It's Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña's 12th week running the city school system, and NY1's Lindsey Christ met with her Monday at the Department of Education headquarters to ask how it's going.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
Christ: So obviously, so much of the first two-and-a-half months, the conversation in the city has been about pre-K and after school, and there's many years after pre-K and many hours before after school in the day. When are we going to start hearing more about these concrete proposals and policy changes related to the rest of the system?
Fariña: I think most of the policy changes, you're going to be hearing probably within the next month to six weeks. We have made a very strong statement that in order to become principal or an assistant principal in the city of New York, you need at least seven years of pedagogical experience, and that's a big shift from the last few years. Leaders need to have experience in the classroom. They need to know what the job is before we tell other people how to do their job.
Christ: You've spoken about how you'll get some breathing room from a lot of parents and educators who were very frustrated during the Bloomberg years. Have you been surprised in the past few weeks at sort of how vocal and powerful the organizers who were pro some of the Bloomberg policies, particularly, obviously, the charter school issue, have been?
Fariña: Not really. You know, you had twelve years of being able to do, you know, certain things and then, all of a sudden, someone comes in and they want to do things a little differently. So I think you're always going to have a little push back. I would say the biggest surprise to me was actually that my oldest grandson, who reads the papers, how upset he was, because he said "Abuela, they're picking on you." And I had explain to him not so much that they're picking on me that people have to, it's a democracy. People have a right to make the decisions, you know, their voices heard. And I don't take it personally. I really know who I am and what I've accomplished, and I believe very strongly that I'm a chancellor for all children.
Christ: You're getting sued by both sides on this issue. You made a sort of middle-of-the-road decision, ultimately. Most of the co-locations are going forward, a few are not, and you have people angry at you on both sides. Does that suggest that it's hard to find a middle ground in this realm?
Fariña: I think if you please everybody, you probably haven't done something right. Part of what is happening in this job, I have to undo things while still doing things. So going forward, we have a whole different way of looking at how we do co-locations. We've been very verbal about what we're doing differently going forward. I don't think everybody's heard us.
Christ: Politically, though, is it tough if you're annoying people on both ends?
Fariña: Well, look. Do you sleep well every single night? I mean, you're exhausted, so yes, you do. Do you worry about decisions you make? If you're a leader and you don't worry about your decisions, you'd be an idiot, to be honest with you. I think it's really important to give your best shot based on measured judgment, and I will tell you that we spent days and weeks making these judgments. I'm comfortable with the decisions, and going forward, we're just going to do them very differently.
Christ: Did you learn anything from this?
Fariña: I would say that bringing people in to have discussions is very important, but also, ultimately standing by your decisions and understanding that you did the right thing for the right reasons. I was reading in yesterday's Times that Tom Coburn said sometimes it's better to lose doing the right thing than to win doing something that's reprehensible, so I think that's a really good statement.
Christ: Have you visited a Success charter school ever?
Fariña: Not in recent years.
Christ: Are you going to?
Fariña: Look, I am visiting charter schools on a regular basis. I have visited four charter schools. I visited one last week that I thought was phenomenal, Broome Street Academy. Charters were originally set up to add value to the system, so I am focusing on charter schools that are doing something uniquely different that we can learn from.
Fariña said that while her plans right now don't include a visit to any of the Success Academy charter schools, she does not expect that controversy to go away anytime soon, either.