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Before I left for vacation in Connecticut, I wrote this RedEye story on the warehouse where Chicago’s police force stores the illegal guns it seizes from the streets:

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Bisexuality and the New York City mayoral race

I was never planning on coming out to my old coworkers as queer. From the scattered, disapproving comments some of them made about my butch-of-center gender presentation, or my apparently open relationship of five years with my partner, Ben, it was clear they didn’t want to hear about it. 

But the day before I left my last job in December, PolitickerNY ran this story about mayoral hopeful and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s wife. The article’s entire focus is her ambiguous sexuality; because she plays a prominent role in de Blasio’s campaign for mayor of New York City, the author argues, her sexuality is fair game for public discussion.

“I am a lesbian,” de Blasio’s now-wife, Chirlane McCray, wrote in the September 1979 edition of Essence Magazine when she was 24 years old. The article goes on to explain how McCray was also a member of the Combahee River Collective, a group of black, lesbian feminist writers active in the 70s.

 McCray did not respond to request for comment on the story before it ran, but an hour after it was published a spokesperson told another publication, on her behalf: “In the 1970s, I identified as a lesbian and wrote about it. In 1991, I met the love of my life, married him.”

But this answer seemed unsatisfying to the PolitickerNY reporter. He wrote: “It is unclear how she transitioned from a self-described lesbian who was confident that she “had always been more attracted to women, both emotionally and physically, than to men” to a political wife in a heterosexual marriage.”

It was unsatisfying to one of my coworkers, too, who was plugging away at the computer next to me when he pinged me a link to the article. 

What do you think about this? He asked through our in-house chat system. I don’t know why this is news, I launched back. Journalists love shooting each other down by telling themselves a story isn’t really “journalism,” and isn’t really “news.” 

Read More

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Chicaaaaago!

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Heads up, Internet stalkers, I’m about to reveal a lot about my life that you already know. 

First of all, I’m no longer living in New York City. That’s been true since March, when I handed my keys over to my ex-roommate and his subletter (and that’s a tale of woe not fit for the Internet, but proof in my mind that the only thing tougher than moving to New York City is trying to leave, because believe me, she wants to squeeze from your throat every last drop of money she can get) and shipped off to New Haven, and then Chicago.

Why did I move, when I was covering big national issues, an open mayoral race, and homicide for the Wall Street Journal, of all places? Was it because New York was eating my soul alive like a bath of hydrochloric acid—you know, the reason your middle school chemistry class had a shower? Yeah, that’s part of it.

But the bigger reason I moved is because I got a job as a staff reporter for the Chicago Tribune’s free daily, the RedEye. I started in March, and since then I’ve been covering everything from vehicular hijacking to water quality in Lake Michigan, from the war on interns to night club safety.

You can find my work in the RedEye and on the website, and in the Chicago Tribune.

The work is challenging, hilarious, and unlike anything I’ve ever done before.  The office culture? Sometimes fun and irreverent, sometimes all-business. And we had a float in the 2013 Pride Parade! Believe me, this is a far cry from the homo/transphobic work environment I was stuck in a year ago today.

And the city? It’s as beautiful as ever, and it feels more like home every day.

Last month I went camping with a big group of Chicagoans I love very much. I came home from the weekend trip floaty and content, telling everyone how joyful it feels to be back.

"But you are staying, right?" one friend asked me when I got back to the city. His question struck me because yes, there was a chance I wasn’t going to stay, but I thought I’d done a good job of hiding my doubts. I was surprised he could tell that I was still struggling to come to terms with my decision, because moving is never easy. Would returning to Chicago be an act akin to waking up from a nightmare, or returning from an epic ordeal, or would it only be an escape from reality? 

I’m still not sure which of these scenarios is the true one. But time is up, I have to choose, and I chose you, Chicago. Let’s play the long game together.

Happy Fourth of July! 

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It’s fucking awesome. Please go look at it now!

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24mag:

I’ve known Sara Eileen Hames for about five years—but only Internet Explorer knows when exactly I first became aware of her presence in the world, right around the time I was 18 and first becoming aware of a lot of things.

Even though I didn’t even meet her until a year ago, and didn’t even know…

(Source: thisis24cc)

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If you are reading this, you deserve an update

I’m in transit a lot these days. I’m in Connecticut and Chicago and all over New York City.  I’m also in the Wall Street Journal. And that’s where you’ll be able to find me until I settle down again.

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Tracking the city’s education policy promises

In the Atlantic's profile of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he touted a system for tracking how well elected officials fulfill their campaign promises by the end of their terms. Then he said the news media don’t do enough of this:

And the thing that I find the most frustrating is that the Fourth Estate never picks up on it. They’ll write a story about those things that you said were a dumb idea, or those things that didn’t work, and never give you any credit for the other things. And never hold other elected officials to task. 

Recently, GothamSchools did just that with Bloomberg’s school policies for the 2011-2012 academic year. We looked at every policy promise made by Bloomberg or top Department of Education officials in the past year and wrote about how much had been accomplished, started, tabled, and pushed aside. Here are parts 1, 2, and 3.

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I am extremely fortunate. Hurricane Sandy left Harlem more or less undisturbed—save a few fallen trees and tree parts. I took this photo today at 145th Street and Edgecombe Avenue. My thoughts are with those in places that unfortunately suffered much worse damage.

I am extremely fortunate. Hurricane Sandy left Harlem more or less undisturbed—save a few fallen trees and tree parts. I took this photo today at 145th Street and Edgecombe Avenue. My thoughts are with those in places that unfortunately suffered much worse damage.

