Veteran of City School System Is Said to Be Next Chancellor

Published: December 29, 2013
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will appoint Carmen Fariña, a former top official of the New York City E
ducation Department, as the next schools chancellor, a person with knowledge of the decision said on Sunday.
Ms. Fariña, 70, the daughter of immigrants from Spain who fled the Franco regime, is a veteran of the city’s school system, having served as a teacher, principal and superintendent of a Brooklyn school district. She retired as a deputy chancellor in 2006.
The choice reflected Mr. de Blasio’s desire to depart radically from the educational policies of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, including his emphasis on data and his policy of shuttering low-performing schools. The choice is also in keeping with Mr. de Blasio’s pattern of appointing people with deep governmental experience.
As a principal and superintendent, Ms. Fariña gained a reputation as a stern manager. She worked briefly as a top official in the Education Department early in the Bloomberg administration, overseeing teaching and learning, but departed amid philosophical differences.
Last year, when he was a Democrat in a crowded field of mayoral contenders, Mr. de Blasio said that candidates for chancellor should receive “serious public screening,” criticizing the way Mr. Bloomberg had appointed Cathleen P. Black, a publishing executive, as chancellor in 2010. She resigned after three months.
As the leader of the nation’s largest school district, with 1 million students, Ms. Fariña will also face a host of thorny issues, including calming tensions over a new set of academic standards, rolling out a plan to charge rent to charter schools and negotiating a contract with the city’s teachers’ union, which is demanding billions of dollars in retroactive raises.
Mr. de Blasio has spoken often about his desire to break with several hallmarks of the Bloomberg era, including its support of charter schools. He has said he will decrease the emphasis on standardized testing and give more input to parents.
Ms. Fariña shares Mr. de Blasio’s skepticism of standardized testing and his focus on early education. As chancellor, she will help shape his proposal to expand access to preschool and after-school programs.
The announcement was expected on Monday at William Alexander Middle School in Brooklyn.
Reached at her home late Sunday, Ms. Fariña declined to comment. Aides to Mr. de Blasio did not respond Sunday night to a request for comment.
Ms. Fariña brings to the office a deep knowledge of New York City and its schools. In a 1999 interview, she recalled being the only Spanish-speaking student in kindergarten at St. Charles Borromeo, a parochial school in Brooklyn. She was marked absent by a teacher for six weeks because her teacher mispronounced her name.
Ms. Fariña initially resisted the prospect of being chancellor, saying publicly that she was content in retirement and eager to spend time with her grandchildren. But in recent weeks, Mr. de Blasio continued to prod her.
“Bill is a very persuasive person,” Ms. Fariña said in an interview this month.
“My grandchildren are important to me,” she added. “I spent a lot of years in the system. But I will do 
whatever the new mayor wants me to do.”
The search for chancellor stretched on for almost two months. It was considered one of Mr. de Blasio’s most important appointments, given the emphasis he placed on education during his mayoral bid, including his signature prekindergarten proposal.
But the process of picking a chancellor did not always appear easy. Several candidates withdrew from the process, including Kaya Henderson, chancellor of the schools in Washington, D.C. Other high-profile contenders included Joshua P. Starr, who leads Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, and Kathleen M. Cashin, a longtime city educator and member of the Board of Regents.
Ms. Fariña has stood out throughout her career with her blunt style and egalitarian ideals.
She became known within the system as a principal at Public School 6 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, drawing wealthy families into the school. In 2004, she was named a deputy chancellor, but departed two years later, uneasy about the growing use of student test scores to evaluate schools.
At P.S. 6, Ms. Fariña turned a school once ranked as 76th on a citywide reading test to fourth. Her strategy included replacing 80 percent of the staff — a difficult task, given tenure protections for teachers. “Once you create a climate in a building that is hard-working, people will find out whether they are comfortable with it or not,” she explained in 1999. “And then they have decisions to make.”
As a principal, Ms. Fariña had a soft side, offering to preside over classes for teachers on their birthdays, so they could go to lunch.
Since her retirement in 2006, Ms. Fariña has emerged as a critic of Mr. Bloomberg’s educational policies. “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,” she said at a speech in November, according to the education blog GothamSchools.
It was unclear how long Ms. Fariña planned to remain as chancellor. Mr. de Blasio had at one point considered appointing a deputy who might succeed her after a year or two, according to a person with knowledge of the process. But one such candidate, Dr. Starr, said he was not interested in the position, the person said.
Al Baker contributed reporting.