Private Money, Public Schools

Over the past three decades, private money has played an inreasingly important role in the funding of public schools. Despite representing just over one percent of the current school budget, non-governmental funding has given private foundations unprecedented power to steer policy and spending decisions. in the last three years, increases in private spending on education have far outpaced increases in governmental spending.

This project included a print graphic and an online version which uses jQuery, Google Fusion Tables and ProPublica’s timeline creation tool.

Student Editor Steps to the Front of the Classroom

On a recent afternoon, students in the newspaper class at the World Journalism Preparatory Institute in Queens practiced a skill familiar to professional reporters around the world: complaining about deadlines.

At the front of the room, Melissa Iachetta sat hunched over her laptop, scanning a calendar and listening to the students’ questions and concerns. After several minutes of discussion, Iachetta slowly reviewed the upcoming assignments, holding firm to the schedule she had laid out earlier but ensuring that every student knew what was required and how to accomplish their work.

“You’re upset, but not confused,” Iachetta told the class as it settled down and began working on content for the upcoming issue.

Although she frequently leads the class and stands comfortably at the front of the room, Iachetta is neither a teacher nor an adviser to the paper. She is a student, just like the 25 or so others whose stories she edits and whose problems she addresses.

Iachetta, 17, is a senior at World Journalism and the editor-in-chief of The Blazer, the school’s newspaper, which appears in print and online most months. Though she is helped behind the scenes by Starr Sackstein, the publications coordinator and newspaper adviser, Iachetta is responsible for overseeing the paper’s production, guiding the editorial board and leading a student-run publication that serves a community deeply connected to and interested in the media because of the school’s theme.

Iachetta, who has short, curly hair and, like most of her peers, dresses in subtle variations on the World Journalism uniform, is a driven leader who calls The Blazer “her baby” in casual conversation and spends at least two hours a day working on the paper. She frequently gives up her lunch period to complete work for the paper and often stays two or three hours after school to get issues ready for press.

“She juggles everything well,” said Sarah Bianchi, the paper’s features editor. “She can run the classroom and be in another room doing layout, bouncing back and forth. She makes sure everyone is on task.”

Even when she is not in school, Iachetta is focused on the paper.

Last year, before becoming the editor-in-chief, Iachetta was hospitalized briefly because of a bad case of pneumonia. Her illness kept her out of school for several days, but did not prevent her from staying involved with the paper. Iachetta remembers disobeying her doctor’s request to stay in bed in search of a computer to check her e-mail and correspond with the newspaper staff.

“She has really risen to take on responsibility in a way that I’ve seen few students willing to do,” Sackstein said.

World Journalism is a public middle and high school that opened in 2006 with the mission of using journalism and publication as a learning tool. In addition to the standard New York State curriculum, the school strives to teach its students to write and think critically by focusing instruction on creative assignments and by including journalism electives in every student’s schedule.

The paper does not just cover the most recent club meetings and student sports. It also takes on sensitive and controversial subjects, ranging from a student’s experience with anti-semitism at the school to the effectiveness of parent-teacher conferences. In the January issue, Iachetta received negative feedback from both students and teachers after writing a column calling for higher academic standards at World Journalism and fewer opportunities to make up past-due assignments.

“I like the big stories, the controversy and the people whispering and pointing to the paper,” Iachetta said. “It makes me feel accomplished. They’re not just reading something, they’re taking something away from it.”

Her efforts to stir up discussion do not go unnoticed. Faculty and students pick up each issue of the paper when it is distributed and immediately begin discussing it among themselves and giving feedback to newspaper staff members in the hallway.

Even though the administration did not agree with all the conclusions in Iachetta’s last column about tougher standards, they took her ideas seriously and will incorporate her critique into ongoing discussions about how to better reward students who perform well, said Cynthia Schneider, the founding principal of World Journalism.

