Bill de Blasio on Dec. 30 selected Carmen Fariña, an accomplished educator and administrator with deep roots in the city’s school system, to lead the city schools. With a 40-year career in education, Fariña becomes the first schools chancellor in more than a decade who doesn’t need a state waiver to take the job.
“She understands the system and knows what teachers and principals are going through because she lived it,” de Blasio said in announcing the appointment at MS 51 in Park Slope, which his two children once attended.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised the choice. “Carmen is a real educator,” he said. “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.”
Fariña is widely respected in education circles.
“Carmen was always on the cutting edge,” said former UFT district representative Robert Zuckerberg, who worked closely with Fariña. “Her education background and abilities were extensive. She knows her business.”
Fariña promised better communication and collaboration with parents, teachers and the wider school community. Speaking of the changes that need to take place, she said, “There are things that need to happen but they need to happen with people, not to people.”
As chancellor, she said she would focus on professional development for teachers, and she reiterated the promise that de Blasio made earlier to move away from high-stakes testing. She also promised to bring the arts back into the classroom, a line that brought applause from the audience.
She dismissed rumors that she was just a placeholder for another candidate. “I don't do things halfway,” she said. “My commitment is total.” And of her age – 70 – she joked: “They tell me 70 is the new 40.”
De Blasio said he has charged Fariña with instituting a moratorium on school closings and co-locations on Jan. 1. He vowed to keep the moratorium in effect until there is a system in place that respects parents and the school community by involving them in the decision.
The mayor-elect met Farina when he was on the District 15 community school board, which appointed Fariña superintendent in 2001. Over the last decade, de Blasio said he had turned repeatedly to Fariña for advice on education matters.
Fariña’s classroom innovations made her a star early in her career in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. As a 4th-grade teacher at PS 29 in Cobble Hill in the 1970s, Fariña created a method of incorporating fiction and short stories into the curriculum that successfully engaged students and led to higher reading scores. When the Department of Education called on her to develop a citywide core curriculum and teacher training program based on her techniques, she was on her way.
Norman Fruchter, a longtime educational policy analyst and writer, recalled that in developing that curriculum, Fariña brought in a diversity of texts, both fiction and nonfiction, that was acceptable to a broad range of students. “That was a very successful curriculum,” said Fruchter, now an associate with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.
In 1989, Fariña was named principal of PS 6 on the Upper East Side. Ten years later, she was named superintendent of Brooklyn’s District 15 in Brooklyn. In 2003, she was tapped by Chancellor Joel Klein to head one of the 10 new regions and a year later was promoted to be his top instructional leader, a post she served in from 2004 to 2006. Fariña resigned, de Blasio said, “because she didn’t want to continue policies she didn’t believe in.” The mayor-elect said her move showed her “conscience and character.”
Zuckerberg, who served as the UFT’s District 15 representative from 1986 to 2011, recalled that Fariña “was very collaborative.” Among the projects that he said he worked on with Fariña was the establishment of PS 372 in Park Slope as the Children’s School in 1992. The school pioneered the collaborative team-teaching model, now known as the integrated co-teaching model, in which a general education teacher and a special education teacher worked together in pre-K through fifth grade classes that include children with disabilities.
Fariña also instituted programs where teachers benefited, Zuckerberg said. “She had a lot of staff development going on in the district office and citywide,” he said. “Every licensed area was coming in for training on a monthly basis.” He said that teachers were encouraged to travel for training and conferences and then to use their new knowledge to train their colleagues. Guidance counselors, school psychologists and secretaries were also given opportunities for professional development, he said.
Fruchter said Fariña as superintendent had a knack for identifying the most successful principals and teachers. “I was always surprised at how she knew who was effective and who wasn’t,” he said.
Fariña, at the announcement, said that she remains a teacher at heart. “To me, all change happens in the classroom,” she said. “We know what needs to be done; we just need the freedom and inspiration to get it done.”