leadership change

Citing personal ties, de Blasio names Carmen Fariña chancellor

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Confirming rumors that began even before the general election, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio today named veteran educator Carmen Fariña to be his schools chancellor.

De Blasio made the announcement this morning at M.S. 51, a selective middle school near his Park Slope home that his two children attended.

“Carmen won’t just be my chancellor as mayor; she’ll be my chancellor as a public school parent,” de Blasio said in a press release distributed while the announcement was underway.

De Blasio said Fariña would advance his vision for universal pre-kindergarten, improved middle schools, a diminished role for standardized testing, and increased parent participation.

“All of these changes won’t just happen as edicts from on high. That approach has real limits and we’ve seen that already,” de Blasio said. “It’s time to treat all members of the educational community like they matter again. … We need a leader who understands that. Carmen Fariña is that leader.”

We’ll have more on the announcement, which offers a strong clue about the direction that de Blasio intends to take the school system. De Blasio’s full press release is below:

MAYOR ELECT DE BLASIO APPOINTS CARMEN FARIÑA AS SCHOOLS CHANCELLOR

New administration poised to make parents partners in the school system, de-emphasize high-stakes testing, implement universal pre-kindergarten and after-school for middle schoolers

A former New York City public school teacher, principal, superintendent and deputy chancellor, Fariña pledges to put focus on better performance across all schools

NEW YORK, NY—Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio today announced his appointment of Carmen Fariña as Schools Chancellor. In naming Fariña to lead the nation’s largest school system, de Blasio—himself a public school parent—emphasized his commitment to working with parents as partners in education, establishing truly universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds and after-school programs for middle schoolers, and prioritizing college and career readiness over high-stakes testing.

Fariña has 40 years of experience in New York City public schools. She began her career as a teacher at P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill, later rising to become a principal at Manhattan’s P.S. 6 and the superintendent of Brooklyn’s District 15. Fariña was appointed Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning in 2004, and later went on to become a vocal advocate outside of government for comprehensive early education and parental involvement in school policy.

For her Chief of Staff, Fariña appointed Ursulina Ramirez, a former social worker, Deputy Public Advocate and current Deputy Director of Mayor-Elect de Blasio’s Transition.

“Carmen won’t just be my chancellor as mayor; she’ll be my chancellor as a public school parent. 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,” said Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio.

“True change happens not through mandates and top-down decision making but through communication, collaboration and celebrating the successes along the way,” said incoming Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Raising the success rate of our students is the only goal. I anticipate the entire city will aid us on this effort.”

“Carmen Fariña has the depth of knowledge and proven experience in our city’s education system that only comes from working in New York City public schools for 40 years,” said Representative Nydia Velázquez. “Fariña knows firsthand that the strongest path toward real education reform grows from the bottom up — and I’m confident she will work tirelessly to ensure parents, educators and students are valued and fully included in the decision-making process next year.”

“Mayor-Elect de Blasio has made an excellent choice in picking Carmen Fariña to lead New York’s public schools. For the first time in many years the nation’s largest school system will be led by an educator with a keen understanding of curriculum and instruction, who is committed to actively supporting our public schools,” said Professor of Education and Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center at New York University Pedro Noguera. “Dr. Fariña brings a broad range of knowledge and experience to the role and is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses within the system. Her appointment is a major step forward for New York City’s schools and its children.”

“Our next Chancellor has excelled as a teacher, a principal and a superintendent. 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,” said Chair of the New York State Assembly Education Committee Cathy Nolan. “That’s the kind of expertise that will enable Carmen Fariña to transform our schools in a way that brings everyone together in common cause.”

“Carmen Fariña is a true change agent. She knows how to innovate and bring people together. She’s been a conscience and a voice for the disempowered in this school system for as long as I can remember,” said Council Member and Manhattan Borough President-Elect Gale Brewer. “I’m thrilled Mayor-Elect de Blasio has chosen a Chancellor who can move us past the divisiveness that has held back our school system, and usher in a new era of shared purpose so we can lift up every school.”

“As Chairman of the New York City Education Sub-Committee, I congratulate Carmen Fariña on her appointment as Chancellor,” saidState Senator and Chairman of the Senate NYC Education Sub-Committee Simcha Felder. “She undertakes a monumental responsibility and will be an important advocate for students and parents throughout the New York City public school system. I look forward to working with Chancellor Fariña to ensure our students realize their individual talents and have every opportunity to succeed. Mayor-Elect de Blasio has made extraordinary appointments and I am confident that Fariña will work tirelessly as the new Chancellor and will serve New York City well.”