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Portrait of a Manhattan high school in crisis

This GothamSchools story has everything: missing classes, mixed up schedules, poor leadership, a music room turned into a dump for thousands of unused books, and high school students wielding toilet plungers. I spent a full week visiting the school and interviewing dozens of students and staffers to get the story:

Manhattan’s long-struggling High School of Graphic Communication Arts was supposed to turn a corner this year. But instead, students and staff throughout the school say a recent string of poor leadership decisions is threatening the school’s ultimate fate.

The toilet plungers that students were told to wield as hall passes last month — until the Department of Education ended the practice — are a distressing symbol of much larger problems at the school, they say.

A month into the school year, longstanding programs are in disarray, materials and personnel are languishing unused, and many students have had such inconsistent schedules that their teachers say they have learned far less than they should have by now.

“They are all so off-track right now that the first projects we have, I can’t really truly grade them as I normally would,” one teacher said about students. “I’m going to have to try to make up the knowledge somehow, but I don’t know how yet. They should be much further along than they are now.”

GothamSchools spoke with nearly a dozen newly hired and veteran staff members under the condition of anonymity, as well as other people close to the school. The staffers span the school’s grade levels, program offerings, and organizational hierarchy.

All said that the ultimate responsibility for the problems should fall on Principal Brendan Lyons, who took over at the school last year and was the department’s pick to lead it through “turnaround.” The aggressive overhaul process for 24 schools was halted this summer after an arbitrator ruled the city’s plans violated its contract with the teachers union. Read the rest here.

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One morning in a OneGoal class at a Chicago high school I watched as the school’s college counselor ran through a list of increasingly obscure scholarships.

"Is anyone here Greek?" she asked. Twenty-five black and Latino faces looked back at her skeptically. "Do we have any multiracial students?" she asked hopefully.

"Yeah," replied one impeccably dressed African American boy, deadpan. "South Side black and West Side black."

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— from Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed.

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This is what I look like without an editor

I thought I would use the summer lull in schools news to catch up on stories that didn’t make it to publication during the 2011-2012 school year.

I thought there would be a summer lull in news. But the city and state Education Departments had other plans, releasing a string of announcements on Thursday and Friday afternoons when most people were on vacation or wrapping up for the day, anyway.

This happened on Thursday, August 30—a day schools were closed and GothamSchools wasn’t even planning to publish. I was the only person in our office when the state announced a new list of struggling schools that could get the axe if they don’t make dramatic changes to improve.

We’ve heard this story before, with the No Child Left Behind Law’s list of  ”Schools in Need of Improvement,” the list of “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools,” and the shortlist of “turnaround” schools the city says are so bad, it would funnel millions of federal dollars to them if it could. 

So I had a lot of backstory to learn in just a few hours to make the 9:05 p.m. deadline for or evening digest email, and a frantic transcript of a 45 minute-long conference call with state officials to decipher.

I didn’t have an editor for this story, but I did have the last-minute help of one of my coworkers, who shared the byline. I think we nailed the news. And even though it went up during the school year’s true doldrums, it racked up 68 comments from readers.

But a month later I’m still struggling to figure out what will change (if anything) for the schools involved.

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"[What are the mistakes you make?] First of all, nonsense characterization. The dullest, wet-noodle characteristics and behaviors and thoughts and interests are ascribed to the characters. These 80-year-old, left-in-the-sun newspaper-brittle conflicts—where the conflicts are so ridiculously subatomic that you have to summon all the key members of CERN to detect where the conflict in this piece is. It just goes on, man. You know, I force it, and by forcing it, I lose everything that’s interesting about my work."

— Junot Díaz, interviewed in the New York Times Magazine issue on inspiration.

(Source: The New York Times)

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Story: Instruction is key to new charter school’s construction effort

When Ife Lenard and her crew first entered the third-floor classrooms that will house the Children’s Aid Society Charter School this fall, they found a dusty rotary phone, a decades-old beer can, and lockers coated with grime from years of middle-schoolers’ use.

But Lenard, the founding principal, can already envision how the classrooms — now gutted — will look come September, when the school opens to 130 kindergarten and first-graders in a South Bronx public school building.

That vision includes lots of floor rugs and tables for small-group activities, computer stations, fall colors such as “squash yellow,” a terrarium, and an aquarium, Lenard said as she led a procession of Children’s Aid Society officials, clad in bright orange hard hats, including director Richard Buery, on a walking tour of the school earlier this week.

But the vision also requires some big changes, including rewiring classrooms and demolishing a wall that separates two rooms.

Lenard has overseen the fledgling charter school’s $130,000 construction process since June, when the building’s two other schools, I.S. 318 and P.S. 211, ceded half of the third floor. The renovations, which the Children’s Aid Society is paying for, have allowed her to add interior decorator to the many roles she has taken on since she was named principal in late March and began hiring teachers and recruiting families.

Read more…

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I’m learning to love New Haven, Conn, one three-mile, uphill run through East Rock Park at a time.
If Ben has his way, I’ll probably be spending a lot of my weekends up there. And if I have my way, those weekends will involve this running route.

I’m learning to love New Haven, Conn, one three-mile, uphill run through East Rock Park at a time.

If Ben has his way, I’ll probably be spending a lot of my weekends up there. And if I have my way, those weekends will involve this running route.

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"One of the first projects they do in math is measure the school. It causes them to go all over the building, so the first day in September, one out of three kids in every ninth grade class will know where the next room is. We want to alleviate a lot of that fear of the unknown."

—Phil Weinberg, the principal of Brooklyn’s High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology.

Like many city principals, he tries to offer a summer program to incoming ninth graders to give them a jump start on the transition from middle to high school. But funding the program is always a struggle, and only about a third of his incoming class can participate. 

(Source: gothamschools.org)