New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña Gets High Marks

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New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is relinquishing control of the country’s largest school system, announcing Thursday morning that she plans to step down at the end of the year.

“Four years ago, Mayor de Blasio asked me to unretire at age 70 to join his leadership team and become schools chancellor,” she wrote in a letter obtained by the New York Times that’s expected to be posted publicly Thursday. “[I] took the job with a firm belief in excellence for every student, in the dignity and joyfulness of the teaching profession, and in the importance of trusting relationships where collaboration is the driving force.”

The news, first reported by Politico, doesn’t come as a surprise. The 74-year-old lifelong educator came out of retirement to helm New York schools under Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2013 and it was widely expected she would not stay for a second term.

A national search for a new chancellor is underway. In the meantime, here’s what you should know about Fariña’s tenure and her impact on education for educators and students in the city’s 1,800 schools:

  • When de Blasio convinced Farina to come out of retirement, it was in part a strategy to restore trust among educators after nearly eight years of dramatic education policy overhauls ushered in under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein – two of the most ardent education reformers in the country. At the time, Fariña, who spent four decades as a teacher, principal and superintendent in the city, said her No. 1 job was to reestablish “joy” and “respect” to the classroom. While the Bloomberg administration often battled with teachers unions on issues of testing, teacher evaluation and compensation, and school closures, de Blasio and Fariña have had a more amicable relationship.
  • Overall, math and reading scores have increased among New York City students during Fariña’s leadership. In addition, high school graduation rates crested above 70 percent for the first time ever and in-school incidents of crime have decreased.
  • Fariña oversaw a major expansion of the city’s prekindergarten program, which aims to provide free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds. Currently, about 70,000 children are enrolled in the city’s program for 4-year-olds, which tripled the number of available seats in just two years. The program for 3-year-olds, which offers only 11,000 seats, is still limited to lower-income families, but is expected to expand over the next four years.
  • One of the most costly and controversial programs Fariña oversaw was the city’s efforts to turn around its poorest-performing schools. The Renewal School Program lengthened the school day for more than 90 schools and paired them with academic coaches and social service organizations. The strategy was a departure from the previous administration, which had closed many of the lowest-performing schools and opened smaller schools in their places. But the effectiveness of the Renewal School Program is mixed at best, and the city is in the process of closing or merging 33 of the schools.
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