NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City’s Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio on Monday named Carmen Farina, a longtime teacher and administrator, as the next chancellor of the nation’s largest public school system.
Farina, 70, takes charge of a system with 1.2 million students at a time when long-simmering debates over teacher compensation and discipline and the place of charter schools in urban education are coming to a head.
Education has been a signature issue for de Blasio. A key campaign pledge was to push through a “millionaires tax” on the city’s highest earners to pay for universal access to pre-Kindergarten and after-school programs for middle schoolers.
Whereas outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg was often at odds with the United Federation of Teachers, whose members have been working without a contract since 2009, de Blasio has indicated he will take a more collaborative approach and backs offering retroactive pay increases in a new contract.
In announcing Farina’s appointment, de Blasio said he hopes to make a “powerful statement” to teachers by naming someone who rose from their ranks to the position of chancellor. Bloomberg had chosen three chancellors outside the profession.
“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,” de Blasio, who takes office on January 1, said at a news conference.
De Blasio, a Democrat who has pledged to confront economic inequality, described Farina as a brilliant innovator who is well-equipped to address the achievement gap between white and minority students in New York schools.
The mayor-elect has been sympathetic to teachers’ objections to semi-public charter schools sharing space with traditional public schools.
Bloomberg also butted heads with city teachers on how easy it should be to fire them over poor performance or other issues.
Farina spent 22 years as an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn, where she was recruited by the Board of Education to expand and help implement her successful reading curriculum.
She later became a core curriculum director, a regional superintendent and a deputy chancellor for teaching and learning in 2004 at the Department of Education, where she developed strategies to help prepare middle school students for junior high school.
The daughter of immigrants from Spain, Farina said at the news conference that she would be an advocate for students for whom English is a second language.
“True change happens not through mandates and top-down decision-making but through communication, collaboration and celebrating the successes along the way,” said Farina, who has advised de Blasio on education issues for more than a decade. “Raising the success rate of our students is the only goal.”
Bloomberg, who leaves office after three terms, chose Joel Klein, who had been a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, as his first chancellor,
He then picked magazine executive Catherine Black, who stepped down after three months on the job after making a series of blunders that her critics blamed on her inexperience.
Editing by Bernadette Baum and Dan Grebler