De Blasio appoints lifelong educator to be next schools chancellor
Carmen Fariña has a history of innovation and leadership in the NYC public school system.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio on Dec. 30 tapped Carmen Fariña, an accomplished educator and administrator with deep roots in the city’s school system, to be the next chancellor. With a 40-year career in education, Fariña becomes the first in more than a decade who won’t need a state waiver to take the job.
“Carmen is a real educator,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “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’s record indicates she is likely to emphasize collaboration, the importance of middle schools and teacher training – and reject standardized testing as the greatest factor in measuring student learning.
Talking about changes that need to be made, Farina said at the press conference to announce her appointment, “There are things that need to happen, but they need to happen with people, not to people.”
Of all the candidates who were in the running to lead New York City schools, Fariña has the longest and closest ties to de Blasio. The mayor-elect’s children attended District 15 schools, and he was on the District 15 community school board that appointed Fariña in 2001. Many credit Fariña with mentoring de Blasio on education issues for his campaign for mayor.
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.
Fruchter, who sat on the District 15 school board in 1990s, recalled that the district’s middle schools then were “very problematic and troubled.” After he left the board, he watched approvingly as Fariña addressed the problem as superintendent by creating a number of smaller middle schools.
In 1989, Fariña was awarded the Public Service Award given each year by the Sloan Foundation and the Fund for the City of New York. In 1991, she 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. She resigned that post after two years, said de Blasio at the Dec. 30 press conference, “because she didn’t want to continue policies she didn’t believe in.” De Blasio said the 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 Zuckerberg 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.
Fariña, at the announcement, said that “at heart I am a teacher. To me, all change happens in the classroom.”