“Kids here think and believe that they can change things,” Schneider said. Even when Iachetta and other members of the newspaper staff express opinions that clash with the administration, Schneider sees their willingness to speak up as a sign that the school’s educational philosophy is reaching students.

Iachetta inherited a passion for writing from her mother, who is a freelance writer, but came to journalism by chance. Before arriving at World Journalism, she had developed an interest in fictional storytelling and hoped to join the literary magazine when she entered high school. In 10th grade, when it came time to choose electives, all the spaces on the magazine were already filled so she was placed on the newspaper staff. Although she was hesitant to try a new writing style, Iachetta learned quickly and moved through the papers ranks, rising from a staff position to entertainment editor and then layout editor. Some issues, she would write as many as seven stories, making sure there was enough content to fill every page.

“I don’t really give up,” Iachetta said. “Even though I didn’t want to [be on newspaper], it improved my writing a lot, not just in newspaper but in every class. And I matured as a person through learning how to lead people and to manage a group.”

Iachetta was drawn to World Journalism because of its emphasis on writing and its small size. To get to school, she takes two buses and travels nearly an hour each way—a long commute from her home in Flushing, but one which she feels is worth the effort.

“What we’re learning here and the experience we’re getting here is a good reward,” Iachetta said. “Even in middle school, I had a feeling that I had to be better and set myself apart,” in a way that the high school in her neighborhood would not have.

With graduation just a few months away, Iachetta is looking forward to college, with an eye toward a handful of small, liberal arts institutions scattered across the East Coast from Vermont to Virginia.

Despite her passion, Iachetta does not plan to pursue journalism professionally. Instead, she is thinking about teaching, a career that would build on the hands-on role she currently plays in the newspaper classroom.

Already, Iachetta sees her role as helping to teach her peers how to be better journalists by editing carefully and avoiding mistakes.

Like Sackstein, Schneider and other World Journalism faculty members, though, Iachetta talks in a mature voice about the educational value of using the newspaper as a teaching tool, even when it means the final product will not be perfect.

“I only can correct to a certain extent,” said Iachetta. “I’m not going to rewrite anybody’s articles. I want them to learn from when they make a mistake and get embarrassed because everyone reads it. They won’t make the same mistake next time.”

Bronx Art Exhibit Makes Political Statement

Lying motionless inside a messy lean-to made from scrap metal and fallen branches, Alicia Grullon seems to fade into the background even as spectators congregate to contemplate her unmoving, bloody body.

The performance depicts the death of an unidentified illegal immigrant who was found hiding in a wooded area on Long Island in 2007 — a problem Grullon contends happens regularly.

Grullon’s performance at The Bronx Museum on Wednesday was part of the Bronx Latin American Art Biennial, a celebration of Latino culture whose exhibitions have become explicitly political in response to the charged national immigration debate.

Luis Stephenberg, one of three curators for the project, said his goal with this exhibit was to develop a deeper understanding of immigration issues. “The migration and immigration that takes place in the United States right now is an issue that has to be analyzed through sociological and political analysis, not through discrimination.”

The work is by Hispanic artists from the United States and Latin American. Most of it challenges the fear of immigrants that underlies recent developments nationwide, like a statute enacted in Arizona in April requiring immigrants to possess documentation of their legal status at all times and allowing police to stop any individual they suspect of being in the country illegally.

In addition to performances at The Bronx Museum, the biennial includes shows at the Gordon Parks Gallery, The Point and Lincoln Hospital. A fourth visual arts display will open at the Bronx ArtSpace on November 6.

Although not all of the art deals explicitly with immigration politics, several artists said that their work was informed by their experience of permanently leaving their countries or growing up as a minority in the United States.

At the Lincoln Hospital show, a bright painting by Cuban artist Jose Acosta shows a man sailing away from a tropical island.

