Former English Learner Takes Reins at NYC Schools

New York’s new Mayor, Bill de Blasio, lost no time in announcing his appointment of Carmen Fariña as Schools Chancellor before he even took office. In naming Fariña to lead the nation’s largest school system, de Blasio “emphasized his commitment to working with parents as partners in education, establishing truly universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds and after-school programs for middle schoolers, and prioritizing college and career readiness over high-stakes testing,” according to his press announcement.

Fariña has 40 years of experience in New York City public schools. She began her career as a teacher at P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill, later rising to become a principal at Manhattan’s P.S. 6 and the superintendent of Brooklyn’s District 15. She was appointed Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning in 2004, and later went on to become a vocal advocate outside of government for comprehensive early education and parental involvement in school policy.

And, like many New Yorkers, Fariña was herself an English language learner. She was born in New York City shortly after her parents emigrated from Spain. As Fariña mentioned after the announcement, one of her teachers in Brooklyn either could not, or would not, pronounce her name correctly when calling the register so she did not respond, resulting in her being marked absent for several weeks before her parents were contacted.

Fariña also recounted that another of her teachers asked why her mother never came to parent-teacher conferences. She explained that her mother spoke little English and was uncomfortable coming to the school where she could not understand what teachers said.
The new chancellor claimed that those early experiences in school with her immigrant parents instilled in her the importance of treating all parents, regardless of their background, with respect. That, she said, includes regularly communicating with them in languages they can understand.

“We are going to have a system here where parents are seen as real partners and teachers are going to understand that working with parents is a real enhancement for the classroom,” she said.

New York City schools have been criticized in recent years for failing to communicate with non-English-speaking parents of students. That issue was one of several that the district agreed to address in a 2011 plan to improve English-language acquisition programs and services.

“Carmen won’t just be my chancellor as mayor; she’ll be my chancellor as a public school parent. For years, I’ve watched her innovate new ways to reach students, transform troubled schools, and fight against wrongheaded policies that hurt our kids. 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,” said de Blasio.

2 COMMENTS

  1. It is unfortunate that Farina’s teacher put forth no effort in pronouncing her name correctly. Within my second grade classroom, year to year, I often have trouble pronouncing the name’s of the Indian-American students in my class. I simply could not imagine “giving up” and saying the names however I pleased. One strategy I have found to be helpful is approaching the student’s teacher from the previous school year and writing the student’s name phonetically before the first day of school. I still have the student say his/her name to make sure it matches my notes. I openly tell the students to correct me until I say it exactly the way their parents do and although it may take me a little practice, I do not give up.

    I have recently been conducting research on the relationship between parent involvement within the school and student achievement. The two are undoubtedly directly related. If nothing else, Chancellor Farina’s story reinforces the great impact human connection has on the individual student.

    Above all else is Farina’s motive to protect the children from experiencing a similar fate as her own. As a child, she was so negatively affected by how her parents were treated that she made it her mission to set it right and advocate to make a difference. Luckily for New York City students today, she was motivated enough to turn her feelings of anger into fuel for change. Farina’s story exemplifies a teacher’s need to act responsibly in all situations while realizing how his/her words and actions are remembered, sometimes forever. Her passion to advocate for social change is admirable and her job well deserved.

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