“As a parent of two public school students, I couldn’t be more excited to have Carmen Fariña as the next Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Families and educators from Park Slope to Red Hook revere Carmen for what she did to make our diverse schools great. She healed divisions, cultivated countless great teachers and principals, and transformed our schools into some of the most successful, creative, and inclusive in the city.”

“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. Carmen has an incredible depth of experience to guide her,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm. “Under Fariña, our city is gaining a chancellor who understands that universal early education, high-quality after-school programs, de-emphasized testing, and consistent parental involvement are key to student success.”

“Mayor-Elect de Blasio has made an excellent choice in Carmen Fariña. Carmen is a model educator and she puts the partnership between parents, teachers, students and communities at the center of all that she does,” said NYC Coalition for Educational Justice parent leader Ocynthia Williams. “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!”

“Carmen Fariña brings a powerful combination of pedagogical and leadership experience to this position, and we are pleased that Mayor-Elect de Blasio has appointed someone who so deeply shares our commitment to advancing equity and excellence in the city’s public schools,” said Associate Director of New York City Organizing with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform Oona Chatterjee. “We look forward to partnering with her as she takes on the considerable challenges of her new role.”

“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,” said Advocacy Director for the Alliance for Quality Education and public school parent leader Zakiyah Ansari. “Our children’s future is looking brighter already, as we will finally have an educator as a chancellor. Parents, students, teachers and advocates have been waiting for this moment and are ready to collaborate with Chancellor Fariña to give every child the high quality education they deserve.”

Fariña has been charged with an ambitious agenda to improve New York City schools, including creating 100 new community schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, innovating new Career and Technical Education pathways that prepare students for good jobs, empowering communities to meaningfully shape school decisions, and improving the middle school experience with increased guidance services, enhanced arts and technology programs and extended day wrap-around services.

About Carmen Fariña:

Carmen Fariña has spent over 40 years working at virtually every level of the New York City’s school system to ensure children receive a quality education. During her career, she distinguished herself as a model educator and principal who inspired others across the school system to adopt teaching practices she had pioneered.

Fariña began her education career at Brooklyn’s P.S. 29, where she spent 22 years as an elementary school teacher. Her reading curriculum was so successful that the Board of Education recruited her to expand it for second through ninth grades, and to train teachers on its use. During her five years as District 15’s Core Curriculum Coordinator, Fariña authored “Making Connections,” a multicultural and interdisciplinary program later published by the New York City Board of Education and replicated in every school district.

Over the next 10 years, Fariña became one of New York City’s most successful principals. Under her leadership, Manhattan’s P.S. 6 rose to become one of the top 10 schools citywide in both reading and math – a remarkable improvement as the school ranked 76th among public elementary schools just three years before Fariña joined its faculty.

In 2001, Fariña was elected as Community Superintendent of Brooklyn’s District 15, and began a remarkable turnaround of a deeply divided school community. Fariña earned accolades from administrators, parents and teachers for turning a district that was in a “state of siege” to a “state of grace” by enhancing staff training, meeting with staff and parents, and collaborating with the educators in the district.

Fariña later rose to become Regional Superintendent of Region 8 and then Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning at the Department of Education in 2004, where she developed new strategies to better prepare middle school students for junior high school. As deputy chancellor, she promoted increased interventions for middle school students, which included $40 million to support Saturdayclasses, organizational and study skills workshops, counseling for parents, and teacher training. Fariña made improving special education a personal priority, improving services available to special education students in neighborhood schools, including reducing travel time on school transportation.

Since departing the Department of Education, Fariña has become a widely respected advocate for comprehensive early education, community involvement in school decision-making, and policies that better link the education system with social services for vulnerable families. She has been a vociferous critic of the current approach to low-performing schools, which largely relied on closing them. She has offered bold alternatives, such as pairing principals from schools with mirroring student populations, where one school is performing well and the other is not, to exchange ideas about best practices.

Fariña is a strong believer that principal-to-principal and teacher-to-teacher professional development is the most effective means of professional development. She has mentored hundreds of principals in areas of literacy and professional development, and continued to shape the school system to this day.

