that’s true in fact won’t be enough to win the case, though. The suit's authors will have to prove district officials set out to discriminate.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

An Arkansas immigrant rights coalition is organizing community meetings, a protest at the state capitol and a 24-hour hunger strike following the federal repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy better known as DACA.

Meanwhile, state officials, from Gov. Asa Hutchinson to U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford (R-1st District) called DACA an unconstitutional executive action leftover from the previous administration of Barack Obama.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

John Fulbright is manning a table at a gun show on a Sunday afternoon at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock.

He’s selling firearms and holsters for people who want to hide the weapons they’re carrying. He hovers over dozens of guns laid out for sale on the counter, and pulls a hard, synthetic holster out of its box to  hold it up for display.

“Some people like the appendix carry, which is carried in the front. Some people carry at the 3 o'clock positions, sometimes back to the five or 7 o'clock positions,” he says. “It’s just what’s comfortable for that person. They carry inside the waistband, outside the waistband...”

LA Johnson / NPR

Student loan borrowers are carrying debts later into life and are finding it harder to make big purchases, like a first home. In fact, a 2016 survey by the National Association of Realtors, and American Student Assistance, a non-profit, found almost three-quarters of all borrowers say their student loans are the reason they aren't purchasing a house.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas has until this fall to rewrite a wide-ranging education plan under the new federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act based on stakeholder feedback solicited on a draft this summer.

The Act replaces the Bush Administration era’s No Child Left Behind. In contrast to its predecessor, the new federal law moves away from ranking schools based on standardized tests and toward state control and a more diverse set of metrics.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Willie Freeman says he used to avoid smiling, and if he did, it was in a way almost no one could see, with his mouth closed. He was embarrassed of his rotten teeth.

“I wouldn’t go around people and if I did smile, you know, nobody would see me smile,” said Freeman. “My teeth was so messed up, you know, I had gaps everywhere,” he said sitting in an office at Little Rock’s low-income, non-profit Harmony Health Clinic, waiting for an appointment.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Two-year-old Adalynn Landrum lies on a blanket on the floor of her living room. She watches cartoons on a large flat screen television screen hung above a row of stuffed animals placed on a blanket next to her on the floor. Her small face is partially covered by an oxygen feeding cup with a tube connected to a medical cart stationed behind her head. The cart holds an array of devices.

Chelsea Beck / National Public Radio

A few more Arkansas school kids hit the state's proficiency level in standardized testing in the 2016-2017 school year compared to the previous year.

The number of students meeting state "readiness" benchmarks on the state's ACT Aspire exam rose by an average of 4.2 percent from last year across subject areas. That number hovers around the 50 percent mark

Lorenzo Gritti / National Public Radio

The Arkansas Department of Education has received largely favorable feedback on a draft plan for its implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a nationwide replacement for No Child Left Behind.

 

Last month, 114 respondents, mostly K-12 educators, gave input on the department’s second draft of the state’s accountability plan. More than three in four respondents said that overall, the plan lays out a clear vision for the state.

Arkansas Senators Tom Cotton, a member of the Senate healthcare working group, and John Boozman have not given an indication that they would support health legislation projected to cut 22 million people off of Medicaid. Notwithstanding, a vote on the bill has been postponed due to divisions in the Republican Party.

Arkansas Public Media spoke with Sara Rosenbaum, a George Washington University professor and evaluator for the state of Arkansas's expansion program, about the possibility of an end to Medicaid expansion in Arkansas.

LA Johnson / National Public Radio

Arkansas has until this fall to rewrite a wide-ranging education plan under the new federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act, and the department is taking public comment on the plan on its website through the end of the month.

 

It replaces the Bush Administration era’s No Child Left Behind. In contrast to its predecessor, the law shifts away from ranking schools based on standardized tests and toward state control and a more diverse set of metrics. Test scores, once 70-80 percent of a school rank, will be counted closer to 50 percent. The state proposes to weigh students’ growth as heavily as their one-time test scores in order to rank school performance.

Arkansas Department of Correction

The United States Supreme Court ruled Monday that an Alabama death row inmate has the right to a mental health evaluation from a neutral party. Previously, such evaluations were done by doctors within state government. 

In April, Arkansas inmates Don Davis and Bruce Ward were granted stays of execution after asking for such independent evaluations.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

At a brainstorming session after school recently at district headquarters, a group of black school employees sit around a U-shaped table discussing how to become principals. Coach Shawn Burgess, head of human resources at the Pulaski County Special School District, speaks to two women in the room who recently interviewed for leadership positions and didn’t get the job.

“And it’s not what you did wrong, per se. It’s about, ‘When is it my time?’” she said.

“That’s right. Um-hmm. That’s it,” echo the staff.

Jennifer Gibson / Arkansas Public Media

An 11-member jury ruled in favor of former Little Rock police Lt. David Hudson in an excessive force case in federal court on Wednesday.

 

Hudson was working as an off-duty security guard at Ferneau, a restaurant in the Hillcrest neighborhood, on Oct. 29, 2011 when he punched Chris Erwin in the face seven times on the sidewalk outside after asking Erwin and his party to leave the establishment. 

Former Little Rock police Lt. David Hudson told a federal jury Tuesday that he took the only safe option available. That, he said, is why he repeatedly punched a man he asked to leave a Little Rock restaurant in 2011.

“After the seventh punch, I felt from his body, and his body language, that he was ready to submit to arrest,” said Hudson.

Arkansas Public Media

A federal jury trial began Monday in an excessive force lawsuit against a retired Little Rock Police Department officer.

In 2011, now retired Lt. David Hudson was recorded on video hitting Chris Erwin in the face at least seven times and slamming him against a wall. This was after the officer told Erwin and his friends to leave a private party at Ferneau, a restaurant and bar in Hillcrest.

Arkansas Department of Correction

The Arkansas State Medical Board dropped a possible investigation Thursday into a Department of Correction-affiliated doctor’s role in obtaining a lethal injection drug.

The board was reviewing whether an ADC doctor might have used his license to help obtain a lethal injection drug from the McKesson Company.

McKesson sued the department in April, claiming a physician’s license on file had been used to purchase the drugs under false pretenses.

Board attorney Kevin O’Dwyer says the board ruled to drop the matter after finding no proof of the doctor’s involvement.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas is preparing an application for changes to the state’s Arkansas Works healthcare program even as federal lawmakers propose budget cuts that would significantly de-fund it.

The Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday released an analysis of the possible impact of health care legislation passed by the U.S. House, the American Health Care Act, that found a proposed $834 billion in cuts would cause 23 million people to lose insurance under the legislation — 14 million of those would be Medicaid patients.

Jacob Kauffman / Arkansas Public Media

The U.S. Senate plans to spend the summer writing health care legislation to repeal, replace, or tweak the Affordable Care Act. The House has passed a bill that congressional analysts say would reduce the deficit and cut 23 million people from their insurance. Arkansas Public Media’s Sarah Whites-Koditschek spoke with Senator John Boozman about his goals for health care.

Joe Thompson is CEO of the Arkansas Center For Health Improvement
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

For lawmakers, caregivers and patients  a solution to the state legislature’s multi-year process of bringing a new type of coordination to a traditional Medicaid population is set to be finalized this summer.

PASSE, or Provider-led Arkansas Shared Savings Entity, will be a new oversight entity made up of nonprofit and for-profit health providers to manage the care of the state’s medically needy Medicaid population. It includes the elderly, developmentally disabled and mentally ill. The deadline for these companies to apply to be in PASSE is June 15, according to the Department of Human Services and the Arkansas Insurance Department.

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