First impressions

A mix of hearty and wary congratulations pour in for Fariña

Reaction to mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s choice of Carmen Fariña as the city’s next schools chancellor has been swift and mostly supportive—some of it coming our way even before de Blasio’s official announcement this morning. Fariña, a former teacher, superintendent, and deputy chancellor, is earning praise for her understanding of the school system from many educators and progressive groups, and some congratulations-with-caveats from charter school backers and others who have aligned themselves with Mayor Bloomberg’s educational philosophies.

None of that is too surprising, given that the unions, charter school networks, and policymakers are likely eager to start what Fariña indicated could be a long relationship off on the right foot. We’ve rounded up some reactions below—if you’re willing to share your own, email us at tips @ gothamschools.org.

Welcoming words from union leadership

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew:

“Carmen is a real educator. 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.”

Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernie Logan:

“CSA is delighted with Mayor-Elect Bill De Blasio’s decision to appoint Carmen Farina as schools chancellor.  Carmen is universally recognized as one of the great educators in this city.  Without a doubt, she is an educator’s educator — something that we have not had for 15 years.  Carmen understands the need to restore the respect educators deserve.  Her plan to reduce reliance on high-stakes testing at the expense of innovative instruction is a welcome change.  Carmen’s commitment to working with parents and all community stakeholders will restore a sense of optimism and trust in our schools.  We look forward to working with her and helping her as she guides our schools forward.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:

 

Hearty endorsements from de Blasio’s educational allies

The Center for Arts Education Executive Director Eric Pryor:

“The Center for Arts Education commends Mayor-elect de Blasio on his outstanding choice of Carmen Farina as the next New York City Schools Chancellor. Ms. Farina has long displayed a strong and steadfast commitment to the education of New York City’s public school children.”

Education historian (and member of de Blasio’s Inaugural Committee) Diane Ravitch:

Alliance for Quality Education parent advocate (and transition team member) Zakiyah Ansari:

“Carmen Fariña is an excellent pick – she knows the New York City public school system inside-out and is an expert educator. She is ready-made to carry out Mayor-elect de Blasio’s mandate to take our schools in a new and successful direction. Chancellor Fariña faces tremendous challenges to turn the direction of school reform away from a failed corporate agenda, towards successful reforms focused on teaching and learning that engage parents, students and educators as full partners in the process– we believe she is up to the task.”

Ocynthia Williams of the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (and a member of de Blasio’s Inaugural Committee):

“Carmen is a model educator and she puts the partnership between parents, teachers, students and communities at the center of all that she does. She has been a strong ally to CEJ and a proven advocate of parent engagement for years, dating back to her support of CC9’s Lead Teacher Program in the Bronx, when she was Deputy Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, and continuing after she left the DOE. CEJ believes we can give our children brighter futures by supporting quality schools grounded in strong neighborhoods and Carmen shares our vision. While this won’t be achieved without struggle, CEJ parents are looking forward to embarking on this new day in education together, with Chancellor Fariña!”

 

Wary congratulations from charter school backers

A limited endorsement from Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools:

“I know Carmen well and she is an educator who cares. The question is will she protect and expand public charter school options for families who need and are demanding them?”

New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman:

“Carmen Fariña has spent her entire career working to improve life outcomes for New York City students. Having overseen some of the city’s highest and lowest achieving public schools, she has seen first hand how the quality of the local schools impacts neighborhoods. In many of these very communities, charter schools have become a lifeline for families looking for a better education for their children. Like us, the new chancellor is dedicated to ensuring every child has a great public school option and we look forward to working together to make that a reality.”

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President and CEO Nina Rees:

“We congratulate Ms. Farina on her appointment and look forward to working with her as she assumes this important role. New York City has the second highest number of students attending charter schools in the nation with more than 58,000 children enrolled last year. As Ms. Farina and Mayor-elect de Blasio develop their plans for NYC public schools, we encourage them to consider the vital role charter schools have played in increasing options and quality for students and families across the city. The rest of the country has always looked to NYC as an example of vibrant and successful charter schools and we hope that trend will continue.”

Northeast Charter Schools Network President Bill Phillips:

“Now is not the time to slow the city’s charter growth and deny choices to parents. If anything, charters and parental choices should be expanded as a way to give each child the opportunity to attend a great public school.

To serve all children, Farina must work with educators in the charter community to build upon their nationally recognized success. A city as great and diverse as New York City can and should have room for thriving district and charter schools.”

