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:
For evidence of the scope of Chicago’s illegal gun problem, look no further than a nondescript warehouse on the city’s far West Side, not far from some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods. There, the Chicago Police Department has packed 80,000 illegal firearms into row after row of shelves, meticulously labeled and guarded by police officers who wait for the green light to destroy them.
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 1970′s, 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.”
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
“[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.
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.
“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.
Exploring ways to write about classroom instruction
I wrote a story on small changes to New York State’s mathematics teaching and learning standards, and it quickly became one of our most viewed stories ever.
This was a big surprise. The story is not especially sexy or political, but it is one of just a few journalistic looks at a national education policy that impacts teachers in almost every state: the adoption of the Common Core Standards. The lede and nut graphs are below:
This year, Jackie Xuereb is teaching her sixth grade math students how to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators. But next year, new standards will call for students to know that information before they enter her class.
Xuereb, a sixth grade math teacher at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, is among the city math teachers preparing to swap the state’s learning standards for the Common Core this fall. And like many, she is struggling to keep the two sets of standards straight as the new standards move some topics an entire grade-level earlier than in the past.
"A lot of what used to be sixth grade standards are now taught in fifth grade," Xuereb said. "I feel that I’m going to have to be really mindful and cognizant of this in my planning for next year. The kids are going to have these huge gaps."
New York City piloted the Common Core standards in 100 schools last year and asked all teachers to practice working with them this year. Next year, every teacher in every elementary and middle school will be expected to teach to the new standards, and state tests will be based on them.
Department of Education officials have argued that a full-steam-ahead approach is required because moving slowly would deprive students of the Common Core’s long-overdue rigor. But some say that this approach will pose a special challenge for math teachers, particularly in the middle school years, as students begin learning advanced concepts that build on each other sequentially.
Since becoming an education reporters, I’ve found one of the toughest parts of the job is writing about classroom instruction. I’m not trained to observe teachers or judge their methods and I’ve never taught, so I’m trying to find creative ways to tell readers, many of whom are teachers, what others are doing in the classroom.
I split my time between Chicago—my first love, the place of dozens of friendships, loves, memories, streets and storefronts that would embrace me if they could—and New York City, ostensibly my home because it’s where I have an apartment, a job, a hopeful future.
When I am here, I am straining to meet professional expectations and embody the lifestyle traits of other college-educated 20-something women. It’s the fabled Big City life you can see mocked and aggrandized everywhere on TV right now.
When I am there, everyone wants to know how long I’ve been there, when I’m leaving, whether I have time for coffee or lunch or something else. I never have enough time but there’s always another visit lurking two to eight weeks around the corner. One friend says he sees me more now that I’ve moved out. (Maybe that’s just because I really like his company).
The question, “Are you still here?” made me feel like I was being rushed at a nice restaurant. If you divide your time between two distant points on a map, “here” is a loaded word. …
The first notable, strange thing about living in two places is that whenever you are “here,” you carry within you a “there.”…
The new Yorkers miss us at first when we leave, and greet us warmly when we return. In between, they have lives of which we are not part. Did they think of us any less than they would have if we were 20 blocks away? Maybe not, because we are still in touch by phone and email, and actually seeing someone is a rare occurrence. But maybe yes. Without really noticing the change, my wife and I had come to look at our New York friendships as hothouse flowers, lovely indulgences in need of sun and water.
Story: In pursuit of college readiness, a course about “Assimilation”
Mitch Kurz is a math teacher and a college counselor, but the lessons he teaches don’t fall neatly into either subject area.
He and I spoke recently for a story I wrote for GothamSchools about the college readiness class he teaches at a small, South Bronx public school:
"On a recent winter morning, Kurz asked students in his college readiness class to describe their dreams. On the board, he wrote, “What do your dreams mean?” followed by “Sigmund Freud” and a list of vocabulary words more typical of a Psychology 101 class: id, ego, superego.
Most of Kurz’s two dozen South Bronx juniors and seniors had not heard of these concepts before. But after a semester learning a hodgepodge of lessons from Kurz meant to ease the transition to college — covering everything from the dreidel game, to basic French, to the elevator pitch — students say they come into class expecting the unfamiliar.
The class, which Kurz calls “Assimilation,” is meant to ease the transition to college for students at the Bronx Center for Science and Math, a small school with many poor students who would be the first in their families to attend college. The school emphatically urges all graduates to enroll in college, and the vast majority do — but they suffer the same academic and financial challenges that low-income, first-generation students often face. Nationally, 89 percent of those students who enter college leave without a degree within six years.”
