By Alex Robinson
City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña came to Queens last week to answer parents’ questions and give her vision for the future of the city’s education system at a town hall meeting.
Hundreds of parents and educators filed into the District 25 meeting at PS 154 March 5 to ask questions of the new chancellor.
Fariña fielded queries about some of the city’s most contentious education issues, including Common Core and co-located schools.
She had been a lifelong educator, working as a teacher, principal and superintendent before serving as deputy chancellor in 2004. Fariña quit after two years in that position after disagreements with the Bloomberg administration and was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio as chancellor in December.
“This is an administration, both the mayor and I feel, [in which] the client is the child in the classroom,” she said at the beginning of the meeting. “The consumers are you and the teachers are the people (who) we need to serve the client and the consumer. So if we don’t make it important to talk to all these constituents, we really won’t be in a very good place.”
Fariña touted District 25, which covers Flushing, Whitestone, College Point and part of Fresh Meadows, as a district that always pushed for more arts funding and valued the arts despite cuts in previous years.
Parents and educators wrote down their questions on pieces of paper and then submitted them to the District 25 board to be read out to the chancellor, who said she would make sure to personally answer questions by telephone that were not addressed at the meeting.
The night’s first question was about Common Core.
“What’s the sense in coming to school only to learn Common Core? The children are only going to learn what’s on the exam,” the question read.
Fariña said Common Core has not been described in a way most people can understand it and said she was going to try to clarify the standardization initiative with workshops in the future.
“Common Core is not a curriculum. Common Core is a set of strategies,” she said.
Fariña said Common Core teaches students many important skills she believes are vital, such as the ability to compare and contrast and public speaking.
“I do think we as a country need to raise our standards. We cannot assume that other countries can outperform us when we know we have the best and the brightest in this country,” she said.
On the subject of school co-locations, Fariña said they would continue, but only in a way that would be beneficial to all students.
“The co-location is something we inherited. We’re looking very closely at what we’ll be doing from this point on,” she said. “One of the things that Mayor de Blasio has said is that co-locations, going forward, if and when they happen, will happen very differently. Just so you know what that difference is, it’s going to be very transparent.”
Fariña and de Blasio recently came under fire from the charter school community by canceling three proposed co-locations.
The chancellor said co-locations will only happen in the future if they will not be a detriment to the students of the building being shared. She said a co-location of an elementary school and a middle school would be reasonable if the middle school prioritized the students in the same school for acceptance when they graduated and they shared a guidance counselor to help fifth-graders make the jump to sixth-grade.
“We’re going to make a list of what we consider reasonable co-locations,” she said. “To me what is not reasonable is putting an elementary school in a high school.”
Fariña also answered a query about a local controversy about a teacher at PS 201 stopping her student from writing an essay about Malcolm X for Black History Month.
The chancellor said the department had spoken to the school’s administration and she was happy with how the teacher, who apologized to her class, had handled the situation.
“There’s no historical figure that hasn’t been sometimes on either side of the issue,” she said. “I just finished reading a book about George Washington [with] a very different feeling about him than when I read about him in fourth-grade.”
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.