About Ursulina Ramirez:

Ursulina Ramirez most recently served as the Deputy Public Advocate and Senior Policy Advisor to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. Prior to working for the Public Advocate, Ursulina was the Senior Policy Analyst at the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families (CHCF) where she advocated for increased access to quality early childhood education in New York City’s Latino communities. Before working in public policy, Ursulina began her career in direct service. She was a child care worker at a residential treatment facility for severely emotionally disturbed youth and also worked for several years as an advisor to first-generation college students.

here's the plan

After long wait, de Blasio backs plan to overhaul admissions at New York City’s elite high schools

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Stuyvesant High School will begin participating in the Discovery program this year.

After sustained pressure from advocates, Mayor Bill de Blasio is backing a two-step plan to reform admissions at eight of the city’s elite high schools and endorsing a specific replacement for the single-test admissions system.

The city’s specialized high schools — considered some of the crown jewels of New York City’s education system — accept students based on a single test score. Over the last decade, they have come under fire for offering admissions to few students of color: While two-thirds of city students are black or Hispanic, only about 10 percent of admissions offers to those schools go to black or Hispanic students.

De Blasio’s solution, laid out in an op-ed in Chalkbeat, would set aside 20 percent of the seats at the eight schools for students from low-income families starting next school year. Students who just missed the test score cut-off would be able to earn one of those set-aside seats through the longstanding “Discovery” program. Just 4 percent of seats were offered through that program in 2017.

The mayor also said he plans to push state lawmakers to change a law that requires admission at three of the schools to be decided by a single test score. That’s something de Blasio campaigned for during his run for mayor in 2014 but hasn’t made a priority since.

Most significantly, de Blasio says for the first time that he backs a system of replacing the admissions test with a system that picks students based on their middle school class rank and state test scores. The middle-school rank component is especially notable, as an NYU Steinhardt report found that the only way to really change the makeup of the elite high schools would be to guarantee admission to the top 10 percent of students at every middle school.

If all of these changes were implemented, de Blasio says that 45 percent of the student bodies at the eight high schools would be black or Latino.

Together, the proposals reflect the most specific plan yet to change a system that, year after year, becomes a symbol of New York City’s racially divided schools. But the changes de Blasio is proposing won’t come easily — and might not come at all.

The part of the plan that the city is promising to do on its own, expand the Discovery program, will only modestly improve diversity by the city’s own admission. And the plan’s more ambitious elements would require buy-in from state lawmakers who have repeatedly resisted de Blasio’s agenda and attempts to change admissions rules.

Meanwhile, the mayor’s plan does not include a move that many legal experts consider to be low-hanging fruit: changing the admissions rules at five of the eight schools without state approval.

While the city’s official position has long been that admissions at all eight schools are set by law, only three schools — Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Technical High School — are specifically mentioned, leaving room for the city to reclassify the others. (De Blasio recently said he would ask lawyers about that change, but has not signaled he plans to act.)

The Discovery program has also proved problematic for de Blasio, in part because it is open to all low-income students — something that is not equivalent to black or Hispanic in New York City. The de Blasio administration has already tripled the program’s size since taking office, but its share of black and Latino students has also shrunk.

A lot of questions about the plan remain unanswered. It’s not clear whether the 20 percent of set-aside seats will be spread across the eight schools evenly, for one, or whether some schools like Stuyvesant will have fewer seats earmarked for Discovery. De Blasio doesn’t explain exactly how an admissions system reliant on middle-school grades and standardized test scores would work.

It’s also unclear how the mayor plans to push against opposition from alumni groups and parents who may worry that changing the admissions rules will lower academic standards, though his rhetoric was sharp in the op-ed.

“Anyone who tells you this is somehow going to lower the standard at these schools is buying into a false and damaging narrative,” de Blasio wrote. “It’s a narrative that traps students in a grossly unfair environment, asks them to live with the consequences, and actually blames them for it.”

So far, de Blasio’s incremental steps to boost diversity at specialized high schools have made little change to the overall student body — and therefore garnered little pushback.

It’s unclear whether the lackluster results caused him to switch strategies. More recently, de Blasio has also been under pressure to address school segregation in the city as a whole.

He may also have been pushed by his new schools chancellor, who has been outspoken on the subject since taking the helm of the school system about two months ago. Chancellor Richard Carranza has been talking about the issue since his very first media interview, and has repeatedly hinted that he is interested in changing their admissions process.

