leadership change

Citing personal ties, de Blasio names Carmen Fariña chancellor

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Confirming rumors that began even before the general election, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio today named veteran educator Carmen Fariña to be his schools chancellor.

De Blasio made the announcement this morning at M.S. 51, a selective middle school near his Park Slope home that his two children attended.

“Carmen won’t just be my chancellor as mayor; she’ll be my chancellor as a public school parent,” de Blasio said in a press release distributed while the announcement was underway.

De Blasio said Fariña would advance his vision for universal pre-kindergarten, improved middle schools, a diminished role for standardized testing, and increased parent participation.

“All of these changes won’t just happen as edicts from on high. That approach has real limits and we’ve seen that already,” de Blasio said. “It’s time to treat all members of the educational community like they matter again. … We need a leader who understands that. Carmen Fariña is that leader.”

We’ll have more on the announcement, which offers a strong clue about the direction that de Blasio intends to take the school system. De Blasio’s full press release is below:


New administration poised to make parents partners in the school system, de-emphasize high-stakes testing, implement universal pre-kindergarten and after-school for middle schoolers

A former New York City public school teacher, principal, superintendent and deputy chancellor, Fariña pledges to put focus on better performance across all schools

NEW YORK, NY—Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio today announced his appointment of Carmen Fariña as Schools Chancellor. In naming Fariña to lead the nation’s largest school system, de Blasio—himself a public school parent—emphasized his commitment to working with parents as partners in education, establishing truly universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds and after-school programs for middle schoolers, and prioritizing college and career readiness over high-stakes testing.

Fariña has 40 years of experience in New York City public schools. She began her career as a teacher at P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill, later rising to become a principal at Manhattan’s P.S. 6 and the superintendent of Brooklyn’s District 15. Fariña was appointed Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning in 2004, and later went on to become a vocal advocate outside of government for comprehensive early education and parental involvement in school policy.

For her Chief of Staff, Fariña appointed Ursulina Ramirez, a former social worker, Deputy Public Advocate and current Deputy Director of Mayor-Elect de Blasio’s Transition.

“Carmen won’t just be my chancellor as mayor; she’ll be my chancellor as a public school parent. For years, I’ve watched her innovate new ways to reach students, transform troubled schools and fight against wrongheaded policies that hurt our kids. Carmen has worked at nearly every level of this school system. She knows our students, teachers, principals and parents better than anyone, and she will deliver progressive change in our schools that lifts up children in every neighborhood,” said Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio.

“True change happens not through mandates and top-down decision making but through communication, collaboration and celebrating the successes along the way,” said incoming Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Raising the success rate of our students is the only goal. I anticipate the entire city will aid us on this effort.”

“Carmen Fariña has the depth of knowledge and proven experience in our city’s education system that only comes from working in New York City public schools for 40 years,” said Representative Nydia Velázquez. “Fariña knows firsthand that the strongest path toward real education reform grows from the bottom up — and I’m confident she will work tirelessly to ensure parents, educators and students are valued and fully included in the decision-making process next year.”

“Mayor-Elect de Blasio has made an excellent choice in picking Carmen Fariña to lead New York’s public schools. For the first time in many years the nation’s largest school system will be led by an educator with a keen understanding of curriculum and instruction, who is committed to actively supporting our public schools,” said Professor of Education and Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center at New York University Pedro Noguera. “Dr. Fariña brings a broad range of knowledge and experience to the role and is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses within the system. Her appointment is a major step forward for New York City’s schools and its children.”

“Our next Chancellor has excelled as a teacher, a principal and a superintendent. She knows every aspect of this school system inside and out. She knows how to help teachers improve their skills, and how to train principals to lead,” said Chair of the New York State Assembly Education Committee Cathy Nolan. “That’s the kind of expertise that will enable Carmen Fariña to transform our schools in a way that brings everyone together in common cause.”

“Carmen Fariña is a true change agent. She knows how to innovate and bring people together. She’s been a conscience and a voice for the disempowered in this school system for as long as I can remember,” said Council Member and Manhattan Borough President-Elect Gale Brewer. “I’m thrilled Mayor-Elect de Blasio has chosen a Chancellor who can move us past the divisiveness that has held back our school system, and usher in a new era of shared purpose so we can lift up every school.”

