Carmen Fariña started her first school day as chancellor with an 8 a.m. photo opportunity at the Department of Education’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse.
Before heading in to start moving the department in a new direction, Fariña told reporters that she had chosen the first “book of the month” for her administration: “I Will Make Miracles,” a children’s book that she had adapted with a piece of tape to be called “We Will Make Miracles.”
Fariña will end the day by making the call about whether to close schools Friday for the winter storm that could drop nearly a foot of snow on the city overnight. The decision will surely be fraught: Closing schools on her second day in charge isn’t an ideal move, but neither is asking students and teachers to undertake treacherous commutes for an impossible-to-use day, as former Mayor Bloomberg did in early 2011.
In between, she’ll will visit a Bronx school that in some ways embodies the challenges that she faces. M.S. 223, the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology, has earned city accolades — and a New York Times profile — for its efforts to serve low-income middle schools, many of whom do not speak English at home.
The Bloomberg administration, which opened the school in 2003, gave M.S. 223 permission to expand and included it in several hallmark initiatives, and Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited as well.
But at the same time, Principal Ramon Gonzalez has not been shy about speaking out against policies that he does not support — policies that Fariña’s administration could revisit. This spring,Gonzalez told an audience that he wanted to see corrections to this year’s tougher state tests, which he said induced some of his students to vomit out of anxiety.
“I wonder who was at that table, who wrote the standards, because it sure wasn’t folks like me,” Gonzalez said about the Common Core standards that the state and city adopted last year.
Fariña praised Gonzalez in her speech accepting the appointment, calling him a “phenomenal principal … who doesn’t take no for an answer.”
“He believe that arts is an avenue for kids in high-poverty areas to get excited about summer school and after-school. And those are the kinds of people we want,” she said. “We don’t want principals who follow the rules. We want principals who create their own and move us forward.
Fariña has also praised the Common Core standards, which are meant to propel students toward college readiness, but is certain to bring her literacy expertise to bear when scrutinizing the curriculum choices that the Bloomberg administration made to help schools transition to them.
Read more about the big questions that Fariña faces and how her experience might influence her answers in our analysis from Monday, when Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed the veteran educator to run the city’s schools.
Patrick Wall contributed reporting.