Carmen Fariña and her new staff haven’t had much time to get to know one another. Appointed chancellor just a week ago, Fariña has technically been on the job less than three days, one of which was a day when schools closed due to a snow storm.
On Monday, an extended introduction yielded a strong sense of the new boss’s personality, but not many details about her staffing and policy plans.
Fariña referred to the Department of Education employees gathered in the Tweed Courthouse rotunda —many of whom don’t know for sure that they’ll have the same jobs a month from now—as “my army” and stressed the idea of teamwork to the masses.
“I was worried where is my army, but here you are,” she said, and seemed surprised at the size of the crowd.
Fariña said she plans to stop by every cubicle in the department by Friday. “I want to know what you do and how you do it.”
But she didn’t hint at what she plans to do with that information and seemed to play it safe by focusing on process rather than policy. She spoke in general terms in discussing challenges ahead in the department.
In her remarks, Fariña reinforced what she’s said would be her focus as the new boss of the school system: collaboration, communication and restoring “joy” in the classroom.
She said that along with her chief of staff, Ursulina Ramirez, she plans to make herself to staff available every other Friday from 8-9 for anything they want to discuss, including both what’s working and what’s not.
“Bring me good news one in a while, okay guys?” said Fariña, who struck a light-hearted tone that was reflected in the crowd’s mood.
She told people not to be surprised if she calls them in for meetings with people they don’t know or never expected to work with — a process she said was already under way.
Other tasks that have kept her busy through her tenure’s first official 72 hours: visiting schools, amassing entire books worth of her growing to-do list and sitting down for one-on-one conversations and cubicle visits with her leadership team.
Kathleen Grimm, who introduced Fariña, worked with Bloomberg-appointed chancellors for three terms and, like many of her colleagues, has had to adjust overnight to her new boss’s style and policy goals. Grimm alluded to that adjustment when she said that she and Fariña “didn’t always agree on everything,” when Fariña was a deputy chancellor, but that she learned from working with Fariña and believes the rest of the department will he learned from working with Fariña and believes the rest of the department will “learn a great deal from her.”
Fariña’s talk left many questions unanswered, including speculation about who among the department’s top leadership will stay and who will go. Fariña was not made available for questions from reporters.
Reiterating a distaste for formal titles, Fariña reminded her staff to call her Carmen. But in a joking nod to the challenges ahead—and to the fact that interactions may not always be characterized by such ease—Fariña added “if I have a look on my face that says I’ve been through hell and back, maybe that’s not the time to call me Carmen.”
She ended by emphasizing her resistance to following someone else’s script. “I don’t write my speeches,” she said, holding up a neon post-it note she brought with her to the podium. “The first time they gave me a three page speech I ripped it up.”
For months, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew withheld his union’s support for Bill de Blasio’s tax hike proposal to fund pre-kindergarten.
Back in August, when Mulgrew was campaigning for de Blasio’s rival Bill Thompson, he argued that the real problem with expanded pre-kindergarten wasn’t the amount of funding, but the way it was targeted. Last month, he said he needed to see the finer details of de Blasio’s plan before throwing his lobbying muscle behind the tax-hike, which is not supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Those details still aren’t fleshed out, but Mulgrew said today that he’s seen enough to have been convinced. Standing with a host of other labor leaders at a press conference in a vacant pre-K classroom in East Harlem, Mulgrew pledged to lobby state lawmakers who are showing the same kind of tepid support for de Blasio’s proposal that he once did.
“The nuts and bolts of this is really what our concern was,” said Mulgrew, who added that a meeting with de Blasio’s staff changed his mind. “You could really tell … that they really have engaged themselves in a meaningful way to try to not just figure out the funding source, but figure out how to make this work for the entire city.”
The union-backed support for de Blasio’s plan could be a big boost for the mayor, who campaigned on a promise to expand full-day pre-kindergarten access to as many as 50,000 children. He spent much of his transition period as the mayor-elect touting the plan and lining up allies to publicly support it.
The tax plan, which would also fund a longer school day for middle school students, taxes New York City residents earning more than $500,000 and would yield an estimated $530 million annually.
The tax hasn’t been embraced by Cuomo, a Democrat, or state Senate Republicans, and they could be hard to sway in an election year where they are stressing efforts to lower the cost-of-living for New Yorkers. Cuomo hammered home that point this morning in a press conference that overlapped with de Blasio’s.
At the press conference, Cuomo said he supported the idea of expanded pre-K, but once again declined to endorse de Blasio’s vision for funding it. Cuomo is scheduled to lay out his legislative agenda for the year on Wednesday when he delivers his fourth state of the state address.
Mulgrew joins a growing list of Democrats to convert from skeptics to supporters of de Blasio’s plan now that the candidate has become mayor. Last month, both state Senator Diane Savino and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten reversed their critiques of de Blasio’s proposal. Like Mulgrew, both had endorsed Bill Thompson during the primary.
In August, just weeks before the primary election, Mulgrew praised Republican state Senator John Flanagan and the rest of the state legislature for providing adequate pre-K funding. But he said that some couldn’t be used because it was designated for half-day seats, an inconvenience for working parents.
“How many millions of dollars are sent back to the state that are allotted for pre-K every year?” Mulgrew said at an August panel, directly addressing Flanagan. “So when everyone talks about expanding it, we’re not even utilizing the very tax dollars that you guys are sending to the districts.”
De Blasio went on to win both the Democratic primary and general election by wide margins, and polls have shown widespread support for his tax plan.
Following Thompson’s loss in the primary, Mulgrew quickly switched the UFT’s endorsement to de Blasio. Mulgrew said that his skepticism about de Blasio’s pre-K proposal was based on decades of promises from politicians to expand pre-K with little to show for it.
“We’ve heard about it for generations and we think we are at a moment in time where we can actually get it done,” Mulgrew said today.
De Blasio said that he had no intentions to back off his proposal once budget negotiations get underway in the coming weeks.
“We will pass this tax in Albany to guarantee full-day pre-K for every child in the city, to guarantee after school for every middle school child,” de Blasio said. “I will repeat it and repeat it and repeat it again until it’s done.”
First, we’re relaunching our website to reflect our new name and network on Jan. 7 — just a few days from now. We previewed what articles will look like last month, and you’ll find many more new features next week.
We’ll celebrate our relaunch Jan. 16 at an event hosted by our Reader Advisory Board, a small group of dedicated readers who give us feedback and advice — and plan us parties. Here’s what Sanda Balaban, a member of the advisory group, says about the event:
Celebrate the inauguration of a new year, a new mayor, a new educational leader, and GothamSchools’ new incarnation as Chalkbeat New York!
The Chalkbeat New York Reader Advisory Board hopes you will join us for an interactive happy hour salon on Jan. 16 to discuss promises, possibilities, and potential pitfalls during this transition for the city’s schools. … We look forward to facilitating the best conversations about education you’ll have had in 2014.
The happy hour will be at Professor Thom’s (212 Second Ave. between 13th and 14th streets in Manhattan) from 5-7 p.m. on Jan. 16. Please RSVP.
