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UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Chancellor Carmen Fariña, along with principals union leaders, agreed on a plan Thursday to overhaul two struggling schools.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Chancellor Carmen Fariña, along with principals union leaders, agreed on a plan Thursday to overhaul two struggling schools.

Geoff Decker

Fariña hints at changes to arts ed, high school admissions at UFT talk

Changes to arts education requirements and high school admissions are on Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s mind, she told members of the United Federation of Teachers at their annual conference this morning in Midtown. But she urged teachers waiting for details to be patient.

“Stay tuned,” Fariña said often during a wide-ranging, 90-minute conversation with UFT President Michael Mulgrew and in response to questions from teachers. 

Fariña didn’t make any specific policy announcements, but said she wants to see improvements to instruction for students with disabilities and English language learners. Fariña also said she wanted schools to improve their arts education offerings, referring to a recent report that found most schools are out of compliance with state laws requiring arts instruction.

“We’re going to say to people, the arts are important and there is a compliance issue,” Fariña said. “For a long time, I think it wasn’t on people’s radars, but it’s certainly on mine and just stay tuned.”

Mulgrew and Fariña’s discussion also avoided the elephant in the room: the contract negotiations underway between the teachers union and the city.

But Mulgrew did say that the city was considering changes to its high school admissions policies, which have faced legal scrutiny and criticism from state education officials who have said the city’s system sends too high a proportion of high-need students to certain schools.

“I know this is something you are looking at very closely and it is something … that clearly is being looked at, and I think that’s all we should say on that,” Mulgrew said.

“On the radar,” Fariña said in response. “I’m not going to give you a specific answer, but it’s on the radar.”

Fariña is now more than four months into her tenure as chancellor, and for most of that time, Mayor de Blasio’s administration has focused its education efforts on resolving charter school space battles and rallying behind plans to expand pre-kindergarten.

But Mulgrew and Fariña seemed more than willing to skip the topics on Saturday: charter schools were barely mentioned and neither brought up pre-K. (De Blasio is scheduled to speak at the event, usually attended by dozens of the city and state’s leading Democratic elected officials, later in the day.)

On Saturday, teachers said they remain eager to hear the specifics of Fariña’s plans for taking the school system in a different direction than the previous administration, something both she and de Blasio have promised.

Fariña’s talk did little to clarify those plans, but teachers were willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Fariña taught elementary school in Brooklyn for 22 years, and many said they were just thrilled that the person in charge of the school system had experience in the classroom.

“I’ve never heard a chancellor get such a round of applause here,” Mulgrew said, recounting past conferences when he would take a more defiant tone to protest the city’s education policies.

Fariña didn’t talk about charter schools until a teacher in the audience asked about issues of equity between district schools and co-located charter schools. Fariña said a new co-location working group met for the first time yesterday.

“I do think there’s going to be a different tone because we’re putting everyone at the table,” Fariña said.

Gregg Lundahl, a high school teacher from Washington Irving High School, said that he was thrilled that Fariña was the chancellor, but knows that sweeping changes would take time.

“There is hope, but she has to create mechanisms to make real change,” Lundahl said. “So far I don’t see those mechanisms yet.”