A full-throated congratulations from Explore Schools founder Morty Ballen:

“I have known Carmen for more than a decade and her values as an educator always struck me as aligned with ours at Explore Schools–parental access to great public school options; support, respect and a higher bar for teachers; and above all else, excellent instruction for children who are capable of so much more than many give them credit for. We are eager to share with her the lessons we’ve learned working with Central Brooklyn families to put all of New York City’s school children on the path to success.”

 

Varied reactions from other influential education figures

New Visions for Public Schools President Bob Hughes (who was seen as an early candidate for chancellor):

“Carmen Fariña is an extraordinary educator. No one understands the promise of early education better. Her appointment as schools chancellor reaffirms Mayor-elect de Blasio’s commitment to ensuring that New York City’s youngest students have access to quality education. New Visions for Public Schools looks forward to partnering with the new administration to support all of our public school teachers and leaders, and to ensure that equity of opportunity exists for every public school student in our great city.”

Fordham Institute Executive Vice President Mike Petrilli:

“From all accounts, Carmen Fariña appears to be a strong and well-respected leader. But if she forces her Teachers College progressivism on all of New York’s schools, it’s going to be a disaster for the city’s most disadvantaged children.”

Philanthropy New York President Ronna Brown:

“Carmen Fariña has a proven, serious track record in her approach to education reform. She knows the importance of cutting through the ideological clutter that so often surrounds education debates, and focusing on proven solutions. We look forward to working with her as she develops her own agenda, so that the Department of Education applies what has been learned over the past twelve years to its new reforms.

Our goal is to work with incoming Chancellor Fariña to align private and public dollars to build on what we know is working— and to do whatever it takes to ensure every student graduates from high school, ready to succeed in college or prepared for today’s workplace.”

 

Congratulations from city and state elected officials

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer:

“Carmen Farina is an inspired choice to lead the nation’s largest public school system. A nationally respected educator who has worked as a teacher, principal and school administrator, she will bring a renewed focus on classroom instruction, professional development and respect for children, parents and advocates to her new duties. I look forward to working with her and our highly dedicated public school teachers, as our City tackles the issues of improving college and career readiness rates and preparing more than one million students to compete in a 21st century economy.”

City Council member Mark Weprin:

City Council member Brad Lander:

City Council member Daniel Dromm:

New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat:

New York State Assembly member Nily Rozic:

 

Excitement from some New York City educators 

 

And well wishes from her predecessor

Outgoing Chancellor Dennis Walcott:

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to focus on the futures of one million students each and every day. When I reflect on the last 12 years—the remarkable progress made, the enormous obstacles overcome, and the incredibly high goals set and met—I think about the children who will be better adults tomorrow because of our efforts today. We have worked passionately on their behalf, and I’m grateful to have been able to change the trajectory of so many lives during our tenure.

Mayor-elect de Blasio is someone who cares deeply about public education, and I want to congratulate Carmen Fariña on being named Chancellor. I have known Carmen for many years, and she is a deeply committed educator with a true passion for improving our schools. I wish her well.”

End of an era

Longtime deputy chancellor Kathleen Grimm to retire

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm (left) at a City Council hearing to discuss the department's five-year capital plan in March 2014.

Kathleen Grimm, the deputy chancellor for operations and a fixture in the Department of Education under four chancellors, is stepping down, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced Wednesday.

Grimm oversaw a sprawling portion of the department, including the offices overseeing safety, school support, school food, athletics, space planning, enrollment, human resources, and construction. The only official to have remained in a top post at Tweed since the beginning of the Bloomberg era, Grimm saw her responsibilities expand even further under Fariña, who moved some offices under Grimm when she shrunk the department’s cabinet.

“It is with deep personal regret that I announce a leave pending retirement of Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, an esteemed colleague who has worked tirelessly to create safe, nurturing environments in which all of our students can learn and thrive,” Fariña said in an email to department staff members.

Grimm, a tax lawyer, was brought on in 2002 for her budgeting and finance expertise and experience in navigating city and state bureaucracy. She had previously served in the state comptroller’s office and the city finance department.

Over her 14-year career at the Department of Education, Grimm preferred to stay behind the scenes, but was thrust into the spotlight when changes to school bus routes, budget cuts, and space planning made headlines.

Her oversight of the city’s transportation of students meant she faced fierce criticism when repeated changes to bus routes angered parents and City Council members. Her oversight of the capital budget and the Blue Book, which sets guidelines for school space use, also made her a frequent target of class-size reduction advocates, who often said the city’s calculations did not reflect reality.

But Grimm was revered within the department for her calm under pressure. She frequently defended the school system in front of the City Council, bearing the brunt of then-education committee chair Eva Moskowitz’s relentless criticism of the city’s toilet-paper offerings in 2004 and, more recently, testifying at hearings on toxic lighting fixtures and school overcrowding.