Finally, on Jan. 22 we’re co-hosting an event with the Center for Teaching Quality, where local educators will discuss ”Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave,” a book that the center published last year. Stephen Lazar, Ariel Sacks, and Jose Vilson, city teachers whose thoughts have all appeared on GothamSchools before, will make the case for new roles for teachers in a discussion moderated by our community editor, Emma Sokoloff-Rubin. Stay tuned for more details about that event soon.
A day after Mayor Bill de Blasio used his inaugural speech to double down on his promise of progressive change for the city, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña offered a more moderate vision of what is in store for the school system.
After touring a successful South Bronx middle school on her first school day on the job, Fariña told reporters Thursday that she would devote new attention to middle schools and parents, citing two of de Blasio’s education priorities.
But she also tried to tamp down expectations — and perhaps concerns — about some of the new mayor’s other campaign-trail pledges.
She said she does not oppose charter schools and will work to adjust how the city uses test scores but not necessarily to reduce the amount of testing that students endure. And she said that any staff changes she makes will be within “the framework that existed,” signaling that she does not intend to overhaul the Bloomberg-era Department of Education overnight.
“My job is to come on board and calm the waters,” Fariña told reporters when asked about changes she might make to the series of state standardized tests students will take this spring. She said about charter schools: “There are some I love to death.”
After spending more than four decades in schools as an educator and administrator, she also appeared to be adjusting to the sudden scrutiny of her views on a wide range of school policies and how she might alter them.
“Guys, give me a break. Remember, it’s my first day on the job,” she told the reporters crowded into a classroom at M.S. 223 The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology. As the briefing ended, she asked the press to call her Carmen, since “the word chancellor kind of gives me the shivers.”
In a forum for mayoral candidates last year, de Blasio promised to “put the standardized testing machine in reverse.” On Thursday, Fariña suggested that students will continue to take many of the same standardized tests, most of which are mandated by state and federal law, but that the city may rely less on the scores when making important decisions, such as school and teacher ratings and student promotion.
“I think it’s what we do with the test results that matters, versus the tests themselves, because life is full of testing,” she said.
Fariña did not suggest how she might enact de Blasio’s charter schools proposals — to charge some rent or to stop new ones from moving into existing school buildings — but simply said students in all types of schools are important.
She offered her support of the Common Core standards, saying that some of the resistance to the more challenging standards has been due to misunderstandings. But she added that officials had not done enough to guide educators as they adopted them, alluding in particular to problems with the delivery of Common Core-aligned materials to schools.
“It doesn’t seem fair to me that teachers, with all the other things they have to do, have to be inventing the curriculum as they go along,” she said, promising more training and explicit instructions about how to teach them, as well as more information for parents.
Some education department staff will likely be replaced, Fariña suggested, but added that “any changes will be very comfortable within the framework that already existed.” Asked whether she would retain Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s instructional chief who was considered a possible chancellor candidate due to his deep knowledge of the school system, Fariña said that no personnel decisions have been made yet.
Fariña said she had a busy first day, where she drank lots of coffee, skipped lunch, and met with current staffers to talk about ways to “duplicate” their policy successes.
She said she chose to visit M.S. 223 — one of the first new schools created by the Bloomberg administration — because of its “devoted teachers” and because its principal, Ramón González, had added arts, after-school and summer programs to the school partly by securing private funding.
But she also wanted to signal her focus on middle schools, arguing they play an outsize role in preparing students to succeed — or struggle — in high school and beyond.
“I really believe if we get middle school right, the rest is going to be a piece of cake,” Fariña, promising to visit more of the schools and to share the practices of their most successful principals.
González – who has been adept at using media attention to attract donors for the school’s supplemental services and facilities – said in an email that he considered Fariña a mentor and was “extremely proud” she decided to visit Thursday. He said that in a closed-door meeting they discussed how the school found funding and support to add 400 extra school hours over three years and “ways to share best practices and sustain them.”
M.S. 223 shares a building with South Bronx Preparatory, a grade 6-12 school that has earned high marks on city progress reports. Some staff there said they were disappointed that the new chancellor did not also visit their school Thursday.
“It’s a missed opportunity for her,” said Taneesha Crawford, the school’s parent coordinator.
A Department of Education spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Carmen Fariña started her first school day as chancellor with an 8 a.m. photo opportunity at the Department of Education’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse.
Before heading in to start moving the department in a new direction, Fariña told reporters that she had chosen the first “book of the month” for her administration: “I Will Make Miracles,” a children’s book that she had adapted with a piece of tape to be called “We Will Make Miracles.”
Fariña will end the day by making the call about whether to close schools Friday for the winter storm that could drop nearly a foot of snow on the city overnight. The decision will surely be fraught: Closing schools on her second day in charge isn’t an ideal move, but neither is asking students and teachers to undertake treacherous commutes for an impossible-to-use day, as former Mayor Bloomberg did in early 2011.
In between, she’ll will visit a Bronx school that in some ways embodies the challenges that she faces. M.S. 223, the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology, has earned city accolades — and a New York Times profile — for its efforts to serve low-income middle schools, many of whom do not speak English at home.
The Bloomberg administration, which opened the school in 2003, gave M.S. 223 permission to expand and included it in several hallmark initiatives, and Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited as well.
But at the same time, Principal Ramon Gonzalez has not been shy about speaking out against policies that he does not support — policies that Fariña’s administration could revisit. This spring,Gonzalez told an audience that he wanted to see corrections to this year’s tougher state tests, which he said induced some of his students to vomit out of anxiety.
“I wonder who was at that table, who wrote the standards, because it sure wasn’t folks like me,” Gonzalez said about the Common Core standards that the state and city adopted last year.
Fariña praised Gonzalez in her speech accepting the appointment, calling him a “phenomenal principal … who doesn’t take no for an answer.”
“He believe that arts is an avenue for kids in high-poverty areas to get excited about summer school and after-school. And those are the kinds of people we want,” she said. “We don’t want principals who follow the rules. We want principals who create their own and move us forward.
Fariña has also praised the Common Core standards, which are meant to propel students toward college readiness, but is certain to bring her literacy expertise to bear when scrutinizing the curriculum choices that the Bloomberg administration made to help schools transition to them.
Read more about the big questions that Fariña faces and how her experience might influence her answers in our analysis from Monday, when Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed the veteran educator to run the city’s schools.
Patrick Wall contributed reporting.
On the big changes at City Hall and the Department of Education:
In other news you missed over break:
New York City’s biggest education news of 2013 took place on the penultimate day of the year, when Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio named the chancellor who will take the school system away from the Bloomberg era.
Stories about Carmen Fariña’s appointment haven’t had time to rack up much traffic yet, but her name does appear in one of the most read stories on GothamSchools this year — in a list of people who might end up running the city’s schools. The rest of the list of most-read stories similarly reflect our readers’ interest in changes that affect the entire city: to tests and grading, teacher evaluations, and City Hall leadership.
Here’s the full list. Leave a comment with your suggestion of stories that should have made this list, or your prediction for news items that will land on this list next year. Happy 2014!10. April 17: “On second day of new tests, time crunch seen as major issue“
If students post low scores on the sections of the state reading test administered today, it might be in part because many could not finish in the allotted time.