Increasing students’ likelihood of graduating from college has emerged as a major frontier in education policy. The city’s approach is to toughen high school preparation so students have a better shot of handling the rigor of college-level work. Others, such as the KIPP network of charter schools, believe the problem lies more in students’ capacity to handle challenges and have developed programs to bolster traits such as resilience and “grit” that seem correlated with college success.
At Kurz’s school, academic standards are important, and so is character. But Kurz adds an additional approach.
Story: Software-themed school aims to replicate Stuy curriculum for all
Computers are cool now, right? This is what the venture capitalist Fred Wilson asked me this last week, when I interviewed him about his ambitious plans to recreate the rigorous Stuyvesant High School computer science curriculum in a new, software engineering-themed public school opening this fall. Unlike Stuy, which is a hyper competitive specialized school, the Academy for Software Engineering will be “limited unscreened” which is basically education jargon for “open to any student, regardless of their academic performance.”
In Room 307 of Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School, 23 students spent a recent afternoon copying tables and number trees representing a mathematical problem-solving technique used in graphic design computer software.
The students, who all won admission to Stuyvesant by posting top scores on an entrance exam, listened raptly as their teacher, Mike Zamansky, walked them through the complex algorithm behind “seam-carving,” a process used in resizing images. Then Zamansky checked to make sure they understood.
“No problem? Seems reasonable? or ‘Huh’?” he asked, offering students the chance to signal by a show of thumbs whether they understood or needed more help. No one pointed a thumb down.
Zamansky has been teaching computer science since 1995, through a program he designed for students to follow from sophomore to senior year. Stuyvesant’s program is the only rigorous computer science sequence in the city’s public schools and one of the few in the country.
Now it is the inspiration behind a new city high school that aims to change that.
Founded by an influential venture capitalist with deep ties to the technology industry and a young principal fresh from the city’s training program, the Academy for Software Engineering will be the city’s first school to focus on software engineering. The goal is to extend the approach of Zamansky’s classes — which teach problem-solving, network communications, and programming language literacy — to any student in the city, even if they can’t make the cut for Stuyvesant or don’t even have a computer at home.
1.) I was inspired to make my first purchase on Etsy after I saw a photo on Facebook of this screenprint hanging in an acquaintance’s home:
It reads “Attention Customers, An Inbound Train Toward the Loop Will Be Arriving Shortly,” over a Chicago Transit Authority El train. It’s hanging in my living room now.
2.) A friend—or rather, the loved one of a loved one—handmade this leather bracelet and matching key chain for me to mail to another loved one. It’s a Happy Valentine’s Day—Happy Birthday—Get Well Soon, Dear—present compressed into one. They were so beautiful I had to take a grainy picture in the post office before packing them away:
“Our U.S. History textbooks stop at the Cold War. The [annual New York State] Regents exam had questions about 9/11, and I only passed it because I experienced it.”—Top student at Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School in the South Bronx, speaking at a hearing about city plans to close the school.
“We’ve always been a family, we’ve always gotten through … Regardless of what we’re called—transformation, restart, turnaround—we are continuing every day to make progress. That will continue until I’m dragged out of here.”—Principal Steven Demarco of Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in New York City, speaking on city plans to close and re-open the school through the federal “turnaround” reform model.
I think a home without books gives off an upsetting vibe somewhere between nomad and serial-killer—the gaps in the bookshelves make everything else look slightly uprooted.
I try to avoid betraying how uprooted I often feel, but in the early months of my move to New York City the absence of the books I had dutifully lugged from California to my college dorm room to my first and second apartments made me feel worse than anything else. When I had guests over I prominently displayed The City Room and The Day Kennedy Was Shot and River Town by my bed, and always apologized, like the lone shortstack of books was a character flaw.
Last week Ben sent me the penultimate box of books I left sitting on his shelves in Chicago, and finally my bookshelves are full. Every time he sends some books he has to chose which ones he thinks are most important to me.
This month it was:
The Book of Daniel by E. L. Doctorow
Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Grammar
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Wind-Up bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
New and Collected Poems of Czelsaw Milosz
The Completed Poetry of Cesar Vallejo
Real Live Nude Girl by Carol Queen
Como agua para chocolate by Laura Esquivel
He also sent me a letter. I’ve been thinking a little about the value of letters because I just got my first Letter in the Mail from The Rumpus this week, written by the hilariously insightful Margaret Cho. To have an address, and see it used, is a new comfort to me.
