Schools Chancellor Defends Mayor's Policy of Not Rushing to Close Struggling Schools

Nearly two years after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña told the City Council Monday that she believes the administration is making progress turning around the city's most troubled schools. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

Before reading her prepared remarks before the City Council Monday, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña went off script, defending Mayor Bill de Blasio's policy of not rushing to close struggling schools like the former administration had done.

"Closing a school as a first reaction is a sense of hopelessness," Fariña said. "People come to work every day knowing they're not going to have a job, ultimately. It sucks the energy out of a building."

Her comments come just days after a major study by NYU found the city's old policy of closing failing schools had produced significant positive results for students.

Fariña says she believes de Blasio's approach will work better. It's called the School Renewal program and involves flooding 94 low-performing schools with lots of resources and training, a $400 million effort to turn things around.

The three-year program is in its second year, and while Fariña says it is working, she offered individual examples as evidence rather than overall statistics.  

"At Renaissance Arts Middle School in Community District 4 in Manhattan, attendance is up 5 percentage points," Fariña said.

She says she's more focused on improving attendance and parental involvement than test scores.  

The City Council members on the education committee are closely aligned, both politically and ideologically, with the de Blasio administration and the teachers' union, which means at oversight hearings like this one, they generally greet the schools chancellor with more praise than tough questions. That includes defending the city when it comes to the possibility of a state takeover. State education officials have threatened to appoint outside organizations to run city schools that fail to improve quickly.

"I strongly believe that the city should retain control of these struggling schools and have the opportunity to fully implement these reforms to try to turn these schools around," said City Councilman Daniel Dromm of Queens.

On that point, the Department of Education clearly agrees.

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