“As Chairman of the New York City Education Sub-Committee, I congratulate Carmen Fariña on her appointment as Chancellor,” saidState Senator and Chairman of the Senate NYC Education Sub-Committee Simcha Felder. “She undertakes a monumental responsibility and will be an important advocate for students and parents throughout the New York City public school system. I look forward to working with Chancellor Fariña to ensure our students realize their individual talents and have every opportunity to succeed. Mayor-Elect de Blasio has made extraordinary appointments and I am confident that Fariña will work tirelessly as the new Chancellor and will serve New York City well.”

“As a parent of two public school students, I couldn’t be more excited to have Carmen Fariña as the next Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Families and educators from Park Slope to Red Hook revere Carmen for what she did to make our diverse schools great. She healed divisions, cultivated countless great teachers and principals, and transformed our schools into some of the most successful, creative, and inclusive in the city.”

“As a former public school teacher, I could not be more excited to have a Chancellor who understands what it means to step inside a classroom. Carmen has an incredible depth of experience to guide her,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm. “Under Fariña, our city is gaining a chancellor who understands that universal early education, high-quality after-school programs, de-emphasized testing, and consistent parental involvement are key to student success.”

“Mayor-Elect de Blasio has made an excellent choice in Carmen Fariña. Carmen is a model educator and she puts the partnership between parents, teachers, students and communities at the center of all that she does,” said NYC Coalition for Educational Justice parent leader Ocynthia Williams. “She has been a strong ally to CEJ and a proven advocate of parent engagement for years, dating back to her support of CC9’s Lead Teacher Program in the Bronx, when she was Deputy Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, and continuing after she left the DOE. CEJ believes we can give our children brighter futures by supporting quality schools grounded in strong neighborhoods and Carmen shares our vision. While this won’t be achieved without struggle, CEJ parents are looking forward to embarking on this new day in education together, with Chancellor Fariña!”

“Carmen Fariña brings a powerful combination of pedagogical and leadership experience to this position, and we are pleased that Mayor-Elect de Blasio has appointed someone who so deeply shares our commitment to advancing equity and excellence in the city’s public schools,” said Associate Director of New York City Organizing with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform Oona Chatterjee. “We look forward to partnering with her as she takes on the considerable challenges of her new role.”

“Carmen Fariña is an excellent pick — she knows the New York City public school system inside-out and is an expert educator. She is ready-made to carry out Mayor-Elect de Blasio’s mandate to take our schools in a new and successful direction,” said Advocacy Director for the Alliance for Quality Education and public school parent leader Zakiyah Ansari. “Our children’s future is looking brighter already, as we will finally have an educator as a chancellor. Parents, students, teachers and advocates have been waiting for this moment and are ready to collaborate with Chancellor Fariña to give every child the high quality education they deserve.”

Fariña has been charged with an ambitious agenda to improve New York City schools, including creating 100 new community schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, innovating new Career and Technical Education pathways that prepare students for good jobs, empowering communities to meaningfully shape school decisions, and improving the middle school experience with increased guidance services, enhanced arts and technology programs and extended day wrap-around services.

About Carmen Fariña:

Carmen Fariña has spent over 40 years working at virtually every level of the New York City’s school system to ensure children receive a quality education. During her career, she distinguished herself as a model educator and principal who inspired others across the school system to adopt teaching practices she had pioneered.

Fariña began her education career at Brooklyn’s P.S. 29, where she spent 22 years as an elementary school teacher. Her reading curriculum was so successful that the Board of Education recruited her to expand it for second through ninth grades, and to train teachers on its use. During her five years as District 15’s Core Curriculum Coordinator, Fariña authored “Making Connections,” a multicultural and interdisciplinary program later published by the New York City Board of Education and replicated in every school district.

Over the next 10 years, Fariña became one of New York City’s most successful principals. Under her leadership, Manhattan’s P.S. 6 rose to become one of the top 10 schools citywide in both reading and math – a remarkable improvement as the school ranked 76th among public elementary schools just three years before Fariña joined its faculty.