“From my perspective it’s not OK to have a public school in a city as diverse… and that you have only 10 African-American students in a high school,” Carranza said in April. “So I’m looking at that, absolutely.”

sorting the students

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Our specialized schools have a diversity problem. Let’s fix it.

PHOTO: Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio hosts a town hall in Brooklyn in October.

I visit schools across this city and it never fails to energize me. The talent out there is outstanding. The students overflow with promise. But many of the smart kids I meet aren’t getting in to our city’s most prestigious high schools. In fact, they’re being locked out.

The problem is clear. Eight of our most renowned high schools – including Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School – rely on a single, high-stakes exam. The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed – it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence.

If we want this to be the fairest big city in America, we need to scrap the SHSAT and start over.

Let’s select students for our top public high schools in a manner that best reflects the talent these students have, and the reality of who lives in New York City. Let’s have top-flight public high schools that are fair and represent the highest academic standards.

Right now, we are living with monumental injustice. The prestigious high schools make 5,000 admissions offers to incoming ninth-graders. Yet, this year just 172 black students and 298 Latino students received offers. This happened in a city where two out of every three eighth-graders in our public schools are Latino or black.

There’s also a geographic problem. There are almost 600 middle schools citywide. Yet, half the students admitted to the specialized high schools last year came from just 21 of those schools. For a perfect illustration of disparity: Just 14 percent of students at Bronx Science come from the Bronx.

Can anyone defend this? Can anyone look the parent of a Latino or black child in the eye and tell them their precious daughter or son has an equal chance to get into one of their city’s best high schools? Can anyone say this is the America we signed up for?

Our best colleges don’t select students this way. Our top-level graduate schools don’t. There are important reasons why. Some people are good at taking tests, but earn poor grades. Other people struggle with testing, but achieve top grades. The best educational minds get it. You can’t write a single test that captures the full reality of a person.

A single, high-stakes exam is also unfair to students whose families cannot afford, or may not even know about, the availability of test preparation tutors and courses. Now, I’d like to stop and say, I admire the many families who scrape and save to pay for test prep. They are trying in every way to support their children.

But let’s ask ourselves: Why should families who can ill afford test prep have to spend their money on it? Why should families who can easily afford test prep have an advantage over those that cannot?

My administration has been working to give a wider range of excellent students a fair shot at the specialized high schools. Now we are going to go further. Starting in September 2019, we’ll expand the Discovery Program to offer 20 percent of specialized high school seats to economically disadvantaged students who just missed the test cut-off.

This will immediately bring a wider variety of high-performing students, from a wider number of middle schools, to the specialized high schools. For example, the percentage of black and Latino students receiving offers will almost double, to around 16 percent from around 9 percent. The number of middle schools represented will go from around 310 to around 400.

This will also address a fundamental illogic baked into the high-stakes test. A great score and you might be in, but beware a point too low and you might be out. Now, a disadvantaged student who is just a point or two shy of the cut-off won’t be blocked from a great educational opportunity.

For a deeper solution, we will fight alongside our partners in the Assembly and Senate to replace the SHSAT with a new admissions process, selecting students based on a combination of the student’s rank in their middle school and their results in the statewide tests that all middle school children take.

With these reforms, we expect our premier public high schools to start looking like New York City. Approximately 45 percent of students would be Latino or black. As an example of growing geographical fairness, we will quadruple the number of Bronx students admitted.

I’ve talked a lot about bringing equity and excellence to our schools. This new admissions process will give every student in every middle school a fair shot. That’s equity. The new process will ask students to demonstrate hard work over time, and show brilliance in a variety of subjects. That’s excellence.

Anyone who tells you this is somehow going to lower the standard at these schools is buying into a false and damaging narrative. It’s a narrative that traps students in a grossly unfair environment, asks them to live with the consequences, and actually blames them for it. This perpetuates a dangerous and disgusting myth.

So let me be clear. The new system we’re fighting for will raise the bar at the specialized high schools in every way. The pool of talent is going to expand widely and rapidly. That’s going to up the level of competition. The students who emerge from the new process will make these schools even stronger.

They will also make our society stronger. Our most prestigious public high schools aren’t just routes to opportunity for deserving students and their families. They are incubators for the leaders and innovators of tomorrow. The kind of high schools we have today, will determine the kind of New York City we will have tomorrow.

Bill de Blasio is the mayor of New York City.