“My painting is about leaving Cuba and coming to the U.S., looking for a better life,” said Acosta, who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 3 years old. A deep blue sky occupies much of Acosta’s canvas, which he connects to the suspense of drifting in the ocean as the shores of Cuba fade away but the American coastline is not yet visible.

To Gina Lacayo, a Honduran immigrant who attended the gallery opening, images like Acosta’s at the Lincoln Hospital gallery resonate with her experiences moving from Honduras to the Bronx and gave her pride because she had not expected to see an art exhibit in her neighborhood.

“It shows that we are trying to make it in the country,” she said.

By highlighting the cultural contributions of Hispanics, the curators hope to build the self-esteem of the Latino community against the drain of social challenges, which range from adapting to a new culture to accessing better health, education and housing.

“The goal is to show the community what Hispanics can do for the Bronx,” said Alex Mendoza, another of the show’s curators. “We try to bring positive views of the community and show that [Hispanics] can do better than what we see on the news.”

The Hispanic and Latino population of the Bronx has risen steadily over the last 20 years, making up just more than half of borough’s population in 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2000, Hispanics and Latinos represented 48 percent of the population in the Bronx; in 1990, they made up 42 percent.

The third curator is Miguel Lescano, a Peruvian artist who worked with artists from South America to solicit submissions for the biennial.

To expand the show’s reach, the exhibition at the Gordon Parks Gallery was featured as a stop on the monthly Bronx Culture Trolley, a project of the Bronx Council on the Arts.

The Bronx Latin American Art show began in 2008, and included only three gallery spaces — The Bronx Museum, Lincoln Hospital and an exhibition space at Boricua College — and featured art on the theme of history and memory.

The following year, the group organized other programs to commemorate Hispanic culture, including a theater festival, music festival and street fair, Mendoza said.

The Bronx Hispanic Festival, a non-profit group made up of five volunteers, organizes the biennial.

The festival grew out of Lincoln Hospital’s commemoration of Puerto Rican history that began 20 years ago. As the Hispanic and Latino communities in the south Bronx grew, the festival expanded its focus to reflect the changing community.

“It is our responsibility to support the development of the Latino community,” said Stephenberg. “It’s not just because we want to do it: it’s because it’s our responsibility as Latinos.”

Bibles Keep Business Moving for Bronx Tax Center

Selling things comes naturally to Lindo Fairweather, a Bronx businessman who, depending on the day and the customer, may be a tax preparer, real estate broker, bookseller or all three at once.

At the PPH Tax & Insurance Center on Boston Road in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, Bibles for sale are stacked alongside tax forms, and real estate listings hang next to bright classroom supplies. This unlikely juxtaposition of services is an attempt to boost revenue for a seasonal business looking to stay afloat during the recession.

Fairweather, an insurance broker, real estate broker and income tax preparer who owns the business, converted the front half of his storefront to a Christian bookstore last spring after his wife, an ordained Methodist minister, thought that might be a profitable way to put the unused space to work.

“We started because business was slow after tax season,” said Beverly Fairweather, Lindo’s wife and the manager of the book operation. “Nothing was happening, but things still go on and we need to pay the bills.”

Lindo Fairweather began working as an insurance broker in New York shortly after he immigrated from Jamaica in 1983. Gradually, his business expanded to include tax preparation and real estate development — now his two primary revenue streams. For the last eight months, the store has also carried a selection of religious books and classroom supplies for teachers, each sold for a small profit.

The book sales are “still in their infancy,” Lindo Fairweather says, but are increasing as people learn of the business through fliers posted at churches and word-of-mouth advertising.

Tax preparation businesses often do more than file income tax returns so they can remain active outside of the January-to-April tax season, but in most cases those supplemental services are more closely related to the business’s primary focus than the Fairweathers’ bookstore.

H&R Block, for example, keeps about a quarter of its nationwide franchises open year-round, according to spokesperson Gene King. The locations that remain open do so by offering tax planning advice, representing clients in audits and filling quarterly tax returns for clients with small businesses.

