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Mayor-Elect De Blasio Appoints Carmen Farina As Schools Chancellor

Carmen Farina (credit: CBS 2)

Carmen Farina (credit: CBS 2)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A former teacher, principal and longtime advocate of early childhood education will be the next leader of New York City’s public school system, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

Carmen Farina, also a former deputy chancellor of city schools, will bring a wealth of insider’s experience and fresh ideas to the job, de Blasio said.

“She knows it because she’s lived it,” the mayor-elect said. “Carmen has worked at nearly every level of this school system. She knows our students, teachers, principals and parents better than anyone and she will deliver progressive change in our schools that lifts up children in every neighborhood.”

“It will be a powerful statement particularly to our teachers to see one of their own raised to the rank of chancellor,” de Blasio added.

As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, none of Farina’s four immediate predecessors had a background in education.

Farina has been a longtime adviser to de Blasio and helped inform his education platform, including his signature proposal to offer universal pre-kindergarten and expanded after-school programs for middle school students.

Farina, 70, said she was looking forward to working for a mayor with a “progressive agenda.”

“True change happens not through mandates and top-down decision-making, but through communication, collaboration and celebrating the successes along the way,” Farina said. “Raising the success rate of our students is the only goal. I anticipate the entire city will aid us on this effort.”

Farina said she’d review Mayor Bloomberg’s educational policies from top to bottom when she takes over the school system.

At a news conference announcing her appointment, she also talked about her early years as a public school student. She said she was initially treated as if she were invisible, because she was the child of Spanish immigrants and had a last name that was difficult for the teacher to pronounce.

Farina has held several posts within the city school system. She was once a teacher at Public School 29 in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn and later a principal at P.S. 6, a high-achieving school on the Upper East Side.

It was there that she first met de Blasio. They began working together in 2001 after Farina moved to Brooklyn’s District 15 school board, of which de Blasio was a member. De Blasio, who lives in the Park Slope neighborhood, sent both of his children to a school within Farina’s district.

She de-emphasized using standardized testing as a major factor in measuring performance, a stance that clashed with the Department of Education’s central office. De Blasio has long railed against “teaching to the test.”

Farina also created several new, small middle schools within District 15, a tactic de Blasio has praised. The district soon became regarded as one of the most innovative in the city.

She became deputy chancellor under Joel Klein, Bloomberg’s first chancellor. She retired in 2006 but supplied informal guidance to de Blasio’s mayoral campaign.

Assessing each school’s performance with letter grades is likely to be abolished under Farina and individual school principals will likely be empowered to tailor programs to fit their vision, Aiello reported.

“We don’t want principals to follow the rules, we want principals who create their own and move us forward,” said Farina.

“As a principal, I need someone to look up to, I need someone to guide me. And she is the right person to do that,” Lise Gioe of Millennium Brooklyn High School told Aiello.

However, the charter school community wasn’t as warm to the appointment. There are worries the new mayor will charge rent and diminish support for the schools, Aiello reported.

Charter leader Eva Moskowitz said Farina is “an educator who cares. The question is will she protect and expand public charter school options for families who need and are demanding them?”

Farina will take over the school system, which educates more than 1.1 million students, at a crucial juncture.

Experts predict she’ll be facing a long list of challenges from day one, including negotiating a contract with the teachers’ union and executing two of the major platforms of de Blasio’s campaign.

“Carmen is a real educator. She has a deep knowledge of schools and our system, and is on record criticizing Mayor Bloomberg’s focus on high stakes testing,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. “We look forward to working with her to help make sure every child has access to an excellent education.”

De Blasio wants to fund his universal pre-kindergarten program by raising taxes on wealthy New Yorkers, a plan that would need approval in Albany. The state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have been noncommittal.

Another platform is a moratorium on allowing new charter schools to share buildings with existing schools.

“We finally have a chancellor with experience in the New York City public school system with a track record of turning around low-performing schools that’s an educator that understands teaching and learning,” Mona Davids, president of New York City Parents Union, told WCBS 880. “If we have a checklist, Ms. Farina checks all boxes. We just wish that there was not mayoral control and the chancellors were really and truly independent.”

Farina will replace outgoing chancellor Dennis Walcott.

Walcott succeeded Cathie Black, a former publishing executive whose short tenure lasted just three months after wide-spread criticism about her lack of education experience. During his campaign, de Blasio blasted Bloomberg for that appointment.

De Blasio had to convince Farina to come out of retirement to take the chancellor’s job. He reportedly offered it to two other renowned educators and was turned down.

De Blasio will be sworn in at a private ceremony at the stroke of midnight New Year’s Day and at a public ceremony at City Hall Wednesday at noon.

When he takes the oath of office, de Blasio be sworn in by former President Bill Clinton. De Blasio’s transition team said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also will attend the ceremony.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)