By Irissa Cisternino ’14 and Shanna Huang ‘15
Chancellor Carmen Fariña radiated warmth and kindness when she sat down with Argus reporters on Thursday, March 13. Despite a busy schedule, she took the time to give some interesting insights into her life as the Chancellor and what she hopes to accomplish in the near future.
“I think the best thing about this job is knowing you can really make the lives of many children in the city better if you make the right choices,” she said. “Coming to this job was about what you can do so that more kids learn and more teachers are happy.”
Mrs. Fariña is the first New York City Schools Chancellor to have had experience with the Board of Education since Rudy Crew in 1995 – 1999. As the new Chancellor, she will work side by side with Mayor Bill de Blasio to make the school system better.
Mrs. Fariña has inherited many things, such as the new Common Core standards and new standardized testing policies. One specific thing that she inherited was the pre-test and post-test assessments. Students had to take a standardized “pretest” in their English classes which lasted 3 days, and then teachers had to take a day off to grade the exams. Not only were teachers forced to give up 4 days in the fall, but they will be doing it again in the spring.
“For the amount of time the teachers spend on it when they did it right, the information is very useful,” she said. “So to not have the post assessment would be a shame because you should really be able to see that progress has been made,” said Carmen Fariña, “Do I think it’s excessive? Yes, but this is what I inherited, and I don’t want to drop it now, although there will be a lot of discussion about what to do when school starts in September.”
Chancellor Fariña also discussed a new Professional Development (PD) department that she established in order to help make sense of the Common Core. She explained that when the Common Core was introduced, many people misinterpreted it to be a curriculum instead of what it actually was, a series of strategies. According to the Chancellor, this Professional Development department is going to re-introduce the Common Core, make sure everyone understands it, and make sure that it can feasibly be implemented.
“In many schools, particularly in the lower grades, teachers were told what to do, but the materials they were given to do it with didn’t work or weren’t fully developed,” Mrs. Fariña said.
A workshop will be held on Saturdays to help train 300 new principals and teach them about the Common Core. This workshop will be taught by experienced principals, and other teacher workshops will be taught by experienced teachers and will be held for two days.
The Common Core was introduced in order to give students a practical education to help them succeed in the business world. “We need to make sure that in this country, we are teaching a curriculum that is going to give kids the skills they really need to get a job in the future,” said Mrs. Fariña. “Many kids are not learning practical math skills, or how to develop a new business. They are not learning how to speak before an audience.” She went on to say that if she had the chance to implement the Common Core differently, she would have started it in 3rd, 6th and 9th grade, and let it move up to the other grades. She said that these are the key grades when it comes to getting teachers to change.
“I think everyone got it (the Common Core) all at once because they didn’t think it through,” she said. Mrs. Fariña emphasized the need for stronger professional development, which she said was something that they did not really do when they were implementing the Common Core. She said that professional Development was at the heart of everything she believes in.
Because the Chancellor’s daughter actually graduated from Midwood in 1989, she was full of praise for the school and
the education that students receive here. “I thought that what (my daughter) learned in Midwood was beyond the academic. She learned how to speak before an audience. She had to do presentations, project based learning. A lot of schools don’t have that,” she said.
Another problem for bigger schools is class size. With as much as thirty four students in each class, many teachers believe that they will be able to focus on students a lot more when the class is smaller.
“A school like Midwood is a popular school with a lot of people who want to be in it, and I think we need to change the nature of how we teach,” said Ms. Fariña. “I do think the class size matters, but a good teacher trumps everything.”
When asked about big schools versus small schools, Mrs. Fariña said that there are both advantages and disadvantages to both.
“I think big and small schools are good. I think big schools are tougher, but I do think that the skills you get for going onto college and the rest of your life is actually better in a big school. I think the opportunities you have, like clubs, electives, and sports- you can’t beat a big school,” said Mrs. Fariña. “I think a small school that is nurturing and cuddly is great, but it doesn’t prepare the same way. I do think there is a plus and a minus wherever you are.”
In addition, the Chancellor had previously been unaware of a clear bias towards small schools in the student surveys given out every spring. There were some questions that favor small schools, and Mrs. Fariña said she will certainly look into it.
Along with changes to the spring survey, Mrs. Fariña also wants to address the problems with the quality review. The quality review currently consists of different reports condensed into one letter grade, and many people judge schools by just that one letter instead of looking at specific aspects of the school.
“A letter grade in a school means that it is an effort grade, not an achievement grade, and people don’t know that. You get an A if more of your kids improved, but that could mean that improving could be from a one to a two. If your school gets usually level three or four, and you didn’t increase your level fours to a certain percentage, you can get a C,” said Ms. Fariña.
The Chancellor also stated that she will be having Town Hall meetings in every borough for teachers to come and ask any questions they may have. There will be one meeting in Manhattan on March 31, at 52 Broadway. There will also be a second meeting on April 1 in Queens, at 97-77 Queens Boulevard. Those are the confirmed dates so far.