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What Fariña wants to keep from the Bloomberg era: tech, leadership focus

Chancellor Fariña speaks with moderator Jane Williams, right, and Jody Spiro, of the Wallace Foundation, left.
Chancellor Fariña speaks with moderator Jane Williams, right, and Jody Spiro, of the Wallace Foundation, left.

Though Chancellor Carmen Fariña has spent much of her first 10 months as head of the school system working to undo policies established by her predecessors, the Bloomberg administration should get credit for a couple of things, she said Wednesday.

“One of the things that I believe that the former chancellors did: the increases in technology in our schools,” Fariña said. “And, I think, looking for excellence in leadership. I think they felt that and I felt that. We just have different ways to getting to what we think is excellence in leadership.”

The answer came during a discussion hosted by the education nonprofit Teaching Matters and moderated by Jane Williams, an education reporter and radio host who asked Fariña what she wanted to keep around from the Bloomberg era. The question was interesting given Fariña’s clashes with former Chancellor Joel Klein, under whom she was the city’s top instructional administrator in the earlier portion of Bloomberg’s tenure. She retired from that post after just one year, a decision she said later was related to her disagreements with his ideology and focus on making aggressive changes.

Since taking over the school system, Fariña has rarely praised the previous administration or its policies. She has also increased the experience requirements for both principals and district superintendents, moves that stand in contrast to the Bloomberg administration’s creation of a fast-track principal training program that drew criticism for filling the city’s schools with inexperienced leaders.

Some hoped that Fariña would have publicly spoken in support of Bloomberg’s small schools initiative after researchers recently found that disadvantaged students who attended them were more likely to enroll in college. In an editorial, the New York Times urged the de Blasio administration to consider opening more of the schools to replace low-performing ones that aren’t improving.

In response to Williams, Fariña first offered a list of changes she has made since being chosen by Mayor Bill de Blasio to run the school system: eliminating letter grade-based progress reports, prompting schools to give more attention to parents, adding extra time in the school day for professional development, and adding a guidance counselors office at the department, for instance.

Morale is up among teachers, she said, because “people are more willing to take risks because the fear factor is gone to some degree.”

“I think the intent of what they wanted to do is absolutely what I want to do now,” Fariña said of her predecessors. “We want better teachers, better schools, better success.”‘

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