With less than 48 hours to go before taking office, new Mayor Bill de Blasio chose one of his most important advisors to lead the nation’s largest school system.
Carmen Farina, a former teacher, principal, deputy mayor and superintendent, was announced as his pick for schools chancellor on Monday at the Brooklyn junior high school de Blasio’s two children attended.
“Literally no one knows our school system better,” de Blasio said at the announcement at MS 51 in Park Slope. “For years, I’ve watched her innovate new ways to reach students, transform troubled schools and fight against wrongheaded policies that hurt our kids. Carmen has worked at nearly every level of this school system. She knows our students, teachers, principals and parents better than anyone, and she will deliver progressive change in our schools that lifts up children in every neighborhood.”
A daughter of immigrants from Spain, Farina is a 40-year veteran of the New York City public school system she will run. She began her career as a teacher at PS 29 in Brooklyn, later rising to become a principal at PS 6 on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and the superintendent of Brooklyn’s District 15. Farina was appointed deputy chancellor for teaching and learning in 2004 before retiring from the city Department of Education in 2006. Because she holds a superintendent’s license, she does not need a waiver from the state Department of Education to serve as chancellor, something her Bloomberg-era predecessors, Dennis Walcott, Cathie Black and Joel Klein, all needed when appointed.
Farina’s appointment likely means a sharp turn away from the policies of the Bloomberg administration. She is a critic of high-stakes tests and has said she wishes to de-emphasize them. She has also been a critic of charter schools.
“True change happens not through mandates and top-down decision making but through communication, collaboration and celebrating the successes along the way,” Farina said Monday. “Raising the success rate of our students is the only goal. I anticipate the entire city will aid us in this effort.”
She emphasized that she shares de Blasio’s vision on reducing the importance of high stakes testing.
“If we do good teaching, that’s the best test prep,” Farina added.
In her first weeks on the job, Farina and Mayor de Blasio will be tasked with choosing his eight appointees to the Panel for Educational Policy, the DOE’s policy-making body. She will spearhead the de Blasio administration’s discussion with the United Federation of Teachers over contracts. City teachers have been without one since 2009.
Farina will also be lobbying state lawmarkers to approve de Blasio’s proposed tax hike on wealthy New Yorkers to fund a universal prekindergarten program.
Her appointment was met with praise and excitement in statements from supporters of de Blasio’s education policies.
“Our next Chancellor has excelled as a teacher, a principal and a superintendent,” noted Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Sunnyside), chairwoman of the state Assembly Education Committee. “She knows every aspect of this school system inside and out. She knows how to help teachers improve their skills, and how to train principals to lead. That’s the kind of expertise that will enable Carmen Farina to transform our schools in a way that brings everyone together in common cause.”
“As a former public school teacher, I could not be more excited to have a Chancellor who understands what it means to step inside a classroom,” Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said in a statement. “Under Farina, our city is gaining a chancellor who understands that universal early education, high-quality afterschool programs, de-emphasized testing and consistent parental involvement are key to student success.”
“Congratulations, Carmen Farina, a true educator with a vision of student support and parent engagement has been appointed to serve as the next NYC public schools Chancellor and I’m ecstatic over the choice,” said Dmytro Fedkowskyj, Queens’ representative on the PEP from 2008 through last year and an oft-critic of Bloomberg’s school policies. “Mayor de Blasio made the right choice and this decision will benefit every school community across the city for years to come.”
Outgoing Chancellor Walcott also had praise for Farina.
“She is a deeply committed educator with a true passion for improving our schools,” he said Monday.
Even some who are not aligned with Farina on policy reacted positively to the choice.
“I know Carmen well and she is an educator who cares,” Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, said in a statement. “The question is will she protect and expand public charter school options for families who need and are demanding them?”
James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, congratulated Farina on her appointment in a statement.
“We look forward to working with the new chancellor on behalf of both the 70,000 students who chose public charter schools as well as those students in traditional district schools,” he said. “Making all our schools work for all our children is truly a herculean task, and we congratulate and thank Ms. Farina for taking on this work.”
Farina is the second woman to serve as schools chancellor after Black, who had a short, problem-plagued tenure in 2011.
At Monday’s press conference, de Blasio also announced the appointment of one of his deputies from his time as public advocate, former social worker Ursula Ramirez, to serve as Farina’s chief of staff at the DOE.