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.