New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio chose Carmen Farina, who has worked for 40 years as a teacher and administrator in the city school system, as education chancellor.
Farina, 70, has been an informal policy adviser to de Blasio for more than 12 years, ever since the mayor-elect served on a Brooklyn school board that made her district superintendent. Before that, she spent 22 years as a teacher at Public School 29 in the borough’s Cobble Hill section.
“For years I’ve watched her innovate new ways to reach students, transform troubled schools and fight against wrongheaded policies that hurt our kids,” de Blasio said today in a statement accompanying the announcement in Brooklyn. “She knows our students, teachers, principals and parents better than anyone, and she will deliver progressive change.”
As leader of the nation’s largest school system, with more than 1 million students and about 75,000 teachers, Farina will set curriculum and personnel policies. She also will advise city officials negotiating with the teachers union, which has been without a contract since 2009.
“We’re going to have a system here where parents are seen as real partners,” Farina said today after being introduced by de Blasio at William Alexander Middle School.
Farina will also be tasked with persuading state lawmakers to approve de Blasio’s signature plan to tax income over $500,000 a year so that 68,000 4-year-olds may attend all-day preschool and for after-hours programs for adolescents. De Blasio, a 52-year-old Democrat, says the program is crucial to reduce income inequality.
She replaces Dennis Walcott, 62, who was appointed chancellor in 2011 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg when former Hearst Magazines Chairman Cathie Black resigned after four months.
Farina has long advocated more resources devoted to early-childhood and middle-school education. In speeches and panel discussions, she has espoused an education philosophy consistent with de Blasio’s, de-emphasizing standardized testing and focusing on character development and intellectual curiosity.
At P.S. 29, Farina won recognition as citywide Teacher of the Year. In 1989, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation named her among six recipients of a Sloan Public Service Award.
“Her classroom was always different from the other teachers’ classrooms,” said Dorothy Siegel, 67, an autism specialist at New York University’s Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, who befriended Farina years ago when she was a PTA president at P.S. 29 and her daughter was in Farina’s class.
“The room was very busy at all times,” Siegel said in an interview. “You wouldn’t find a child staring off into the distance. She was like the juggler who’s able to hold a lot of spinning plates at once.”
Farina’s first stint as school administrator began in 1991 when she became principal of P.S. 6 on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, an elementary school whose alumni include photographer Richard Avedon, writer J.D. Salinger, folk singer Peter Yarrow and musician Lenny Kravitz.
After 10 years, she returned to Brooklyn, where she became superintendent of Cobble Hill’s District 15. De Blasio was a member of the school board, his first elected position.
Farina served in Bloomberg’s Education Department from 2004 to 2006 as former Chancellor Joel Klein’s deputy for teaching and learning. The mayor, whose 12 years in office end tomorrow, is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
In 2008 Farina co-wrote a textbook for teachers-in-training, “A School Leader’s Guide to Excellence: Collaborating Our Way to Better Schools.”
Farina is a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, where de Blasio also resides. Her parents, immigrants from Galicia, Spain, spoke almost no English and came to the U.S. after her father opposed fascist dictator Francisco Franco.