Brand new on the Mayoral seat, Bill De Blasio elected Carmen Farina to take on the task of being NYC’s school Chancellor. Not only does she share the philosophy of De Blasio, but her philosophy also reflects our own. Farina plans to approach a “sister school” model, believes in teacher-to-teacher collaboration and more. “There have always been smart people running the system,” she said, adding that brains are not enough to make it work: “What we need is the heart.” Below is a Crains New York piece highlighting the many similarities Farina has with our vision as well as the bright future she has for the NYC education system:
Carmen Fariña has been floated as the next schools chancellor, and her presentation at a transition-oriented brainstorming conference Monday was so in line with Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s thinking, it might as well have been a job interview.
Ms. Fariña surely knows how to appeal to the mayor-elect: She was hired as a superintendent by Mr. de Blasio and other Park Slope school board members in 2001 after the board’s previous choice was sunk by a financial scandal (a story that, curiously, was virtually unmentioned during the mayoral campaign). She remains close to Mr. de Blasio and shares many of his views on education.
On the other hand, she is 70, enjoys being a full-time grandmother, and has not publicly acknowledged being interested in such an arduous job at this stage of her life. But while she hastamped down speculation about taking one of the top positions in education, it is not clear that she would turn down a request from Mr. de Blasio to serve.
Speaking to an audience at the day-long 21st Century for All conference organized by Councilman Brad Lander, community organizers and liberal activists—that is, Mr. de Blasio’s base—Ms. Fariña began with a statement about the city’s public school system that reflected the mayor-elect’s political philosophy.
“There have always been smart people running the system,” she said, adding that brains are not enough to make it work: “What we need is the heart.”
A career educator, Ms. Fariña has held virtually every position in the school system, from teacher to principal to regional administrator to deputy schools chancellor. As it happens, Mr. de Blasio has made clear that he wants to hire people familiar with New York City government. He has also called for the Department of Education to consult more with parents, de-emphasize standardized testing and stop blaming teachers—all points emphasized by Ms. Fariña in her remarks at the midtown event.
In laying out her vision for the Department of Education, Ms. Fariña called for collaboration, communication, capacity building, curriculum enhancement, celebration and efficiency: “five C’s and an E,” she said.
For the collaboration aspect of her plan, she would pair successful schools with struggling ones, creating “sister school” relationships. Administrators and teachers learn much more from accomplished peers than from Department of Education memos, said Ms. Fariña, who experimented with the strategy, including staff swapping, when she ran District 15 in Brooklyn.
To improve communication with school communities, she would boost the system’s checks and balances, which have been rendered either powerless or rubber stamps since mayoral control replaced the decentralized, district-based system that fell out of favor in the 1990s. But Ms. Fariña said she would use them to solicit feedback from the various cultures prevalent across the city, generating local buy-in.
Her third pillar is “capacity-building,” which means improving employees’ ability to do their jobs. Currently, teacher training is limited in duration and effectiveness. Ms. Fariña said it could be better if assessors of schools’ quality were also responsible for improving them. She recommended “teacher-to-teacher” professional development, rather than the current off-site model. And she said accountability measures now in use are unreliable, noting that one school she would never recommend was given an “A” on its report card while “one of the best schools, that I would send anybody’s kid to, is a ‘C’ school.”
On curriculum, Ms. Fariña endorsed the new Common Core standards, noting that she has done a lot of traveling in her semi-retirement and found that other countries have national curriculums. “We do need that in this country,” she said.
Celebration would lift educators’ morale, the former deputy chancellor said. “I am so tired of hearing” teachers criticized, said Ms. Fariña. “Constantly berating them or telling them what’s bad is not going to bring them success.” It was an apparent reference to Mayor Michael Bloomberg often lamenting how difficult it is to fire tenured teachers whom the city considers incompetent. She asked why it was the Daily News that came up with the idea to honor “hometown heroes in education,” an unsubtle reference to the fact that the Department of Education did not.
The final element of the Fariña plan, efficiency, includes removing redundancies from the massive and complex system. “There are too many things that don’t make sense,” she said. Educators “want to do the right thing,” she added, but “sometimes it gets lost in the pressure of making everything data-driven.” The allusion to the Bloomberg administration’s emphasis on data mimics what Mr. de Blasio—a public-school parent—often said on the campaign trail about city schools as he promised a “clean break” from Mr. Bloomberg.
Ms. Fariña broached two other ideas advanced by others: creating dormitories in large high schools so homeless students don’t arrive each morning exhausted from roaming the streets, and expanding vocational and technical programs.
She portrayed her vision as ambitious but achievable. “None of this is easy,” she said, “but none of it is all that hard.”
Read the original piece here.