According to teachers who proctored today’s English language arts exams, the time allowed — 70 minutes in third and fourth grades and 90 minutes in fifth through eighth grades – simply wasn’t enough for many students, especially given the critical thinking that the tests required.9. June 1: “State releases outline of evaluation system it’s imposing on NYC“
Student surveys, observation options for teachers, and a role for educators at each school are part of the city’s new teacher evaluation system, which State Education Commissioner John King is imposing today.8. April 3: “Leonie Haimson exits public school parenting but not advocacy“
Leonie Haimson’s career as a New York City education activist started when her older child was assigned to a first-grade class with 28 other students. That was in 1996, and since then, Haimson has advocated for public school parents — through her organization, Class Size Matters; the blog and online mailing lists she runs; and the national parent group she helped launch.
But her personal stake changed last summer, when Haimson ceased to be a public school parent. Her younger child started at a private high school in September, following a trajectory from public to private school that her older child, now an adult, also took.7. March 15: “Fewer black and Hispanic students admitted to top high schools“
During a year when the racial composition of the student bodies at the city’s most selective high schools came under harsh new scrutiny, the number of black and Hispanic students admitted to the schools fell sharply.6. June 18: “Serious glitches with electronic grading delay Regents scores“
A slew of glitches in the city’s electronic grading for Regents exams have delayed scores for several subjects, just days before high schools are set to begin holding graduation ceremonies.
The problems represent at best a significant inconvenience and cost and at worst a threat to students’ scores and graduation status, according to educators with knowledge of the grading process.5. Bill de Blasio’s page on our mayoral tracker Charter school with a special ed focus to teach social skills to all“
The only charter school in the city to have a special focus on serving high-functioning children with autism, Neighborhood Charter offers a program inspired by the ASD Nest model that the Department of Education launched in 2003 and now runs at 23 of its schools. One of the highlights of Neighborhood Charter’s program is the social skills class, where the school speech pathologist, along with those students’ teachers, show students how to take turns, work collaboratively, express themselves, and handle disappointment.3. Oct. 2: “Five people who could be the next chancellor of NYC schools“
Recent history shows that predicting a chancellor is a guessing game for those outside the inner circle: Three of the last four schools chiefs — Harold Levy, Joel Klein, and Cathie Black — were plucked from outside the world of education and came as a surprise to education observers at the time.
Still, as the leadership transition nears, names have started circulating about likely candidates to be de Blasio’s chancellor pick. Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who has stated repeatedly he intends to leave with the administration, seems to have taken himself out of the running.
We’ve sorted through the rumors and political jockeying to handicap several strong contenders.2. June 20, 2012: “At long last, state releases Common Core-aligned test questions“
Educators sweating the state’s shift from old to new learning standards have received their first clues to what new tests will look like.
Teachers across the state opened their email inboxes Tuesday to an announcement from State Education Commissioner John King: Sample test items are now available.1. Our mayoral opinion tracker, The Next Education Mayor
The populist poetry of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s campaign has officially entered prose mode with his appointment of Carmen Fariña as chancellor.
Fariña is a longtime educator who was a teacher, principal, superintendent, and instructional chief during her four-decade career in the city schools. After a seven-year retirement, she returns as chancellor to confront the pressing policy issues that face the nation’s largest school system.
Her appointment came with a pledge of a “progressive agenda” but few details about her positions on specific policy issues. Yet in the coming months, Fariña will have to bring her extensive experience to bear on thorny terrain that includes union contracts, charter schools, universal pre-kindergarten, struggling schools, curriculum, and much more.
Below, we run through a few of the education conundrums de Blasio and Fariña must confront — and some answers they might consider — as they begin the messy work of governing.
How should the city provide universal pre-K?
De Blasio’s central campaign pledge — to fund full-day pre-kindergarten for all New York City children by taxing the city’s highest earners — is both tricky and ambitious.
On the funding front, de Blasio must either convince Republican legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign off on his proposal to raise income taxes for the city’s top earners, or figure out another way to generate $530 million over five years to pay for the pre-K expansion.
Fariña will likely leave the negotiations to de Blasio’s political staff. But if the money comes through, she’ll play a major role in figuring out how to provide full-day preschool to about 50,000 additional four-year-olds. Where will they go? Who will teach them? And what will they learn?
Fariña was already proposing space solutions months ago, suggesting at a public forum that real estate developers be required to build early childhood education centers that would also serve as community centers for middle school students. Underused city school buildings, out-of-use Catholic schools, public-housing community centers, and local nonprofits could also all potentially host the new pre-K seats.
Fariña’s résumé suggests that she would pay close attention to the quality of the instruction offered by the new programs. But while there are successful early childhood programs that could be mined for curriculum, finding and training people to staff the programs could be a steep challenge, in part because pre-K teacher pay can lag nearly $19,000 behind that of a starting kindergarten teacher.
Setting up the sites and hiring the teachers so that the expansion starts by next September, as de Blasio has promised, will not be easy.
“Realistically, getting that done in a year strikes me as extremely optimistic,” said Teachers College professor Aaron Pallas.
How should the city work with the teachers union?
Sources say Fariña was not the top choice for some in the United Federation of Teachers, which did not endorse de Blasio in the primary election. But Fariña’s experience as an educator earned her quick support from the city’s teachers and principals unions, and her remarks today indicated that she is serious about showing respect for the work that educators do.
Whether that tonal shift will translate into material gains for city teachers remains to be seen. After years of bitter clashing with the Bloomberg administration, the UFT hopes to win retroactive pay raises and other desired contract terms in talks with de Blasio and Fariña. Raises for the UFT and the principals union, which have gone for years without contracts, could amount to more than $3 billion.
Again, the financial picture is likely to remain mostly in City Hall’s purview. And de Blasio has said full retroactive pay for all municipal unions won’t happen, that any retroactive pay must be offset by cost savings, and that the UFT’s snub of him in the primary means he is not beholden to the union.
But Farina, who as a young teacher joined her colleagues in striking over the loss of planning periods and other affronts, will influence any changes to work rules for educators. She has said she wants to see a reduced role for test scores, suggesting that she might be receptive to requests to change the city’s teacher evaluation rules, and she is also likely to support calls to give teachers more time for training and collaboration.
Whatever deals de Blasio and Fariña hammer out with the UFT will send a strong message to the city’s 75,000 teachers, said David Steiner, the state’s former education chief.
“The shape of a contract is inseparable from the shape of the work in the schools,” he said.
How should the city handle struggling schools and teachers?
One of the biggest challenges that de Blasio and Fariña face, like their predecessors before them, is how to turn struggling schools around. The Bloomberg administration focused on closing low-performing schools and opening new ones in their place, an approach that followed a system of intensive support for weak schools that did not result in many closures.
Neither de Blasio nor Fariña has said that school closures should be taken completely off the table, but both have said the step should be taken only after aggressive efforts have been made to help schools improve. De Blasio has said he’ll establish an “early warning system” and deploy experienced principals and other staff to struggling schools.
And Fariña has proposed pairing pair principals from schools with similar student populations but widely varying student achievement to exchange ideas about what works and what doesn’t — something that she did as superintendent of District 15.
“Principal-to-principal, teachers-to-teachers, are the best vehicle to professional development that I know,” she said this fall.
