“I’ve never heard so much applause for a chancellor,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew remarked as nearly 1,700 UFT members enthusiastically welcomed Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña onto the stage for a wide-ranging town hall discussion at the union’s annual Spring Education Conference on April 26.
During her two-hour conversation with Mulgrew and the assembled UFT members, Fariña hinted at important changes to arts education, high school admissions, gifted and talented programs and teacher evaluations, but the main thrust of her remarks was the importance of collaboration and the need to move away from a culture of closed classroom doors.
“We work better when we collaborate with each other, when we share our best ideas,” she said. “We have to work together. None of us knows everything.”
Fariña illustrated her point with an entertaining anecdote from her own career as an educator.
When she was a principal, Fariña said, there was a teacher who used to lock her door to prevent other teachers from stealing her ideas. One day, the teacher came to her in tears. “What happened?” Fariña asked. “Someone stole my ideas,” the teacher answered. “Be flattered. Thank God there’s something you do that someone wants to copy,” Fariña replied.
Fariña’s advice to her fellow educators at the event: “Find someone in your building who knows something you don’t know and figure out how you’re going to share that information.”
Fariña also laid out what she called the “four pillars” that will guide her decisions as chancellor. She said she will aim to “restore dignity to the profession,” implement the Common Core Learning Standards, increase the Department of Education’s level of family engagement and introduce innovative programs into the schools.
To that end, she said, she is on a listening tour to hear from teachers but also “to hear more of what parents want,” like ESL classes, workshops on the Common Core or training in computer skills. She said the DOE is piloting a school partnership program that will encourage schools to share best practices.
“If we find schools that are willing to share with others the secrets of their success, we can get better quickly,” she said.
Audience members asked questions on an array of issues, from the stress of the high school admissions process to services for students with disabilities to needed changes to the network system.
Responding to a science teacher who complained that he loses 20 minutes of instructional time taking attendance each morning, Fariña said she gave him permission to stop with the paperwork and get back to teaching.
When another teacher expressed concern about abusive principals, whom he said were “celebrated” under the previous administration, Fariña’s answer was short and sweet: “All educators need to be respectful of each other,” she said.
“People are going to get credit for collaborating, not being competitive,” Farina said at the end of her remarks.
“So the Hunger Games are over!” Mulgrew replied.