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Carmen Fariña said to be de Blasio's choice for schools chief

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is finally poised to name a schools chancellor, just days before he formally assumes control of the country’s largest school system.

His pick appears to be Carmen Farina, a retired education department veteran and unofficial advisor whose name figured prominently in chancellor rumors since they began early this fall.

De Blasio has scheduled a press conference at M.S. 51, a school in the Brooklyn district that Farina once ran, and while de Blasio’s transition team declined to comment Sunday evening, multiple news organizations are reporting that Farina’s appointment will be announced there.

De Blasio’s two children attended the selective Park Slope middle school, which hosted an event this fall where parents challenged a Bloomberg administration education official over the role of standardized testing.

De Blasio has said reducing city schools’ reliance on standardized testing is among his top priorities. Farina has not emphasized the issue during several recent public appearances, instead focusing on her vision for a new tone at the Department of Education. Still, Farina won the support of one of the loudest critics of the Bloomberg administration’s schools policies, historian Diane Ravitch, who said she was confident that Farina would value educators’ perspectives.

Farina got that endorsement despite having worked closely with Bloomberg’s aggressive schools chancellor, Joel Klein, during Bloomberg’s first term. Klein picked Farina, a former principal who was then in charge of Brooklyn’s District 15, to head one of 10 regional districts in 2003 and promoted her the following year to become the Department of Education’s instructional chief. She retired two years later.

Now 71 years old, Farina said earlier this fall that she did not want to come out of retirement. But her demurrals fell away in recent weeks as de Blasio’s search for a schools chief got longer and narrower.

Now, she appears likely to take over the reins of the Department of Education more than four decades after first stepping into a city classroom, fulfilling de Blasio’s promise to name an educator to be chancellor.

“She was an inspiring teacher. She had really high expectations for kids,” said P.S. 321 Principal Elizabeth Phillips, who began her own career as a student teacher in Farina’s fourth grade class at Brooklyn’s P.S. 29 and said she considers Farina a mentor. “She has so much intellectual curiosity herself that she got the kids to be intellectually curious.”

As a superintendent, Farina also gained a reputation for building consensus among districts with very different needs and wants, according to Phillips, who was one of dozens of principals to work with Farina at the time.

“Carmen is a remarkable leader,” Phillips said. “She’s a community builder. I think that was one of her top priorities.”

Patrick Wall contributed reporting.

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