Ben used to write me sweet notes on index cards to accompany holiday presents and anniversaries. This time the letter came handwritten on a lose sheet of notebook paper he cribbed from one of the half-dozen “Evidence” reporter’s notebooks I have in circulation. It says:
Sheets of reporter’s notebook paper are the new index cards, dontcha know? In any event, here is a box of books for you. When I was making it—trying to figure out which of the volumes remaining in the smaller-but-still-bigger-than-I-feel-like-it-has-any-right-to-be-at-this-point pile you would most appreciate, I came across The Book of Daniel, and remembered first-year Ben in a now non existent Border’s, agonizing over what to get this bright young thing who cared about social justice and good writing. Things have changed so much since then, since we gushed back and forth at each other about Hamlet, Ulysses, Godot, but that first shared love remains, even if there’s never enough time anymore. I know we’ll share it in the future too, whether on dates to the theater or rolling awake lazily on a weekend morning to find you reading something you can’t wait to share with me. I hope this box finds you well. See you soon.
Feature story: Nonprofit takes aim at college readiness gap in city schools
This fall, Orlando Geigel used his hour-long D train commute from the South Bronx to Brooklyn to practice math problems from a review sheet to prepare for his first set of college finals. The answers were written on the back, but he waited until the end of each ride to check his work.
Geigel, a 2011 graduate of the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, rarely studied in high school, and he didn’t think much about it in college, either — until he failed his first midterm in October.
That’s when Geigel turned to Bottom Line, New York City, a branch of a 14-year-old counseling program in Boston that aims to address the challenges that lead many low-income, first-generation college students to drop out.
Nationally, 89 percent of those students who enter college leave without a degree within six years. The City University of New York reports that just 24 percent of its full-time students — mostly graduates of city high schools — receive degrees within six years of entering college for the first time.
Some of those groups place privately funded counselors inside schools. Others outsource counseling entirely — in Bottom Line’s case, to an office in Downtown Brooklyn where high school and college students come for individual guidance about applying to college and adjusting to its demands.
This year, Bottom Line is working with 125 high school seniors and 20 college freshmen. Those numbers are set to rise to 800 high school students and 850 college students in 2016.
Of the 600 students Bottom Line has supported in Massachusetts, 74 percent have graduated from college within six years, according to the organization.
The boost came not from bolstering students’ algebra or grammar skills, but by teaching them study skills and work habits that their high schools might have ignored, according to Ruth Genn, Bottom Line NYC’s executive director.
“We don’t provide tutoring, but what we do help them with is time management, understanding the syllabus,” Genn said. “If they come to us and say, ‘hey I’m having trouble with math,’ we help them find a tutoring center. It’s advising, mentoring, parenting, advocating.”
That kind of attention is exactly what Geigel said propelled him to graduate from high school — and what he missed when he arrived at the New York City College of Technology in September.
“In high school, I used to have the teachers on my back every day telling me, you, do this or I’ll call your parents, you’ll get in trouble,” he said. “In college, the professors give you the work and if you don’t do it, it’s your fault.”
He had trouble adjusting to that culture shock until he began meeting with Risa Dubow, a Bottom Line counselor, in October after a friend urged him to apply to be part of Bottom Line’s inaugural class. For the first year, Bottom Line recruited students through word of mouth, in addition to partnerships with nonprofits that manage schools and CUNY’s Center for School Support and Success.
“It’s important to talk to your professors,” Dubow told him. “They’re not always going to be on your back.”
Dubow, who previously worked as a college adviser with the Harlem Children’s Zone, also suggested he use an array of organizational and study tools he hadn’t considered before, such as reviewing his essays for grammar and coherence before submitting them to a professor, blocking out schedules for work time and free time, and renting a sociology textbook for his sociology class.
Bottom Line structures its programs around one-on-one counseling that takes place by appointment. Geigel meets with Dubow as often as three times a week, and he is also one of many students who visit the classroom-like office overlooking Brooklyn’s Borough Hall frequently to do schoolwork. He spent a recent December afternoon there studying for a sociology exam on immigration patterns in the United States.
“This place got me back on track,” Geigel said. “I think I’d be failing without it. I would think about dropping out already.”
It describes how David Friedlander and Jacqueline Smith, two 30-somethings, married in a Dumbo loft three weeks ago surrounded by not only a cohort of friends and relatives, but also loose acquaintances and strangers united by their values—sustainable living, minimalism, creative purpose.