The Fairweathers are not the only Boston Road shopkeepers struggling to maintain their revenue — business along the street has been slowing for the last several months, according to several neighborhood businessmen.

“Some days you make a little bit and some days you don’t,” said Eddie Claudio, the owner of a shoe repair and beauty supply store. “You got to work, though, you got to make a living.”

Four years ago, Claudio decided to make space in his storefront for his wife to sell beauty supplies, also in an attempt to sustain revenue even when the shoe repair business was slow.

The bookstore is a part-time venture for Beverly Fairweather: during the school year she teaches sixth grade at the Immaculate Conception School. She was also ordained as a pastor in 2002 at Union Theological Seminary.

Both of those occupations focus Beverly Fairweather’s decisions when purchasing books for the store, because her religious training helps her understand what local bible study groups need.

Despite the challenging business atmosphere, both Beverly and Lindo Fairweather are upbeat about their neighborhood and committed to making the most of their opportunities.

“When you get a vision,” Beverly Fairweather says, “take it and run.”

Search Continues for Sexual Assault Prevention Coordinator

After more than two decades of discussion, efforts to create an office to lead Washington University’s sexual assault prevention efforts are picking up pace, but there remains no consensus on how soon the position will be filled.

The committee of faculty and students tasked with finding a candidate to fill the new post has scheduled two interviews for next month, despite already recommending a candidate based on three interviews earlier in the semester.

Members of the hiring committee submitted a letter to Alan Glass, the director of Student Health Services and the official directly responsible for the new position, last month after bringing three candidates to campus.

Glass would not comment on specific details of the hiring process, including why no one was hired or whether the candidates who previously visited campus remained in consideration in the ongoing search. However, he underscored the importance of finding a candidate capable of meeting the needs of stakeholders throughout the University.

“I’m very committed to finding as close to perfect a fit for this critical position,” Glass said. “Until we can find a person who at least comes close to that—in all of our opinions—my intention is to leave the search open.”

Members of the hiring committee—who were selected from the chancellor-appointed Advisory Committee on Sexual Violence and Prevention (ACSVP)—referred all questions about the process and the candidates to Glass.

Although losses in the University’s endowment have forced cost-cutting measures in many departments, school officials, including Chancellor Mark Wrighton and Vice Chancellor for Students James McLeod, have consistently expressed a commitment to the position, and by all accounts financial concerns will not impact the position in the near future.

“We’ve put a lot of effort into the development and financing of this position,” Glass said. “I’m dedicated to it moving forward, so it’s not going to dry up because money is not as free as it was a few years ago.”

Facilitating collaboration

Formally, the position will be known as the assistant director for sexual assault and community health services. When a candidate is hired, he or she will join the staff of the Habif Health and Wellness Center and will report directly to Glass.

The new position will be responsible for coordinating the University’s sexual assault prevention, education and survivor support efforts and will offer guidance to the student groups that currently deal with this issue on campus.

Because there are three different student organizations dealing with issues of sexual violence, each with a slightly different focus, there is a need for a centralized guiding presence, said senior Christopher Chesley, the co-president of Men Organized for Rape Education (MORE).

The new office will help groups “have a more effective and powerful foothold on campus” and will raise the profile of sexual assault on campus, Chesley said.

Leaders of each of the student groups involved with this issue stressed that having an institutional presence focused solely on the problem of sexual violence would open the door to more resources, greater visibility and increased stability as student leaders transition in and out of leadership positions.

“We love the work that we do, but we are limited by our resources,” said junior Maria Santos, president of the Committee Organized for Rape Education (CORE). Although the movement of students is divided into several smaller groups, Santos stressed that a University-wide staff position would help bring attention to the fact that “we are a larger group and a larger constituency that is interested in fighting sexual assault on campus.”

A long history

The first conversations about the position in the 1980s grew out of a recognition that despite a strong commitment to sexual assault prevention and education among students, faculty and staff, the University’s resources lacked the visible presence to make them easily accessible.

