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Fariña offers advice to leaders of city’s future community schools

Patrick Wall

Chancellor Carmen Fariña told principals, superintendents, and nonprofit leaders on Wednesday that the stakes are high as they work to grow the city’s number of community schools.

“We have an opportunity in New York City, and there is no pressure, but guys, I only succeed if you succeed, and I am damned if I am going to fail, so you have no choice,” Fariña said. “This is an unbelievable opportunity for us.”

Fariña was speaking at a day-long symposium for school leaders and community organizations involved in the city’s effort to overhaul 128 schools by making them into community hubs offering a mix of health and social services, tutoring, and other services for students and local residents. At the event, the chancellor offered a few new details about how the partnerships should work and made clear that a lot was riding on the schools’ efforts — namely, how her philosophy for improving the school system without school closures will be received.

The city plans to spend $52 million in state money to put new community services into 40 schools, and to using the community-school model to help turn around 94 struggling schools in its “Renewal Schools” program.

Integrating those services into a schools is a complicated task, and the schools in the Renewal program will need to do it while also facing deadlines for boosting student academic performance. (Even many supporters of the city’s plans have said officials have so far been less clear about plans to improve instruction.)

It will be up to the principals to make it all happen, Chancellor Fariña said at the event, which took place at the city teachers union headquarters. That will require school leaders to make smart choices about which organizations they partner with, how they work with those organizations, and how they direct their staff members, she added.

When making choices about partnerships, Fariña said principals should look for organizations eager to meet the needs of the school and the community and work closely with teachers — not community-based organizations with staff members who only say, “This is what I have done.”

“The best work I have done with a CBO — and some of you are those people — [is] put a guidance or a support worker or a social worker in a school during the school day so you actually see the kids in the classroom, not after school,” she said. “It needs to be seamless. This is not an add-on.”

To that end, the chancellor promised the school leaders some level of autonomy in how they choose to implement the community-school model.

“It’s not a top-down discussion,” Fariña said.

The department is accepting proposals from those organizations looking to partner with schools in the Renewal program until Feb. 24, and officials said they will screen those applications before principals interview the organizations they’re interested in. Organizations with existing relationships with schools in the Renewal program will have to apply if they wish to continue working with their respective schools, an issue one educator asked department officials about before Fariña’s remarks.

The chancellor also called on principals to share leadership responsibilities, especially with their assistant principals. She suggested that assistant principals create their own informal cabinets composed of two or three teachers.

“How do we use resources in our building that we might not have used effectively in the past? What I want to see is our pipeline for our next leaders being assistant principals who are taking an active role in this work,” Fariña said.

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