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Chancellor candidate Fariña praises Ravitch, but keeps distance

They might have come for Diane Ravitch, but many who ventured to Red Hook’s P.S. 15 found another education celebrity in the school’s new library on Wednesday night: Carmen Fariña.

Fariña, who said she assumed she was on Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s shortlist for chancellor, demurred when asked where the selection process stood. “I don’t know who the other people are on the shortlist,” she said. “We’ll see,” she repeated to the well-wishers who sought her out.

And there were many of them, given the significant ideological overlap between Fariña and Ravitch and the fact that Fariña seemed to know just about everyone at P.S. 15. That’s because the retired deputy schools chancellor is a close neighbor, a Red Hook native, and the chair of Friends of P.S. 15 committee, who uses her thick Rolodex to drum up donations and support for the school. (There’s even a Carmen’s Corner in the library, created from donations in honor of Fariña’s recent 70th birthday.)

Fariña served as master of ceremonies and praised Ravitch, the education historian known for her anti-testing positions and as a frequent critic of Mayor Bloomberg’s education policies, in her introduction.

“You only get really smart about education when you go into schools and talk to educators. She’s done that,” Fariña said of Ravitch, who spoke about her latest book, “Reign of Error.”

As the talk became a question and answer session, Ravitch laid out her own vision for the future of New York City public schools: rolling back decisions made by the Panel for Educational Policy in the last two months, not co-locating any more schools, and instituting a universal pre-K program, as de Blasio has campaigned for.

She also said de Blasio should consider putting resources toward additional prenatal care, focus on community schools with attached health services, and reconstitute some of the city’s large high schools—points she said she made during a meeting with the mayor-elect last week. (Ravitch is also a member of de Blasio’s inauguration committee.)

“We have a wonderful, candid relationship,” Ravitch said after the talk. “My greatest hope is that he’s a change agent.”

Also on Ravitch’s wish list is for the city to not open any additional charter schools, though “we’ll see how far the mayor agrees with that or not,” she said. She reiterated her opposition to charter schools after a parent asked what should be done about the private school planning to open in Red Hook next year, run by the BASIS charter school organization. “You don’t want that school here,” she said.

It was one of Ravitch’s final points, and Fariña soon returned to the front of the room to thank her. But Fariña subtly changed the tone—and put some distance between herself and Ravitch’s anti-charter rhetoric.

“I think we have to stop worrying about what the other people are doing, and really concentrate on what we have to do better,” she began. “Because part of it is that we let ourselves kind of fall into complacency when we were the only game in town. And by we I’m talking about public education.”

“Because when people had no choice, and then we could say, well, they’re coming to us because—because,” Fariña continued. “I think we have to make sure that we are the best, that our teachers are the best, and keep making them better and better.”

She made it clear that she largely agreed with Ravitch, adding that schools that are run “to be the saviors of certain groups of kids” often turn militaristic—exactly the opposite of the education she wants for her three grandsons.

“So let’s worry more about what we need to do and how we need to do it positively than worry about them,” she concluded. “Because, you know what, they also have our kids in their buildings, and to me, kids are kids. And there are some schools that are doing an OK job no matter what their names are.”