Whether that will be enough to revamp chronically low-performing schools or bring about widespread change remains to be seen. According to a 1999 New York Times profile, Fariña’s strategies to overhaul P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side included introducing selective admissions criteria — a move that would hardly solve citywide issues.
Fariña will also have to decide how to adapt the Bloomberg administration’s school and teacher rating systems. De Blasio has promised to do away with the A-to-F letter grades that schools have gotten annually since 2007. But he has not said whether his administration would tinker with the existing system, for example by improving the school “peer group” system or adding more information for families, or overhaul the ratings system more substantially. Given that elementary and middle school grades have been based almost entirely on test scores, it seems likely that Fariña would push for change.
She’ll have somewhat less latitude in adjusting a new teacher evaluation system that UFT President Michael Mulgrew called an “unmitigated disaster.” There, Fariña will have to figure out how, if at all, to change the rules while still adhering to state law.
How should the city deliver support to schools?
Of all of the education policy questions facing the new administration, the one where Fariña has the most experience — how to deliver support to schools — is also where she has the most latitude to make change.
After several shakeups, the Bloomberg administration landed on an organizational structure that lets each school join a multi-borough support network of their choosing, while still being evaluated by local district superintendents. Critics of the arrangement say it can be confusing and result in too little guidance for struggling schools, while advocates say it allows schools to get exactly the help they need.
Whether to preserve the network structure was a major debate during the mayoral campaign, and some 120 pro-network principals recently wrote de Blasio urging him to create a “hybrid system” where principals who like their networks could keep them, while others could lean more on their districts.
Fariña hasn’t publicly spelled out a future for the network structure, but her long track record in the system will give her ample insight to draw on when devising a system of school support. As a former district and regional superintendent, she will have as good answers as anyone about how to balance superintendents’ authority with school autonomy and how to incorporate local stakeholders without cutting off cross-district ties.
Fariña’s avowedly progressive pedagogical preferences suggest that she might want to preserve the way that principals affiliate based on philosophy under the network model. But Elizabeth Phillips, the principal of P.S. 321, said that in her experience, Fariña successfully fostered collaboration among principals from schools with different cultures and student demographics within the district structure.
“One of the things I was so impressed with was how she brought together principals from very diverse districts,” Phillips said.
Even though Fariña doesn’t have to get anyone’s permission to craft a school support system, her vision could be constrained by politics. Even as critics of the current structure, like Mulgrew, say they’re open to compromise, it’s clear they’re pushing for big changes. “There’s no tweaking here,” the union leader said. “It’s just not working.”
How should the city treat charter schools?
During the campaign, de Blasio did not mince words about charter schools, saying they diverted attention and resources from the city’s traditional public schools and that the Bloomberg administration added “insult to injury” by offering them free rent in public-school buildings. He promised to halt such space-sharing arrangements and charge rent to some charter schools.
The question now is whether he can actually rein in charter schools without undermining the high-performing ones or pushing their powerful backers into attack mode.
One possibility would be to phase in the rent plan over several years, giving the schools time to adjust their budgets or look for cheaper facilities, said Pallas, the Teachers College professor. Another way to appease both sides could be to create a system for studying and sharing the innovations of the most successful charter schools, in an outgrowth of the collaboration that Fariña has said should be fostered.
Pedro Noguera, a New York University education professor, cautioned the new mayor not to devote too much time to making decisions about charter schools, which serve only about 6 percent of the city’s public school students.
“The more you’re fighting about charter schools, the less time you have to solve other problems,” he said.
That’s an attitude that Fariña seemed to share when she appeared with Diane Ravitch, the education historian who has fiercely criticized charter schools, at a Brooklyn school earlier this month. While she said she did not support the rigid approach of some charter schools, she also said the charter-district divide can mask areas where district schools should improve.
“Let’s worry more about what we need to do and how we need to do it positively than worry about them,” Fariña said. “Because, you know what, they also have our kids in their buildings, and to me, kids are kids.”
How should the city establish and advance broad ideals?
De Blasio and Fariña will have to decide how to deliver on other pieces of campaign rhetoric, including how to give parents a real voice in some decisions. They are starting that right away, they said today, by bringing the Department of Education’s Division of Family and Community Engagement directly under Fariña’s supervision and by scheduling a series of meetings with parent leaders in each district.
Fariña will also have to take stock of what is and isn’t working in terms of curriculum at a time when teaching and learning are receiving renewed emphasis. She has praised the new Common Core standards, which are meant to propel students toward college readiness, but is certain to scrutinize the curriculum choices that the Bloomberg administration made to help schools transition to the standards.
That scrutiny will come with the eye of someone steeped in literacy instruction and with a reputation for imposing instructional approaches on schools. When Fariña retired in 2006, then-UFT chief Randi Weingarten said that while the union respected her, it had also seen her dictates as “micromanaging of classroom instruction.”
Now, Fariña’s curriculum choices carry even higher stakes: Some educators and parents are already unhappy about the transition to the Common Core, and missteps early on could cost the new chancellor dearly.
The new administration will have the chance to reexamine broader ideals, too. School choice — letting families pick among diferent kinds of schools — was a hallmark of the Bloomberg era, but also a lightning rod for critics who say the system favors families able to navigate the sea of choices. Those critics will want De Blasio to revamp the school choice and enrollment system so that it benefits more families and a more diverse group of students end up at the most selective schools.
As a district chief, Fariña opposed tracking, or achievement segregation, within schools. But her record from P.S. 6 — and today, when her appointment was made at a middle school that screens students in part by their test scores — also suggests a tolerance for selective schools within the broader system.
How she and de Blasio choose to balance the needs of individual families, single schools, and the broader system in order to give all city students a fair shot at a great education cuts to the core of the de Blasio message, said Noguera, the education professor.
“If he recognizes that inequality is the big question facing New York, how is that going to show up in his education agenda?” Noguera asked. “And it’s got to be much more than just preschool.”
Carmen Fariña, the longtime educator whom Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio named as chancellor Monday, pledged to steer the city’s school system in a new direction by turning parents into “real partners” and doing more to support teachers.
A teacher, principal and administrator who entered kindergarten unable to speak fluent English, Fariña promised to pursue a “progressive agenda” that would reduce standardized-test preparation in classrooms while restoring the arts and sciences to the curriculum.
Fariña, 70, who retired as deputy chancellor in 2006 after a four-decade career in the school system, also batted away suggestions that she had accepted the appointment on a temporary basis.
“My commitment is total,” she said, adding, “They tell me 70 is the new 40.” She said she had sacrificed “sunny days in Florida,” where her husband will reside, in order to take charge of the nation’s largest school system.
De Blasio explained the lengthy vetting process that led to Monday’s announcement by emphasizing the importance of the post and saying that he had considered candidates from across the country, but “kept coming back” to Fariña because of their shared views on education and her vast experience.
“Literally no one knows our school system better,” de Blasio said during the press conference inside Brooklyn’s M.S. 51, the well-regarded school his children attended inside the district that Fariña led as superintendent. He said her appointment ended a “trend” in which the previous four schools chancellors were non-educators who required state waivers to land the job.