“Cool and effective, Kathleen stayed for the full twelve years of the Bloomberg administration and did a tough, unglamorous job with distinction,” Klein wrote of Grimm in his memoir “Lessons of Hope.”

On Wednesday, Fariña offered her own praise. “As a senior member of my leadership team, Deputy Chancellor Grimm has provided a strong foundation for our most critical initiatives, including Pre-K for All, Community Schools, and our expanded school support and safety services,” she said.

Grimm’s chief of staff Elizabeth Rose will take over as interim acting deputy chancellor during a search for Grimm’s replacement, Fariña said.

year in review

In first year as chancellor, Fariña counts on fellow educators to drive changes

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Chancellor Carmen Fariña speaks to superintendents and principals overseeing the city's designated renewal schools.

To understand how things have changed since Carmen Fariña became schools chancellor, consider where she has chosen to be on roughly 200 occasions this year, often five times per week: in schools.

She uses the hour-long visits to find model schools that other educators can tour and to size up principals, noting whether teachers seem surprised to see their bosses (a sign they aren’t poking into classrooms enough) and if the principals bring any deputies along for the tours (a hint they know how to delegate). She inspects students’ writing and asks the principal to show her a strong teacher in action and a weak one.

Twelve months into her stint leading the nation’s largest school system, Fariña’s attention to such details seems misplaced to some critics, who worry that it comes at the expense of big-picture thinking and suggests a shift away from the greater autonomy that principals gained under the previous administration.

But to her many admirers, the visits reflect a belief that even in a system of 1.1 million students and 75,000 or so teachers, change can happen school by school and classroom by classroom when educators are empowered, without the seismic policy shakeups that seemed to occur routinely under her recent predecessors. As Fariña, who has spent nearly half a century working in schools, likes to say, “The answers are in the classroom.” In other words, this is educator-driven education reform.

“There’s a sense,” said Alison Coviello, principal of P.S. 154 in the Bronx, “that we’re all in this together.”

When Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled Fariña from semi-retirement last January, she decided that she would have to roll back the Bloomberg-era policies she disagreed with even as she put her own into place: To “undo while [she’s] doing,” as she told Chalkbeat earlier this year.

And that’s just what she’s done. She downsized the office that helped create new schools — a signature Bloomberg initiative — while resurrecting the department devoted to teacher training. She re-empowered superintendents, who were marginalized under Bloomberg, and insisted that would-be principals and superintendents both spend more years in schools (a rejection of the Bloombergian idea that talent trumps experience). And she axed the Bloomberg policies that tied student promotion to test scores and assigned schools letter grades as she launched her own signature program, which sends educators to visit successful schools to pick up ideas.

That program, called Learning Partners, exemplifies Fariña’s approach. It is educator-led, cooperative, and subtle, allowing Fariña to spread her ideas through proxies rather than edicts.

“We have gotten more schools to change practices not by mandating, but by collaborating,” she said in an interview Monday. “I could have said across the board, ‘Every middle school needs to do X, Y and Z.’ And we didn’t do that.”

She also helped forge new contracts with the principals and the teachers unions, which had given up on negotiating with the previous administration. The teachers got a big payout in the contract (though not big enough to satisfy everyone), while Fariña was able to embed time for training and interacting with parents into teachers’ weekly schedules (at the cost of student-tutoring time, which was repurposed). Cynics charged that the city secured the contracts by giving into most of the unions’ demands, but Fariña argues that they were the product of her collaborative approach.

“What we got out of those contracts,” she said, “probably would not have been possible without that kind of partnership.”

She also helped the mayor fulfill his promise to get 53,000 four-year-olds into classrooms.

“How could I forget?” Fariña said. “Pre-K!”

For all that she has already done and undone, Fariña has a big year ahead of her. On Monday, she ticked off a few of the biggest items on her to-do list.

First, she must help de Blasio add the 20,000 additional pre-kindergarten seats he has promised, even as charter schools demand more space of their own. Then, she must turn two of his most ambitious plans into reality: to convert nearly 130 schools into service hubs for students and their families, and to turn around more than 90 low-performing schools.

That last task will be especially daunting. Rather than shut down chronically underachieving schools or replace their staffs, Fariña has proposed lifting them up through a mix of supports for students and coaching for educators. That is a big gamble, which Fariña made clear at a meeting Monday with the leaders of those struggling schools.

“I’m holding you even more accountable,” she told the principals. “Because I went out on a limb, as did Mayor de Blasio, and said, ‘We’re not closing schools. We’re giving everybody a second chance.’”