In 2001, Fariña was elected as Community Superintendent of Brooklyn’s District 15, and began a remarkable turnaround of a deeply divided school community. Fariña earned accolades from administrators, parents and teachers for turning a district that was in a “state of siege” to a “state of grace” by enhancing staff training, meeting with staff and parents, and collaborating with the educators in the district.

Fariña later rose to become Regional Superintendent of Region 8 and then Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning at the Department of Education in 2004, where she developed new strategies to better prepare middle school students for junior high school. As deputy chancellor, she promoted increased interventions for middle school students, which included $40 million to support Saturdayclasses, organizational and study skills workshops, counseling for parents, and teacher training. Fariña made improving special education a personal priority, improving services available to special education students in neighborhood schools, including reducing travel time on school transportation.

Since departing the Department of Education, Fariña has become a widely respected advocate for comprehensive early education, community involvement in school decision-making, and policies that better link the education system with social services for vulnerable families. She has been a vociferous critic of the current approach to low-performing schools, which largely relied on closing them. She has offered bold alternatives, such as pairing principals from schools with mirroring student populations, where one school is performing well and the other is not, to exchange ideas about best practices.

Fariña is a strong believer that principal-to-principal and teacher-to-teacher professional development is the most effective means of professional development. She has mentored hundreds of principals in areas of literacy and professional development, and continued to shape the school system to this day.

About Ursulina Ramirez:

Ursulina Ramirez most recently served as the Deputy Public Advocate and Senior Policy Advisor to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. Prior to working for the Public Advocate, Ursulina was the Senior Policy Analyst at the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families (CHCF) where she advocated for increased access to quality early childhood education in New York City’s Latino communities. Before working in public policy, Ursulina began her career in direct service. She was a child care worker at a residential treatment facility for severely emotionally disturbed youth and also worked for several years as an advisor to first-generation college students.

End of an era

Longtime deputy chancellor Kathleen Grimm to retire

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm (left) at a City Council hearing to discuss the department's five-year capital plan in March 2014.

Kathleen Grimm, the deputy chancellor for operations and a fixture in the Department of Education under four chancellors, is stepping down, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced Wednesday.

Grimm oversaw a sprawling portion of the department, including the offices overseeing safety, school support, school food, athletics, space planning, enrollment, human resources, and construction. The only official to have remained in a top post at Tweed since the beginning of the Bloomberg era, Grimm saw her responsibilities expand even further under Fariña, who moved some offices under Grimm when she shrunk the department’s cabinet.

“It is with deep personal regret that I announce a leave pending retirement of Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, an esteemed colleague who has worked tirelessly to create safe, nurturing environments in which all of our students can learn and thrive,” Fariña said in an email to department staff members.

Grimm, a tax lawyer, was brought on in 2002 for her budgeting and finance expertise and experience in navigating city and state bureaucracy. She had previously served in the state comptroller’s office and the city finance department.

Over her 14-year career at the Department of Education, Grimm preferred to stay behind the scenes, but was thrust into the spotlight when changes to school bus routes, budget cuts, and space planning made headlines.

Her oversight of the city’s transportation of students meant she faced fierce criticism when repeated changes to bus routes angered parents and City Council members. Her oversight of the capital budget and the Blue Book, which sets guidelines for school space use, also made her a frequent target of class-size reduction advocates, who often said the city’s calculations did not reflect reality.

But Grimm was revered within the department for her calm under pressure. She frequently defended the school system in front of the City Council, bearing the brunt of then-education committee chair Eva Moskowitz’s relentless criticism of the city’s toilet-paper offerings in 2004 and, more recently, testifying at hearings on toxic lighting fixtures and school overcrowding.

“Cool and effective, Kathleen stayed for the full twelve years of the Bloomberg administration and did a tough, unglamorous job with distinction,” Klein wrote of Grimm in his memoir “Lessons of Hope.”

On Wednesday, Fariña offered her own praise. “As a senior member of my leadership team, Deputy Chancellor Grimm has provided a strong foundation for our most critical initiatives, including Pre-K for All, Community Schools, and our expanded school support and safety services,” she said.