Flanked by children whose stamina flagged during the hourlong event, Fariña declined to say how she will attack some of the most contentious education quandaries facing the new administration, such as whether to charge rent to charter schools in public buildings or how to forge a new contract with the city’s teachers, who have gone four years without one.
Instead, she vowed to “review everything” while making some immediate adjustments, such as creating an easier process for parents to interact with the education department.
“Day one, we’re going to figure out where you go when you’re a parent and you have an issue,” Fariña said.
Fariña cited her experience as a first-generation Spanish immigrant and English language learner who became the first in her family to graduate from college as the source of many of her core beliefs about education.
Parent-teacher conferences that were “excruciatingly painful” for her Spanish-speaking mother and a teacher who made a young Fariña feel “invisible” by mispronouncing her name convinced her that schools must embrace families of all backgrounds, she said.
“A promise I make to every parent in New York City is that your child will be spoken to by the name that you gave her, not by the name someone else gives her,” Fariña said. At one point in her remarks, she switched to her native Spanish to talk about English language learners.
She said her father — a maintenance worker who Fariña said arrived in the United States with only a third-grade education — advised her to analyze more than memorize in school, which shaped her views about education and testing.
“It’s always been something I’ve believed in — we learn facts maybe to take tests, but we learn thinking to get on in life,” Fariña said.
Fariña taught at Brooklyn’s P.S. 29 for 22 years before becoming principal of P.S. 6 in Manhattan, which climbed to the system’s top tier of schools during her tenure. She was later picked to become superintendent in Brooklyn’s District 15, then was made a regional superintendent and finally deputy chancellor for teaching and learning in the Bloomberg administration.
De Blasio said Fariña’s decision to leave that role after two years was driven by her policy disagreements with the previous mayor and his then-Chancellor, Joel Klein.
“Carmen came to the feeling that the needs of school communities were being ignored,” de Blasio said. He added, “She didn’t want to continue policies she didn’t believe in.”
Fariña added that family considerations had factored into her decision and that she had subsequently stayed involved in education, even teaching demonstration lessons in classrooms as recently as last month.
De Blasio said he still needed to review a parent-led lawsuit meant to stop the Bloomberg administration’s plans to put more charter schools inside existing school buildings, but he would not allow any new co-location plans for now. He also announced that Ursulina Ramirez, an official on his transition team and a former childcare worker, would serve as Fariña’s chief of staff.
Laura Scott, the principal of P.S. 10 in District 15, said after the announcement that as superintendent Fariña had instructed principals to fully incorporate special-needs students into their schools, to promote collaboration among teachers, and to beef up their parent associations. Fariña also advised them to use “testing to inform instruction, as opposed to a way to penalize teachers.”
M.S. 51 Principal Lenore DiLeo-Berner said that she and other educators who had worked under Fariña consider her an ideal schools chief.
“It’s like a dream come true,” she said.
Carmen Farina is excellent choice for NYC chancellor. Rejects cult of testing and data. De Blasio kept his word.
— Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch) December 30, 2013
Reaction to mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s choice of Carmen Fariña as the city’s next schools chancellor has been swift and mostly supportive—some of it coming our way even before de Blasio’s official announcement this morning. Fariña, a former teacher, superintendent, and deputy chancellor, is earning praise for her understanding of the school system from many educators and progressive groups, and some congratulations-with-caveats from charter school backers and others who have aligned themselves with Mayor Bloomberg’s educational philosophies.
None of that is too surprising, given that the unions, charter school networks, and policymakers are likely eager to start what Fariña indicated could be a long relationship off on the right foot. We’ve rounded up some reactions below—if you’re willing to share your own, email us at tips @ gothamschools.org.
Welcoming words from union leadership
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew:
“Carmen is a real educator. She has a deep knowledge of schools and our system, and is on record criticizing Mayor Bloomberg’s focus on high stakes testing. We look forward to working with her to help make sure every child has access to an excellent education.”
Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernie Logan:
“CSA is delighted with Mayor-Elect Bill De Blasio’s decision to appoint Carmen Farina as schools chancellor. Carmen is universally recognized as one of the great educators in this city. Without a doubt, she is an educator’s educator — something that we have not had for 15 years. Carmen understands the need to restore the respect educators deserve. Her plan to reduce reliance on high-stakes testing at the expense of innovative instruction is a welcome change. Carmen’s commitment to working with parents and all community stakeholders will restore a sense of optimism and trust in our schools. We look forward to working with her and helping her as she guides our schools forward.”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:
It's a new day in NYC w/ @BilldeBlasio pick of Carmen Farina as Chancellor-thank you 4 bringing back love of learning to our public schools
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) December 30, 2013
Hearty endorsements from de Blasio’s educational allies
The Center for Arts Education Executive Director Eric Pryor:
“The Center for Arts Education commends Mayor-elect de Blasio on his outstanding choice of Carmen Farina as the next New York City Schools Chancellor. Ms. Farina has long displayed a strong and steadfast commitment to the education of New York City’s public school children.”
Education historian (and member of de Blasio’s Inaugural Committee) Diane Ravitch:
Carmen Farina is excellent choice for NYC chancellor. Rejects cult of testing and data. De Blasio kept his word.
— Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch) December 30, 2013
Alliance for Quality Education parent advocate (and transition team member) Zakiyah Ansari:
“Carmen Fariña is an excellent pick – she knows the New York City public school system inside-out and is an expert educator. She is ready-made to carry out Mayor-elect de Blasio’s mandate to take our schools in a new and successful direction. Chancellor Fariña faces tremendous challenges to turn the direction of school reform away from a failed corporate agenda, towards successful reforms focused on teaching and learning that engage parents, students and educators as full partners in the process– we believe she is up to the task.”
Ocynthia Williams of the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (and a member of de Blasio’s Inaugural Committee):
“Carmen is a model educator and she puts the partnership between parents, teachers, students and communities at the center of all that she does. She has been a strong ally to CEJ and a proven advocate of parent engagement for years, dating back to her support of CC9′s Lead Teacher Program in the Bronx, when she was Deputy Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, and continuing after she left the DOE. CEJ believes we can give our children brighter futures by supporting quality schools grounded in strong neighborhoods and Carmen shares our vision. While this won’t be achieved without struggle, CEJ parents are looking forward to embarking on this new day in education together, with Chancellor Fariña!”
Wary congratulations from charter school backers
A limited endorsement from Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools:
“I know Carmen well and she is an educator who cares. The question is will she protect and expand public charter school options for families who need and are demanding them?”
New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman:
“Carmen Fariña has spent her entire career working to improve life outcomes for New York City students. Having overseen some of the city’s highest and lowest achieving public schools, she has seen first hand how the quality of the local schools impacts neighborhoods. In many of these very communities, charter schools have become a lifeline for families looking for a better education for their children. Like us, the new chancellor is dedicated to ensuring every child has a great public school option and we look forward to working together to make that a reality.”
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President and CEO Nina Rees:
“We congratulate Ms. Farina on her appointment and look forward to working with her as she assumes this important role. New York City has the second highest number of students attending charter schools in the nation with more than 58,000 children enrolled last year. As Ms. Farina and Mayor-elect de Blasio develop their plans for NYC public schools, we encourage them to consider the vital role charter schools have played in increasing options and quality for students and families across the city. The rest of the country has always looked to NYC as an example of vibrant and successful charter schools and we hope that trend will continue.”
