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With her successor set, veteran schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has mixed feelings about stepping down

Alex Zimmerman

After 52 years in New York City schools, Chancellor Carmen Fariña appears to be having a hard time saying goodbye.

Fariña, who has served in essentially every role within the country’s largest school system, will retire — for the second time — at the end of March. On Monday, her boss, Mayor Bill de Blasio, announced that Houston schools chief Richard Carranza would succeed her as chancellor.

But while Fariña made clear that she’s ready for a vacation, she also said she is sticking around — both through the transition and also after Carranza takes office for one pet project. The overlap suggests that the incoming schools chief will have to delicately navigate the unique arrangement as he finds his own footing at the education department.

In the past, outgoing New York City chancellors have largely steered clear of the education department, allowing their successors to occupy the spotlight.

But Fariña said she would be on hand to help Carranza get up to speed, and that she plans to stay involved in “one little project” she started: helping high schools that share buildings collaborate better and pool resources.

“Because I really care about this job so much,” Fariña said, “I asked Richard, would he mind if I stayed involved in that little work, and he said it would be his pleasure.”

Carranza chimed in: “Absolutely.”

Noting that overlap between top education officials is rare, Carranza — who is similar to Fariña in many ways — said he welcomed Fariña’s ongoing presence at the education department. He even made a joke at his expense, saying he would be “the spare chancellor” for a short time.

“I’m incredibly honored that Carmen Fariña is not only going to, but wants to, be a part of my transition and helping me to understand what has happened,” Carranza said. “I think that’s an invaluable opportunity that quite frankly in many transitions of large systems you don’t get that opportunity.”

A possible downside looms: Fariña has long faced criticism that she micromanages initiatives at the education department. Having “two chancellors for a while,” as Fariña put it on Monday, could expose Carranza to that tendency.

City officials appear to be attuned to the need for a clear handoff of authority. At the press conference, de Blasio jumped in to emphasize that Fariña would, in fact, vacate the education department at the end of March, when Carranza is expected to arrive in the city. (His official start date is still under discussion. Officials in Houston suggested on Tuesday that he might remain there for two to three weeks.)

And Fariña piped up that, after the transition period, the work at shared high school campuses is the “only project I expect to be involved in.”

“When I talk about retirement this time, it’s going to stick,” said Fariña, who was convinced to leave retirement and become chancellor in 2013. “But if there’s anything I can do to be a mentor or give advice, I’m open for it.”

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