the long view

Ex-DOE official with de Blasio ties offers a NYC schools vision

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She says she’s not interested in the job herself, but Carmen Farina has a clear vision for how Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s chancellor should lead the city’s schools.

That vision includes some big ideas — including converting empty classrooms into dormitories for homeless students to forcing real estate developers to build space for early education — that the retired educator says have been on her mind recently. On Monday, Farina shared her thoughts publicly on an education panel about the transition underway at City Hall between the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations.

Farina said her philosophy around education policymaking represents an approach that’s been absent at the Department of Education in recent years.

“I want to see us have a system where people do things because they have a sense of joy about it, not because they have a sense of fear,” Farina said during the panel, which was part of a daylong conference about the transition at the CUNY Graduate Center. 

Farina’s four-decade career as a teacher and administrator in city schools included Mayor Bloomberg’s takeover of the system in 2002. She helped oversee an initial restructuring under mayoral control, serving as one of 10 regional superintendents and then moving up to head the department’s instructional division for two years.

Farina has been an unofficial advisor to de Blasio on education, a relationship that dates back more than a decade to when they worked in the same Brooklyn school district. Before he was elected to the City Council in 2001, de Blasio served on the District 15 school board at the same time when Farina was superintendent.

The close ties have led to speculation that she might be de Blasio’s pick for chancellor, a rumor she squelched last month and again on her way out of the room after her panel appearance. She declined to offer the name of a good candidate to fill the position, arguing that de Blasio and people who are helping him with the transition should handle the selection privately.

“When we voted for Bill as mayor we assumed he heard our concerns and would make the right decisions on his picks for commissioners and chancellor,” she said.

Some of what Farina said on the panel hewed closely to priorities that de Blasio campaigned on during the election season. Like de Blasio, she called for the inclusion of more voices than just the mayor’s on the Panel for Educational Policy, the 13-member school board that sets education policies.

She also offered an idea that could address space issues that could stand in the way of de Blasio’s proposal to expand the number of available pre-kindergarten seats and after school programs for middle school students. Real estate developers, she said, should be required to build early childhood education centers that would also serve as community centers for middle school students.

And Farina had a radical solution to serve some of the roughly 18,000 children who are currently housed in city’s homeless shelter system.

“We need to turn some of our large high schools into dormitory schools,” she said, so that homeless students can be accounted for in the hours when they’re not supposed to be in school. (Many large high schools currently house multiple schools, putting them near or over capacity.)

Farina was critical of the Bloomberg administration’s approach to low-performing schools, which largely relied on closing them and opening new schools in their place. An alternative to closing schools, she proposed, is to pair principals from schools with mirroring student populations, where one school is performing well and the other isn’t, to exchange ideas about what works and what doesn’t.

“Principal-to-principal, teachers-to-teachers, are the best vehicle to professional development that I know,” she said.

The panel featured plenty of praise for the some current Bloomberg policies, too. Joining Farina on the seven-member panel was Cass Conrad, executive director of CUNY’s Early College Initiative, who touted the hundreds of small schools that have been created in the last 12 years.

Another panelist, Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, said the city’s evolving school accountability system — dominated by schools’ annual progress report card grades — was worth saving, but with some changes. He said recent changes to the system were providing a more accurate picture of school quality than ever and that bringing test scores, which currently make up most of the scores, into balance with other measures would improve them more.

He also said a pilot to allow schools to opt out of the citywide accountability system had attracted roughly 50 schools and would further test different approaches to measuring school performance.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.