Northeast Charter Schools Network President Bill Phillips:
“Now is not the time to slow the city’s charter growth and deny choices to parents. If anything, charters and parental choices should be expanded as a way to give each child the opportunity to attend a great public school.
To serve all children, Farina must work with educators in the charter community to build upon their nationally recognized success. A city as great and diverse as New York City can and should have room for thriving district and charter schools.”
A full-throated congratulations from Explore Schools founder Morty Ballen:
“I have known Carmen for more than a decade and her values as an educator always struck me as aligned with ours at Explore Schools–parental access to great public school options; support, respect and a higher bar for teachers; and above all else, excellent instruction for children who are capable of so much more than many give them credit for. We are eager to share with her the lessons we’ve learned working with Central Brooklyn families to put all of New York City’s school children on the path to success.”
Varied reactions from other influential education figures
New Visions for Public Schools President Bob Hughes (who was seen as an early candidate for chancellor):
“Carmen Fariña is an extraordinary educator. No one understands the promise of early education better. Her appointment as schools chancellor reaffirms Mayor-elect de Blasio’s commitment to ensuring that New York City’s youngest students have access to quality education. New Visions for Public Schools looks forward to partnering with the new administration to support all of our public school teachers and leaders, and to ensure that equity of opportunity exists for every public school student in our great city.”
Fordham Institute Executive Vice President Mike Petrilli:
“From all accounts, Carmen Fariña appears to be a strong and well-respected leader. But if she forces her Teachers College progressivism on all of New York’s schools, it’s going to be a disaster for the city’s most disadvantaged children.”
Philanthropy New York President Ronna Brown:
“Carmen Fariña has a proven, serious track record in her approach to education reform. She knows the importance of cutting through the ideological clutter that so often surrounds education debates, and focusing on proven solutions. We look forward to working with her as she develops her own agenda, so that the Department of Education applies what has been learned over the past twelve years to its new reforms.
Our goal is to work with incoming Chancellor Fariña to align private and public dollars to build on what we know is working— and to do whatever it takes to ensure every student graduates from high school, ready to succeed in college or prepared for today’s workplace.”
Congratulations from city and state elected officials
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer:
“Carmen Farina is an inspired choice to lead the nation’s largest public school system. A nationally respected educator who has worked as a teacher, principal and school administrator, she will bring a renewed focus on classroom instruction, professional development and respect for children, parents and advocates to her new duties. I look forward to working with her and our highly dedicated public school teachers, as our City tackles the issues of improving college and career readiness rates and preparing more than one million students to compete in a 21st century economy.”
City Council member Mark Weprin:
As the parent of 3 public school students, I am thrilled to work with Carmen Farina. It's about inspiration to learn not cheating tests.
— Mark S. Weprin (@MarkWeprin) December 30, 2013
City Council member Brad Lander:
— Brad Lander (@bradlander) December 30, 2013
City Council member Daniel Dromm:
As a former NYC teacher & someone who benefited from Carmen Farina's tutelage, I could not be more excited
— Daniel Dromm (@Dromm25) December 30, 2013
New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat:
— Senador Espaillat (@Sen_A_Espaillat) December 30, 2013
New York State Assembly member Nily Rozic:
— Nily Rozic (@nily) December 30, 2013
Excitement from some New York City educators
So happy to be an NYC educator today, would follow Carmen Farina to the moon! Team Farina all the way
— Kristine Mraz (@MrazKristine) December 30, 2013
YES! Carmen Farina! "We've needed an educator to lead our system again." -@deBlasioNYC
— Kristen R. Warren (@robbins_kristen) December 30, 2013
— Mark Otto (@MarkOttoNYC) December 30, 2013
And well wishes from her predecessor
Outgoing Chancellor Dennis Walcott:
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to focus on the futures of one million students each and every day. When I reflect on the last 12 years—the remarkable progress made, the enormous obstacles overcome, and the incredibly high goals set and met—I think about the children who will be better adults tomorrow because of our efforts today. We have worked passionately on their behalf, and I’m grateful to have been able to change the trajectory of so many lives during our tenure.
Mayor-elect de Blasio is someone who cares deeply about public education, and I want to congratulate Carmen Fariña on being named Chancellor. I have known Carmen for many years, and she is a deeply committed educator with a true passion for improving our schools. I wish her well.”
Confirming rumors that began even before the general election, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio today named veteran educator Carmen Fariña to be his schools chancellor.
De Blasio made the announcement this morning at M.S. 51, a selective middle school near his Park Slope home that his two children attended.
“Carmen won’t just be my chancellor as mayor; she’ll be my chancellor as a public school parent,” de Blasio said in a press release distributed while the announcement was underway.
De Blasio said Fariña would advance his vision for universal pre-kindergarten, improved middle schools, a diminished role for standardized testing, and increased parent participation.
“All of these changes won’t just happen as edicts from on high. That approach has real limits and we’ve seen that already,” de Blasio said. “It’s time to treat all members of the educational community like they matter again. … We need a leader who understands that. Carmen Fariña is that leader.”
We’ll have more on the announcement, which offers a strong clue about the direction that de Blasio intends to take the school system. De Blasio’s full press release is below:
MAYOR ELECT DE BLASIO APPOINTS CARMEN FARIÑA AS SCHOOLS CHANCELLOR
New administration poised to make parents partners in the school system, de-emphasize high-stakes testing, implement universal pre-kindergarten and after-school for middle schoolers
A former New York City public school teacher, principal, superintendent and deputy chancellor, Fariña pledges to put focus on better performance across all schools
NEW YORK, NY—Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio today announced his appointment of Carmen Fariña as Schools Chancellor. In naming Fariña to lead the nation’s largest school system, de Blasio—himself a public school parent—emphasized his commitment to working with parents as partners in education, establishing truly universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds and after-school programs for middle schoolers, and prioritizing college and career readiness over high-stakes testing.
Fariña has 40 years of experience in New York City public schools. She began her career as a teacher at P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill, later rising to become a principal at Manhattan’s P.S. 6 and the superintendent of Brooklyn’s District 15. Fariña was appointed Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning in 2004, and later went on to become a vocal advocate outside of government for comprehensive early education and parental involvement in school policy.
For her Chief of Staff, Fariña appointed Ursulina Ramirez, a former social worker, Deputy Public Advocate and current Deputy Director of Mayor-Elect de Blasio’s Transition.
“Carmen won’t just be my chancellor as mayor; she’ll be my chancellor as a public school parent. For years, I’ve watched her innovate new ways to reach students, transform troubled schools and fight against wrongheaded policies that hurt our kids. Carmen has worked at nearly every level of this school system. She knows our students, teachers, principals and parents better than anyone, and she will deliver progressive change in our schools that lifts up children in every neighborhood,” said Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio.
“True change happens not through mandates and top-down decision making but through communication, collaboration and celebrating the successes along the way,” said incoming Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Raising the success rate of our students is the only goal. I anticipate the entire city will aid us on this effort.”
