Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña assured UFT members at a town hall meeting at union headquarters that her first priority — and the accomplishment by which she most wants to be judged — is restoring dignity and respect to the teaching profession.
“No one works well if beaten down,” she said at the first in a series of five town halls with educators from each borough.
The chancellor vowed to work with UFT President Michael Mulgrew to ensure that the most innovative educational ideas in the country come from the New York City school system.
“The best-kept secret is the great work teachers do,” she said.
Why hire consultants, she asked, “when we have experts right here on the ground?”
Opening the March 31 meeting on an optimistic note, Mulgrew predicted that by September, “We expect to have a better school system in which to work, a system that respects and listens to teachers’ voices.”
Fariña introduced herself and outlined her long career as a teacher, administrator and Department of Education executive with some amusing anecdotes. She described a “traveling sideshow” when, during her 22 years as a teacher, she was sent on Fridays to other schools to model lessons.
“At heart, I am still a teacher,” she said.
Mulgrew led off the Q and A, with the question: “How do we get schools to work together, to cooperate?”
Fariña explained that she has been emphasizing collaboration and sharing in her meetings with principals, superintendents and network leaders. She also pointed to eight schools, all with high numbers of high-need students, which will serve as demonstration sites featuring best practices. She said she hopes to increase the number to 45 by September.
“These are not perfect schools,” she said. “They are places where there is energy and excitement and educators who want to get better.”
Asked by PS 110 Chapter Leader Ellen Gentilviso to share her vision for gifted and talented programs, Fariña said that she was bringing back the DOE official who was originally in charge of the program after several years when no one was at the helm.
“Gifted and talented is a label and is only as good as the teaching and practices in each school,” she said.
Fariña said she would encourage the principals of gifted and talented programs to come together to share best practices, with an eye to the best ideas being picked up by all schools.
When several members asked her about high-stakes tests and the damage they were inflicting on schools, Fariña acknowledged that it was problem that she was working on.
Deborah Williams spoke of the lack of dignity and abuse she feels as a UFT member in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool and asked Fariña when excessed teachers would be returning to the classroom.
Fariña said that she was continuing her predecessor’s policy of no forced placements, but, she said, for the first time, the DOE was arranging interviews for ATRs for vacant positions.
At the end of the short exchange, the chancellor asked other teachers to write their questions on index cards, and she promised to answer every one.