Grimm’s chief of staff Elizabeth Rose will take over as interim acting deputy chancellor during a search for Grimm’s replacement, Fariña said.

year in review

In first year as chancellor, Fariña counts on fellow educators to drive changes

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Chancellor Carmen Fariña speaks to superintendents and principals overseeing the city's designated renewal schools.

To understand how things have changed since Carmen Fariña became schools chancellor, consider where she has chosen to be on roughly 200 occasions this year, often five times per week: in schools.

She uses the hour-long visits to find model schools that other educators can tour and to size up principals, noting whether teachers seem surprised to see their bosses (a sign they aren’t poking into classrooms enough) and if the principals bring any deputies along for the tours (a hint they know how to delegate). She inspects students’ writing and asks the principal to show her a strong teacher in action and a weak one.

Twelve months into her stint leading the nation’s largest school system, Fariña’s attention to such details seems misplaced to some critics, who worry that it comes at the expense of big-picture thinking and suggests a shift away from the greater autonomy that principals gained under the previous administration.

But to her many admirers, the visits reflect a belief that even in a system of 1.1 million students and 75,000 or so teachers, change can happen school by school and classroom by classroom when educators are empowered, without the seismic policy shakeups that seemed to occur routinely under her recent predecessors. As Fariña, who has spent nearly half a century working in schools, likes to say, “The answers are in the classroom.” In other words, this is educator-driven education reform.

“There’s a sense,” said Alison Coviello, principal of P.S. 154 in the Bronx, “that we’re all in this together.”

When Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled Fariña from semi-retirement last January, she decided that she would have to roll back the Bloomberg-era policies she disagreed with even as she put her own into place: To “undo while [she’s] doing,” as she told Chalkbeat earlier this year.

And that’s just what she’s done. She downsized the office that helped create new schools — a signature Bloomberg initiative — while resurrecting the department devoted to teacher training. She re-empowered superintendents, who were marginalized under Bloomberg, and insisted that would-be principals and superintendents both spend more years in schools (a rejection of the Bloombergian idea that talent trumps experience). And she axed the Bloomberg policies that tied student promotion to test scores and assigned schools letter grades as she launched her own signature program, which sends educators to visit successful schools to pick up ideas.

That program, called Learning Partners, exemplifies Fariña’s approach. It is educator-led, cooperative, and subtle, allowing Fariña to spread her ideas through proxies rather than edicts.

“We have gotten more schools to change practices not by mandating, but by collaborating,” she said in an interview Monday. “I could have said across the board, ‘Every middle school needs to do X, Y and Z.’ And we didn’t do that.”

She also helped forge new contracts with the principals and the teachers unions, which had given up on negotiating with the previous administration. The teachers got a big payout in the contract (though not big enough to satisfy everyone), while Fariña was able to embed time for training and interacting with parents into teachers’ weekly schedules (at the cost of student-tutoring time, which was repurposed). Cynics charged that the city secured the contracts by giving into most of the unions’ demands, but Fariña argues that they were the product of her collaborative approach.

“What we got out of those contracts,” she said, “probably would not have been possible without that kind of partnership.”

She also helped the mayor fulfill his promise to get 53,000 four-year-olds into classrooms.

“How could I forget?” Fariña said. “Pre-K!”

For all that she has already done and undone, Fariña has a big year ahead of her. On Monday, she ticked off a few of the biggest items on her to-do list.

First, she must help de Blasio add the 20,000 additional pre-kindergarten seats he has promised, even as charter schools demand more space of their own. Then, she must turn two of his most ambitious plans into reality: to convert nearly 130 schools into service hubs for students and their families, and to turn around more than 90 low-performing schools.

That last task will be especially daunting. Rather than shut down chronically underachieving schools or replace their staffs, Fariña has proposed lifting them up through a mix of supports for students and coaching for educators. That is a big gamble, which Fariña made clear at a meeting Monday with the leaders of those struggling schools.

“I’m holding you even more accountable,” she told the principals. “Because I went out on a limb, as did Mayor de Blasio, and said, ‘We’re not closing schools. We’re giving everybody a second chance.’”