Initially, the University’s support network was pieced together gradually through the commitment of members of the University community.

According to Karen Levin Coburn, a now-retired staff member who served as the University’s women’s crisis counselor and the chair of the Committee on Sexual Assault (COSA) for many years, survivors of sexual violence and those in need of support were often referred to her informally by faculty members and RAs.

“There was a lot of collaboration going on on campus, but it was still not organized in any way,” Coburn said.

Over the years, efforts to prevent sexual and relationship violence grew because of initiatives led by students, faculty and staff, and many of those have remained until today. In addition to the three student groups that focus on survivor support and education, “The Date,” a required presentation during freshman orientation, began because of student lobbying and is still a student-run event.

COSA, which was replaced last year by ACSVP, submitted a yearly recommendation to then-Chancellor William Danforth highlighting the need for a staff position focused on coordinating all of the efforts under way on campus.

“Generally, my thought was that rather than have lots of specialists, that they were problems and issues for the whole campus,” Danforth said. “We were a smaller institution then, and I didn’t think it made sense to try and solve every problem with a new person in charge of something.”

The most recent push to fill the position began in 2007 in response to the violent rape of a female student in Myers Hall by a man unaffiliated with the University. That year, Student Union Senate passed two resolutions in favor of the position and students began to lobby the administration in earnest.

Those efforts sparked the University to re-recognize the importance of facing the problem posed by sexual assault, and led to a year-and-a-half-long process of writing a position statement and the ongoing interview process.

Shifting focus

During the long development of the position, its scope has shifted substantially.

Currently, the job description emphasizes responding to sexual and relationship violence as a health problem.

According to Glass, the position defines sexual assault and the risk factors associated with it in terms of a broad sense of community health—both the physical and mental well-being of the victim, as well as the ways that alcohol and other mental health problems factor into the perpetration of sexual violence.

“Although universities place these positions in different areas administratively depending on what their culture is, the logic for defining it as health certainly works for our University,” Glass said.

Across the board, those involved with the sexual assault prevention and education movement on campus stressed that whatever the mandate of the position, it was important for it to help to shape the broader conversation on campus in a way that would draw attention to the problem and help facilitate solutions.

“It’s important to remember that having this position won’t solve everything—there’s still going to be sexual assault on campus,” said senior Bobby Harvey, president of the campus Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline (SARAH). “What we can do is have more of a dialogue about it, and hopefully creating the position will help create a dialogue about it because there’s so much that people don’t know about the issues.”

In Face of Protestors, Phyllis Schlafly Stands Firm

As students and faculty flock to a group calling on the University to reverse its decision to offer prominent conservative Phyllis Schlafly an honorary degree, Schlafly is standing by controversial statements she has made in the past that have made her famous within the conservative community and infamous among liberals.

“The feminists teach women that they are the victims of an oppressive patriarchal society, which is completely ridiculous,” Schlafly said in an interview conducted earlier this week. “American women are the most privileged, fortunate class of people who have ever lived.”

Schlafly gained national prominence in the 1960s as the author of “A Choice, Not an Echo,” a book that outlines her opposition to feminism and which looked to refocus the Republican Party toward its voting base in the Midwest as opposed to the Northeast-and New York in particular-where it had previously been based.

Since then Schlafly has received attention largely for her stance on women’s rights issues, where she aligns herself with traditional values, opposing the feminist movement and its achievements.

In recent years, she has spoken out against marital rape laws, gay rights and the effort to increase the number of females in math and science programs-a movement that she says will compromise teaching standards.

“The feminists [and] the whole women’s studies movement is very disdainful of the full-time homemaker. One of the goals of the feminist movement was to drive all the homemakers out of the home,”Schlafly said. “I think one of the main reasons they hate me is that I stood up for the value and the rank of the full time homemaker.”