“Carmen Fariña has the depth of knowledge and proven experience in our city’s education system that only comes from working in New York City public schools for 40 years,” said Representative Nydia Velázquez. “Fariña knows firsthand that the strongest path toward real education reform grows from the bottom up — and I’m confident she will work tirelessly to ensure parents, educators and students are valued and fully included in the decision-making process next year.”
“Mayor-Elect de Blasio has made an excellent choice in picking Carmen Fariña to lead New York’s public schools. For the first time in many years the nation’s largest school system will be led by an educator with a keen understanding of curriculum and instruction, who is committed to actively supporting our public schools,” said Professor of Education and Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center at New York University Pedro Noguera. “Dr. Fariña brings a broad range of knowledge and experience to the role and is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses within the system. Her appointment is a major step forward for New York City’s schools and its children.”
“Our next Chancellor has excelled as a teacher, a principal and a superintendent. She knows every aspect of this school system inside and out. She knows how to help teachers improve their skills, and how to train principals to lead,” said Chair of the New York State Assembly Education Committee Cathy Nolan. “That’s the kind of expertise that will enable Carmen Fariña to transform our schools in a way that brings everyone together in common cause.”
“Carmen Fariña is a true change agent. She knows how to innovate and bring people together. She’s been a conscience and a voice for the disempowered in this school system for as long as I can remember,” said Council Member and Manhattan Borough President-Elect Gale Brewer. “I’m thrilled Mayor-Elect de Blasio has chosen a Chancellor who can move us past the divisiveness that has held back our school system, and usher in a new era of shared purpose so we can lift up every school.”
“As Chairman of the New York City Education Sub-Committee, I congratulate Carmen Fariña on her appointment as Chancellor,” saidState Senator and Chairman of the Senate NYC Education Sub-Committee Simcha Felder. “She undertakes a monumental responsibility and will be an important advocate for students and parents throughout the New York City public school system. I look forward to working with Chancellor Fariña to ensure our students realize their individual talents and have every opportunity to succeed. Mayor-Elect de Blasio has made extraordinary appointments and I am confident that Fariña will work tirelessly as the new Chancellor and will serve New York City well.”
“As a parent of two public school students, I couldn’t be more excited to have Carmen Fariña as the next Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Families and educators from Park Slope to Red Hook revere Carmen for what she did to make our diverse schools great. She healed divisions, cultivated countless great teachers and principals, and transformed our schools into some of the most successful, creative, and inclusive in the city.”
“As a former public school teacher, I could not be more excited to have a Chancellor who understands what it means to step inside a classroom. Carmen has an incredible depth of experience to guide her,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm. “Under Fariña, our city is gaining a chancellor who understands that universal early education, high-quality after-school programs, de-emphasized testing, and consistent parental involvement are key to student success.”
“Mayor-Elect de Blasio has made an excellent choice in Carmen Fariña. Carmen is a model educator and she puts the partnership between parents, teachers, students and communities at the center of all that she does,” said NYC Coalition for Educational Justice parent leader Ocynthia Williams. “She has been a strong ally to CEJ and a proven advocate of parent engagement for years, dating back to her support of CC9′s Lead Teacher Program in the Bronx, when she was Deputy Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, and continuing after she left the DOE. CEJ believes we can give our children brighter futures by supporting quality schools grounded in strong neighborhoods and Carmen shares our vision. While this won’t be achieved without struggle, CEJ parents are looking forward to embarking on this new day in education together, with Chancellor Fariña!”
“Carmen Fariña brings a powerful combination of pedagogical and leadership experience to this position, and we are pleased that Mayor-Elect de Blasio has appointed someone who so deeply shares our commitment to advancing equity and excellence in the city’s public schools,” said Associate Director of New York City Organizing with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform Oona Chatterjee. “We look forward to partnering with her as she takes on the considerable challenges of her new role.”
“Carmen Fariña is an excellent pick — she knows the New York City public school system inside-out and is an expert educator. She is ready-made to carry out Mayor-Elect de Blasio’s mandate to take our schools in a new and successful direction,” said Advocacy Director for the Alliance for Quality Education and public school parent leader Zakiyah Ansari. “Our children’s future is looking brighter already, as we will finally have an educator as a chancellor. Parents, students, teachers and advocates have been waiting for this moment and are ready to collaborate with Chancellor Fariña to give every child the high quality education they deserve.”
Fariña has been charged with an ambitious agenda to improve New York City schools, including creating 100 new community schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, innovating new Career and Technical Education pathways that prepare students for good jobs, empowering communities to meaningfully shape school decisions, and improving the middle school experience with increased guidance services, enhanced arts and technology programs and extended day wrap-around services.
About Carmen Fariña:
Carmen Fariña has spent over 40 years working at virtually every level of the New York City’s school system to ensure children receive a quality education. During her career, she distinguished herself as a model educator and principal who inspired others across the school system to adopt teaching practices she had pioneered.
Fariña began her education career at Brooklyn’s P.S. 29, where she spent 22 years as an elementary school teacher. Her reading curriculum was so successful that the Board of Education recruited her to expand it for second through ninth grades, and to train teachers on its use. During her five years as District 15’s Core Curriculum Coordinator, Fariña authored “Making Connections,” a multicultural and interdisciplinary program later published by the New York City Board of Education and replicated in every school district.
Over the next 10 years, Fariña became one of New York City’s most successful principals. Under her leadership, Manhattan’s P.S. 6 rose to become one of the top 10 schools citywide in both reading and math – a remarkable improvement as the school ranked 76th among public elementary schools just three years before Fariña joined its faculty.
In 2001, Fariña was elected as Community Superintendent of Brooklyn’s District 15, and began a remarkable turnaround of a deeply divided school community. Fariña earned accolades from administrators, parents and teachers for turning a district that was in a “state of siege” to a “state of grace” by enhancing staff training, meeting with staff and parents, and collaborating with the educators in the district.
Fariña later rose to become Regional Superintendent of Region 8 and then Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning at the Department of Education in 2004, where she developed new strategies to better prepare middle school students for junior high school. As deputy chancellor, she promoted increased interventions for middle school students, which included $40 million to support Saturdayclasses, organizational and study skills workshops, counseling for parents, and teacher training. Fariña made improving special education a personal priority, improving services available to special education students in neighborhood schools, including reducing travel time on school transportation.
Since departing the Department of Education, Fariña has become a widely respected advocate for comprehensive early education, community involvement in school decision-making, and policies that better link the education system with social services for vulnerable families. She has been a vociferous critic of the current approach to low-performing schools, which largely relied on closing them. She has offered bold alternatives, such as pairing principals from schools with mirroring student populations, where one school is performing well and the other is not, to exchange ideas about best practices.
Fariña is a strong believer that principal-to-principal and teacher-to-teacher professional development is the most effective means of professional development. She has mentored hundreds of principals in areas of literacy and professional development, and continued to shape the school system to this day.
About Ursulina Ramirez:
Ursulina Ramirez most recently served as the Deputy Public Advocate and Senior Policy Advisor to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. Prior to working for the Public Advocate, Ursulina was the Senior Policy Analyst at the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families (CHCF) where she advocated for increased access to quality early childhood education in New York City’s Latino communities. Before working in public policy, Ursulina began her career in direct service. She was a child care worker at a residential treatment facility for severely emotionally disturbed youth and also worked for several years as an advisor to first-generation college students.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is finally poised to name a schools chancellor, just days before he formally assumes control of the country’s largest school system.
