Future of Schools

Fariña promised to involve parents. Now, parent leaders reflect on her tenure — and offer tips for her successor

PHOTO: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña speak with parent leaders about school safety at the Harry Belafonte Library in October.

When Carmen Fariña took the helm of the New York City school system four years ago, she vowed to involve parents in “every aspect of school life.”

She made parent engagement one of the “four pillars” that guided her approach to overseeing the nation’s largest school district, saying after her first 100 days in office: “When parents are engaged at the school and district level, children and schools benefit. We know they’ve been shut out for far too long.”

Many families appreciated the sentiment and were pleased to have an educator overseeing the system. But others still felt shut out, and wondered how much their feedback really influenced the chancellor’s decisions.

Now that Fariña is on her way out of office, parent leaders are reflecting on her tenure — and thinking about what they want to see in her successor. Here’s what some had to say the day Fariña officially announced her retirement.

Naomi Pena is on the Community Education Council of Manhattan’s District 1, which includes the Lower East Side and the East Village. The district is pioneering a district-wide integration effort.

Having a chancellor as an educator is huge. It’s key to really envisioning the success and keeping in mind the people that matter, which is ultimately the kids and the families. For that she was great.

The next chancellor also needs to be an educator and cultivate not just hearing parents but understanding their perspective. One thing the next chancellor needs to understand is that parents can be your best friend or your worst enemy… A lot of the answers to their questions on how to make things more effective: parents already have the answers.

Shino Tanikawa is the parent council diversity-committee chair in Manhattan’s District 2, which includes some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. 

She is an educator and treated the profession of teaching as honorable and with respect. Returning instructional authority to superintendents — although there are principals who are not happy with the restructuring — and re-establishing community school districts are two things I personally appreciated. If anything, putting pedagogy back in education … was a welcome change and can be considered her legacy.

[The next chancellor should be] a career educator who has been a classroom teacher and an administrator. Someone who can collaborate with parents — not just affluent white parents but all parents. Someone who thinks racial segregation of our schools is a top priority.

Kim Watkins sits on the Community Education Council of Manhattan’s District 3, which covers the Upper West Side and part of Harlem.

I’m absolutely thrilled that Mayor de Blasio brought her out of retirement to stabilize the system that was being torn apart by politics. She was able to focus on instruction, special education, outcomes at the school level. The community-school program — that work is still really exciting.

But then we get to the issue of more than $500 million spent on the “Renewal” schools. … As a taxpayer, I’m furious at what basically amounts to 21 schools improving. We went from where everything was decentralized to an incredibly centralized system, where in December, we get a rollout of closures, after the middle school and kindergarten deadlines. It’s so abusive to treat parents that way.

The new chancellor needs to be a bridge builder. I do think we need to cast a wide net for the next chancellor. And the elected parent leaders that have been chosen by the constituent parents should be very much involved in this process – why not? … Tap into our expertise – we have so much of it.

Johanna Garcia is the president of the Community Education Council of Manhattan’s District 3.

Our schools continue to be underfunded, segregated, overcrowded, with an overemphasis on harmful and unproven standardized testing. …

The new chancellor should focus on changing enrollment and admission practices in kindergarten, intermediate, and high school to assist in diversifying all schools, fully funding and supporting our public schools equitably, reducing class sizes, and developing inclusive learning environments for children of all needs and backgrounds.

Lori Podvesker is a parent who works with INCLUDEnyc, which advocates for students with disabilities.

We’re definitely looking for the next chancellor to focus more on students with disabilities and shrinking the gap between students with disabilities and general education students.

Our students are at 10 percent proficiency rates. Graduation rates are rising as the overall rates are rising, but we want to see more growth. We want to see stronger related services, stronger communication with parents. We’d also like to see more focus on programmatic access as well as physical access. We’re hoping the next chancellor focuses more on inclusion, especially in co-located schools [with District 75 students].

Elissa Stein is a parent who runs a service called High School 411 to help parents navigate the high school admissions process.

The chancellor of the city schools is basically an impossible job, where it seems much time is spent with crisis management making it even more challenging to look at bigger-picture issues.

As a high school parent, I generally felt high schools, as a whole, were overlooked unless there were specifics issues that needed to be addressed. While in many ways the chancellor brought a personal touch and a career’s worth of experience to her position, too often that expertise didn’t make it to high schools. We got initiatives and sound bites — AP for All, mandatory computer science — which didn’t address bigger-picture issues that teenagers in New York City public schools face.

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”