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Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña to step down

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, the New York City teacher who rose through the ranks to head the largest school system in the country, announced Dec. 21 that she would retire by the end of the academic year.

“Carmen has a lot to be proud of during her tenure,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “Her decades of experience in the system gave her a deep understanding of how our schools work. She managed the historic introduction of Universal Pre-K and oversaw significant gains in student achievement from test scores to high school graduation rates. We wish her well.”

Fariña’s appointment in 2014 by Mayor Bill de Blasio was a dramatic and long-awaited break with the past. For the previous 14 years, the job was held by non-educators who disdained the expertise and hard-earned knowledge of teachers. The low point was Michael Bloomberg’s appointment in 2011 of Cathie Black, a magazine executive, whose tenure as chancellor lasted only three months.

Fariña, who is 74, spent 40 years as an accomplished educator in Brooklyn and later as an administrator in the city’s school system and was the first chancellor since 1999 who met all the formal requirements for the job and didn’t need a state waiver. When she appeared for the first time as chancellor at the UFT Spring Conference in 2014, she said one of her aims was to “restore dignity to the profession” of teaching. She knew that brilliant people worked in the school system, and she made sure to showcase the accomplishments of schools that excelled, while exhorting teachers to share the secrets of their success with colleagues.

In a letter to her staff announcing her retirement, Fariña said she had accepted the job as chancellor “with a firm belief in excellence for every student, in the dignity and joyfulness of the teaching profession, and in the importance of trusting relationships where collaboration is the driving force.”

Just the second woman to oversee the city school system, with its 1,800 schools and 1.1 million students, Fariña will leave a legacy that reflects her understanding of and support for teachers and the challenging work they do. In the 2014 UFT contract, she made sure that 90 minutes were carved out of the teaching day for professional development, at a time when teachers were being asked to implement Common Core standards with little preparation.

Fariña also created an expanded career ladder for teachers, which also was introduced in the 2014 contract, offering them opportunities to be instructional leaders and compensation for their time and commitment. Bilingual and dual- language programs also were placed on the front burner during her tenure.

The mayor said a nationwide search for Fariña’s replacement is underway.

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