“There was no guest list in the formal sense; the reception was open to anyone who wished to attend. Friends came, and friends of friends, whom the couple had never met. Before the ceremony in the Brooklyn bookstore, Ms. Schmidt walked into the Starbucks at Main and Front Streets and told strangers they were welcome to drop by…
Beyond any of that, though, the wedding was probably the first in the city to be held as a kind of TED conference. After the ceremony, in which chants were chanted and vows, written by the couple’s friends, were exchanged, guests sat down to a series of talks, with PowerPoint presentations, on subjects of interest to the couple — ecological efficiency, neuroscience, holistic healing. Those who did not care to listen wandered about eating dumplings and popcorn, which made up the entire nuptial meal.”
Feature story: At Columbus, students and staff grapple with looming closure
I wrote this after spending several days at Christopher Columbus High School in the East Bronx. It’s a large school with a long history in the community, but after years of fighting the city’s attempts to close the school, Columbus finally began the four year-long phase-out process this Fall. I’ll occasionally publish my GothamSchools stories here when I feel like the effort that went into them warrants some extra bragging.
“How many of you plan to go to tutoring?” Lisa Fuentes asked the crowd of Christopher Columbus High School seniors trickling into the first floor auditorium on a recent morning.
As she surveyed the thin show of hands, her voice shook. “Maybe 10? So I put thousands of dollars aside so you can have tutoring, and a handful of you are attending?”
“If you don’t start taking this seriously, this is going to be the worst graduating class of the entire history of Columbus,” she said.
In her nine years as Columbus’s principal, Fuentes has had countless, similarly tough conversations with her senior classes to remind them about uncompleted college applications, looming Regents exams, and missing course credits.
But she said she feels even more urgency this year, because she knows she is running out of time to reach the many students who are failing courses, missing credits, and chronically late to school.
That’s because this year’s crop of seniors is the third-to-last that will ever graduate from Columbus. The school is in the process of being closed because of its low performance, despite valiant efforts to fend off the city’s decision that included hearings, lawsuits, and two attempts at charter school conversion. This year, no new ninth-graders enrolled, and Columbus is scheduled to graduate its last students in 2014. It is now just one of seven schools sharing space in the four-story stone building that once housed it alone.
These photos and their stories are understated and completely inspiring: “Andrea Bruce wondered if Iraqis felt optimism as the American troops left. The answer - for those who were staying - was complicated.”
I don’t have any idea what I want to get out of this Tumblr account, and that’s a problem for it. I created it to document my journey through graduate school. But now that I’m a beat reporter for a wonderful website and permanently on-deadline, there is no point in re-posting all of my stories. Especially when I’m writing as many as six stories a week.
But I have been thinking a lot about what I want to get out of New York City, now that I’ve finally warmed to the notion that I’m here to stay, and my personal belongings have finally migrated over here from Chicago (my bike, 50-plus pounds of books, my immersion blender). The problem is, I’m usually so tired when I’m done with work that I spend most of my free time staring at the floor of my apartment trying to figure out where I’m supposed to go.
What am I supposed to be doing right now? It’s a question I always knew how to answer in college. I used to duck into the bathroom in the middle of a lecture on global warming, or Don Quijote, to take calls from my editor at the New York Times. I always had my priorities straight.
When I’m lucky, I have friends who bring me along to explore Lower East Side bars, a chef who gives me food and compliments, and an Upper West Side grandmother to visit who bears many, terrifying similarities to me and is quietly losing her mind. She still gives me the best advice, even if it’s usually, “Get your feet off the sofa!” This is how I fill my time, but there’s not much intention behind it.
My work life is the one place where I’m starting to feel un-lost. I think that’s because I’m doing meaningful work.
I say this in part because I don’t need anyone to convince me that journalism can be a great calling in at least as many ways as it can be an echo-chamber of sniping and shallowess. And I also say this because the type of journalism I get to do means something to people in government and the teachers in the classroom—our readers. And it means something to me—how cool is that?
Here’s an example of a story I’m pretty proud to have told. A few weeks ago, GothamSchools published a series of stories about a recently-opened high school in Queens that was facing some debilitating administrative problems. My story brought more attention to the school, where the Chancellor’s daughter works, and city officials said they’d take action.
On November 15, after my editor received some emails from people at the school, I made some phone calls and ran out to Queens to cover a PTA meeting. The next day I wrote this story:
A year-old Queens high school that expanded to meet community demand is struggling under the weight of its own ambitions.