His pick appears to be Carmen Farina, a retired education department veteran and unofficial advisor whose name figured prominently in chancellor rumors since they began early this fall.
De Blasio has scheduled a press conference at M.S. 51, a school in the Brooklyn district that Farina once ran, and while de Blasio’s transition team declined to comment Sunday evening, multiple news organizations are reporting that Farina’s appointment will be announced there.
De Blasio’s two children attended the selective Park Slope middle school, which hosted an event this fall where parents challenged a Bloomberg administration education official over the role of standardized testing.
De Blasio has said reducing city schools’ reliance on standardized testing is among his top priorities. Farina has not emphasized the issue during several recent public appearances, instead focusing on her vision for a new tone at the Department of Education. Still, Farina won the support of one of the loudest critics of the Bloomberg administration’s schools policies, historian Diane Ravitch, who said she was confident that Farina would value educators’ perspectives.
Farina got that endorsement despite having worked closely with Bloomberg’s aggressive schools chancellor, Joel Klein, during Bloomberg’s first term. Klein picked Farina, a former principal who was then in charge of Brooklyn’s District 15, to head one of 10 regional districts in 2003 and promoted her the following year to become the Department of Education’s instructional chief. She retired two years later.
Now 71 years old, Farina said earlier this fall that she did not want to come out of retirement. But her demurrals fell away in recent weeks as de Blasio’s search for a schools chief got longer and narrower.
Now, she appears likely to take over the reins of the Department of Education more than four decades after first stepping into a city classroom, fulfilling de Blasio’s promise to name an educator to be chancellor.
“She was an inspiring teacher. She had really high expectations for kids,” said P.S. 321 Principal Elizabeth Phillips, who began her own career as a student teacher in Farina’s fourth grade class at Brooklyn’s P.S. 29 and said she considers Farina a mentor. “She has so much intellectual curiosity herself that she got the kids to be intellectually curious.”
As a superintendent, Farina also gained a reputation for building consensus among districts with very different needs and wants, according to Phillips, who was one of dozens of principals to work with Farina at the time.
“Carmen is a remarkable leader,” Phillips said. “She’s a community builder. I think that was one of her top priorities.”
Patrick Wall contributed reporting.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio said today that he probably won’t announce his choice for schools chancellor until next week — just days before he officially takes control of the Department of Education.
At a press conference introducing the two latest members of his City Hall leadership team, de Blasio said it was “very likely” than an announcement about the schools chancellor would come next week. He added that short-term leadership appointments would be made to accommodate the transition process atop the Department of Education.
“By definition, there will be some interim-leadership to make sure that everything goes smoothly until the new chancellor is fully on board,” de Blasio said at the Brooklyn event, which named Alicia Glen to a new position, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, and Laura Santucci to chief of staff.
De Blasio’s hiring timeline would leave just a few days between an announcement and his administration’s first official day on the job, January 1. It would also be made just in time for schools to reopen on Jan. 2 following a 12-day break this week and part of next week.
Following his victory in the Nov. 5 mayoral election, de Blasio indicated that he would move quickly to hire a chancellor. But he has since said he’s going to take his time with the decision and the job has remained conspicuously open during the seven-week transition period that has filled nine other leadership roles within the administration. The transition has also focused on de Blasio’s plans to implement his campaign’s cornerstone pledge, to expand full-day pre-kindergarten services for the city’s entire four-year-old population.
The delay has also stirred rumors about who’s still in the running for the job and who isn’t — and why it’s taking so long.
One leading candidate, former deputy chancellor Carmen Farina, is close to de Blasio and was reported to be “in line” for the job as recently as last week. Farina did not respond to requests for comments.
Regent Kathy Cashin, another candidate, said today that she hadn’t heard of any final decision being made. A spokesman for a third candidate, Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Josh Starr, declined to comment other than to say that Starr was aware that he’s in the running but focused on his current job.
The ongoing deliberations speak to the complexity and sensitivity of the decision. The education department’s $24 billion budget is the city’s biggest, making up nearly a third of the annual spending plan. The massive agency operates more than 1,800 schools serving more than one million students and employing over 100,000 teachers, principals and other school support staff.
The education department is also one of the most politically-sensitive agencies. Though the long-term legacy of Mayor Bloomberg’s sweeping reforms is still unclear, his aggressive agenda drew fierce criticism, including from de Blasio himself. De Blasio has promised to depart from Bloomberg by slowing the growth of charter schools, rolling back the city’s emphasis on standardized testing and by appointing only an educator as chancellor.
Despite the differences between Bloomberg and de Blasio, DOE spokesman Devon Puglia said that there has been a free-flowing collaboration with de Blasio’s team thus far.
“The chancellor and his staff are in daily communication with the mayor-elect’s team,” Puglia said in a statement. “We are working to ensure this will be a smooth transition.”
Seeking transparency about what happened in the city’s schools under Mayor Bloomberg, the United Federation of Teachers has filed a Freedom of Information Law request for a wide swath of Department of Education documents.
The union’s FOIL request includes 35 different topics, seeking documents related to curriculum, testing, student enrollment, school closures, teacher hiring, and many more issues. The union is even asking the department for a list of all of the records it keeps, even if the request doesn’t address them.
The mammoth request — which, given its scope and the city’s tendency to defer requests, is unlikely to be filled any time soon — is intended both to bring obscured documents to light and also prevent the Bloomberg administration from destroying documents as it turns the education department over to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. Union lawyer Adam Ross notes in the request that state regulations prevent agencies from destroying documents while requests for them are pending.
“Mayor Bloomberg’s final weeks in office have been dedicated to bolstering his legacy, often with little regard for the facts,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew in a statement. “The new administration needs accurate information – not a whitewashed history of the last 12 years – if they are to rebuild the New York City public school system.”
The union has successfully gotten the city to reveal some education records that the Bloomberg administration had hoped to keep under wraps. A union FOIL request resulted in the release of emails related to the short-lived tenure of Cathie Black, the publishing executive whom Bloomberg named as chancellor in late 2010. The Bloomberg administration spent years and $160,000 in legal costs fighting the request before acquiescing under court order. A final set of the Cathie Black emails were released this month.
The union might well encounter less resistance with the new request. The request comes just days before Bloomberg is set to turn the education department over to de Blasio, who has pledged substantial changes but has not yet named a chancellor to detail and carry out his vision. While the Bloomberg administration will have to acknowledge the request under legal guidelines, it will be up to de Blasio’s administration to answer it.
Bloomberg will have to turn over some records that have been under wraps while he was mayor, such as his travel schedule, to the city archives at the end of his term, whether or not legal requests have been filed. Those records are ultimately expected to be available online.
The FOIL request isn’t the only business the union is getting in on the last workday before Christmas. The union also filed an amicus brief today supporting the state comptroller’s right to audit charter schools and their management organizations. Success Academy, a city-based charter school network, sued Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli earlier this year, saying that his efforts to audit charter schools overstepped his authority.