de Blasio Appoints Carmen Farina as Chancellor: Can She Lead a Dispirted and Frustrated School System? We Hope So … It’s Our # 1 New Year’s Resolution!

New Years is a day of renewal: we can remember and honor the past and jot down our resolutions for the New Year. In my family we are busy preparing for our traditional dinner. We’re washing the collard greens, the black-eyed peas are soaking, and the pig’s feet are in the slow cooker. Tomorrow the ribs will be in the oven and the rice will be bubbling – we’ll sit around giving thanks, watching sports and the inauguration of the new mayor.

The de Blasio campaign was encouraging, his framing of a “tale of two cities” resonated with teachers who each and every day work with children and families who struggle to survive in the shadow of million dollar condominiums.

Robert Reich, in a two-minute U-Tube, “Inequality for All, paints the depressing picture of an America moving in opposite directions.

In Washington the Republicans, in the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge cut off unemployment benefits for over a million families. In New York City a new mayor promises to address the growing inequality.

Over the last few weeks the mayor has begun to appoint his key staff – a deputy mayor, a police commissioner, a corporation counsel, all with long resumes, some say too long. Yesterday, after many weeks of speculation the mayor appointed his close friend, Carmen Farina, as the leader of the school system, an educator with forty years of New York City experience, an educator from an immigrant family who worked her way up the ladder from teacher to Deputy Chancellor. In her introductory remarks the new chancellor promised to concentrate on parent engagement (see Gotham Schools story here and listen to Beth Fertig from WNYC here)

I have a concern: Farina has been a vigorous supporter of the Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Project – which has been highly controversial. Mike Petrilli from the Fordham Institute blames the tepid results in the elementary schools on the widespread adoption of the Calkins approach. The NYS Department of Education (see EngageNY K-2 curriculum module) recommends Core Knowledge for Grades K-2.

Of course reading programs don’t garner headlines: the symbolic issues that grab the headlines, and rarely impact classrooms, will be the subject of the article after article. Will de Blasio charge rent to charter schools? Will he end co-locations of charter schools in public schools? Will he move back to community school districts? How will he engage with the teacher union?

I would have liked to have seen the new chancellor spend this morning, the day after selection, in homeless shelters meeting with kids and families, the “Invisible Child” series in the NY Times should be at the core of the new administration.

For a dozen years the school system has been leaderless, in fact the leader became the anti-hero, the necromancer.

I was watching kids playing basketball in a middle school gymnasium, a well- dressed adult walked in and asked for the ball – he stood in the corner at the three-point arc and nailed a jump shop, slid a few feet to his left and nailed another, he moved around the arc and hit shot after shot, and walked out of the gym. I was impressed,

“Who’s he?” I asked a kid.

The kid looked at me like I was from Mars, “He’s the principal.”

It was a staff development day and five hundred or so teachers filled an auditorium. The superintendent walked out onto the stage and began talking about taking risks, trying new approaches, and new kinds of lessons. He picked up a guitar, told us he was an amateur, very amateur guitar player and song writer. After tuning the guitar, adjusting the mike he played and sang a motivational song that he wrote … he didn’t just talk about risk-taking, he took a risk in front of hundreds of teachers. He was pretty good!

Teachers are yearning for leadership, for a chancellor who understands, who listens, who leads by example, a chancellor who understands the daily frustrations and has their back, a chancellor who speaks for them, who speaks for the families struggling to make it in a city fractured by class and race and inequality.

I hope Carmen Farina fits the bill.

5 responses to “de Blasio Appoints Carmen Farina as Chancellor: Can She Lead a Dispirted and Frustrated School System? We Hope So … It’s Our # 1 New Year’s Resolution!

  1. Carmen Farina was investigated in 2004 and 2007 re a Regents cheating and cover-up case at the Cobble Hill School for Amercan Studies in Brooklyn. Although reputed for a steeltrap memory, she had pinpoint amnesia during her 2004 OSI interview about what she knew and when she knew it. Strangely, SCI exonerated her in 2007 without quoting their interview questions or her sworn answers. Even more strangely SCI concluded that there was no cheating at Cobble Hill in the first place … without conducting an audit of the disputed exams. For more on “The Carmen Farina Nobody Knows” check out Diane Ravitch’s blog and scroll down to Dec. 21 on the “About” link.


  2. If all she does is get teachers to teach with passion (the ones who don’t) it will accomplish a lot! It is the key ingredient that gets kids to engage and learn, whatever the subject. Ask any kid.


  3. i sincerely believe that carmen will do a truly professional tenure as chancellor. she knows the players, the stakeholders. why would someone who was happily retired take on this sometimes, thankless role. she is truly an educator. not a person who can be bought. if i was in her role ,i would be totally loyal to success;nobody else. she has no one to prove herself to. yet she knows the stakeholders and their positions. she is entitled to have her own views on programs.would you want someone who has no view? i know carmen, personally. she is a true educator. not to dimish her ability, she is light years beyond joel klein.

    may the schools,children, parents and teachers and administrators support her in this “mission impossible”

    may recent chancellors and mayors live with their conscience.


  4. Pingback: Top Stories: The New Year 2014! | CUNY Institute for Education Policy

  5. Pingback: Top Stories: The New Year 2014! - CUNY Institute for Education Policy

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