Located in a suburban section of Queens, Queens Metropolitan High School promised rich course offerings and a rigorous academic program to its 650 ninth- and 10th-grade students. But the ambitious plans left little room for error, and because of staff changes, space issues, and poor planning, Queens Metropolitan students have gotten new schedules as many as 10 times since September.
On Monday, up to three periods of classes were canceled for many 10th-grade students, who sat in the auditorium and cafeteria as administrators feverishly worked to hash out new schedules, according to accounts from parents, students, and staff… (Click the headline to read more.)
On November 17, Department of Education officials discussed the story at their monthly Panel for Education Policy meeting (this is why I love covering local government):
The agenda for tonight’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting, held in Queens, contained just two topics: School locations and the Department of Education’s financial contracts.
But it was scheduling crises at two Queens high schools that dominated most of the meeting at Astoria’s Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts, drew just a few dozen parents.
We reported this week that Queens Metropolitan High School had revised students’ schedules as many as 10 times this year amid an organizational crisis. Last month, NY1 reported that thousands of students at Long Island City High School were enraged after the school changed their schedules midyear.
Tonight, Department of Education officials vowed to repair the damages. Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who stepped in at Queens Metropolitan on Wednesday, called the debacles “rare” and vowed that they “will not be repeated.”
How does the shape of a polygon change as one of its angles widens? What is an “acute angle”? Do you need help using a protractor?
These are questions Aisha Chappell wishes she could individually ask each of her 33 tenth-grade geometry students when they split into small groups to perform a hands-on project about angles and symmetry.
In the past, it would have been a challenge for Chappell to circle her classroom at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School and address each of her students’ needs during individual or group work time. But this year Chappell has three teaching assistants to navigate the room with her. Read More…
To shake middle schools from mediocrity, the city is turning to school reform strategies it considers tried and true.
In the next two years, the Department of Education will close low-performing middle schools, open brand-new ones, add more charter schools, and push more teachers and principals through in-house leadership programs, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today in a 30-minute policy speech, the first of his six-month tenure. Read More…
As a Bronx elementary school principal, Drema Brown routinely encountered students who were struggling to complete schoolwork without adequate health care, a stable address, or even electricity.
Challenges like those held Brown back from boosting academic achievement. Even worse, she said, she couldn’t solve the problems wrought by poverty, either.
“I might take it for granted that I can just take my daughter to an eye doctor’s appointment and I have insurance that is going to get her that $300, $400 pair of glasses. But sometimes in a school something as simple as that could languish for an entire school year,” said Brown, who headed P.S. 230 in the South Bronx’s District 9 from 2003 to 2007.
Now a top official at the Children’s Aid Society, the 158-year-old social services provider, Brown is leading an experiment in integrating health and social services into a school setting. Children’s Aid is set to open its charter school in the Morrisania section of the Bronx next fall. The Board of Regents formally approved the school’s charter earlier today. Read more…
The Department of Education gave out temporary assignments yesterday to nearly 2,000 teachers who are on the city payroll but who do not have permanent jobs in schools.
That didn’t stop dozens of teachers from lining up outside the Brooklyn Museum yesterday afternoon for one of the last hiring fairs before school starts next week. Unlike other job fairs held by the city this summer, this fair was intended only for teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers whose positions were cut, mostly due to budget cuts or school closures. Read more…
The street was lined with spectators and I could hear the wave of surprise as I passed; they were talking excitedly and exclaiming with amazement …
And I thought: Not today. If you’re looking for people who are out of their country, out of place, out of step, out of shape, awkward, clumsy; if that’s what you’re looking for, look back there. Look for the ones who started too fast, or the men who have smoked too many Magnificent Sound cigarettes, or the people who are wearing too many clothes and are choking with heat and sweat. Don’t look at me—I’ve been doing this for many years in many places, and always it has been exactly the same. There are no referees, no language barriers, no complicated rules of etiquette. All you do is run.
”—Peter Hessler, on running a race in China, in his memoir River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze
An official for the union that represents most of the hundreds of city school staff facing layoffs this fall said the cuts would amount to mere “chump change” for the Department of Education.
The vast majority of the employees are part-time and earn between $12 and $27 thousands per year with their pensions, including benefits, according to Santos Crespo, president of Local 372 for District Council-37, which represents the workers. He made the comments this evening on WBAI, 99.5 FM Radio. Read More…