Many of Schlafly’s opinions have been informed by the chronology of her personal achievements, which she says contradicts the feminist telling of history.

“The idea that opportunities just opened up for women when [feminists] came along is just nonsense. I got my bachelors degree in ’44 and I got my masters degree in ’45, my mother graduated from Washington U. in 1920,” Schlafly said. “It’s a fine school, opportunities have been there, and any of my classmates could have done what I did.”

Since the 1970s when Schlafly took a leadership role in the campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment and against the societal changes caused by the feminist movement, she has drawn criticism and disdain from those who disagree with her.

“These are basic civil rights that she doesn’t agree with. Why would we offer her a degree? It makes no sense and it’s insulting,” Mary Ann Dzuback, director of the Women and Gender Studies program, said. “She wouldn’t have the voice that she has now if the world was constructed according to Phyllis Schlafly’s design.”

Most recently, in 2007, Schlafly came under fire for her comments about marital rape-specifically that it was not possible because marriage is a consent to sex.

“It is completely ludicrous that because I have said ‘I want to marry you’ that means ‘I want to have sex with you whenever you want,’” Lauren Weiss, a Women and Gender Studies major, said. “No one gives up their autonomy when they get married. Why would feminism say, ‘We want you to have autonomy, but only until you get married.’”

Schlafly has stood by the statements which she made and the way in which they were portrayed in the media at the time, continuing to argue that marital rape is a construction by feminists.

Despite being a magnet for debate on all women’s rights issues, Schlafly pays no mind to the protests that have surrounded her in the last 40 years nationwide and in the last week at the University.

“When I went to Washington U. I worked my way through college firing and testing 30- and 50-caliber ammunition and all I’ve got to say about students today is that I think they have too much extra time,” Schlafly said. “I don’t know what college students do with all your extra time, but I guess one of them is go out and protest, while somebody else is paying their fee.”

One of the points on which Schlafly clashes with her opponents regards the role of women in society as it relates to the choice of pursuing a career or working exclusively within the home to raise children and care for a family.

“It’s her choice and she’s welcome to it, but she shouldn’t put other people into that position. That was the purpose of the feminist movement, to provide women with options beyond domesticity.” Dzuback said. “To suggest that women give up any kind of public or private work life is no longer a fair expectation [because of economic constraints].”

While both sides argue that women should be able to make individual choices to determine their path, Schlafly and her supporters see strength in the traditional family structure.

“I want to devote all of my time to children once I have kids, but there are plenty of women who would disagree with that,” Charis Fisher, president of College Republicans, said. “It’s best if you choose one role, but I wouldn’t think its bad for others to make a different choice [from me].”

Schlafly chose to spend nearly 25 years raising six children after receiving degrees from both Washington University and Harvard, respectively, and briefly working in politics.

Calling herself a “sequential woman,” Schlafly argues that by entering the public sphere after raising a family she was able to devote her full attention and achieve satisfaction from both causes.

“I spent 25 years raising my six children and now I have time to run around and debate these feminists on college campuses,” Schlafly said. “I went back to Washington U. law school after I was 50 [in 1970], but I’m glad I didn’t have my six children after I was 50. [Feminists] think one of the oppressions of life is the biological clock-well, you need to deal with life the way it is. I’m very happy with all of my choices.”

In a larger sense, one of Schlafly’s lasting achievements was shaping the direction of political invective for the last thirty years. Schlafly’s positions and argument style have served a basis for that used by many other prominent political commentators until today; many point to conservative columnist Ann Coulter’s writings as an example of this trend.

According to Dzuback, the content of Schlafly’s statements is based largely on the political message she is looking to convey, and not on an accurate portrayal of the situation.

“[Her argument] is not based in research. It’s polemical. It’s largely designed to illicit knee-jerk reactions rather than spur debate,” she said. “I don’t understand why we would honor someone like that.”

-With additional reporting by Ben Sales.