School & District Management

Insider or Newcomer? Who Will Lead the New York City Schools?

By Corey Mitchell — December 22, 2017 4 min read
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Who will succeed Carmen Fariña as chancellor of the New York City schools, the largest and perhaps most complex school system in the country?

While New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio hints that he wants an educator who will continue the work Fariña began, there are school district advocates and observers who think he needs to bring aboard a leader with new ideas.

Mayor de Blasio plans to hire Fariña’s replacement within a few months, paving the way for her to leave the post before the end of the school year. Her successor will take the helm of a 1.1 million-student school system rife with problems and possibility.

“It’s not just about running a company or an organization. It’s about education,” said Daniel Domenech, the executive director of the AASA, the School Superintendents Association. “The person that’s applying for the job has to feel that they can actually succeed and make a difference.”

Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, said: “The next chancellor needs to bring innovation and change,” especially to the district’s struggling schools.

“There is a tremendous need to create better schools in disadvantaged communities. Simply making bad schools a little better is not good enough,” said Noguera, who also serves as faculty director for the Center for the Transformation of Schools at UCLA.

Noguera celebrated Fariña’s efforts to bring stability to the district, end a long-standing conflict with the teacher’s union, implement universal pre-kindergarten, and her commitment to working with struggling schools. But Noguera’s review of her four years on the job wasn’t all praise: He said the former chancellor was “very weak” on school integration.

A New York native, Noguera worked for years at New York University as the executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education.

“The size of the district, its diversity and complexity, make this an extremely challenging job. The next chancellor should have experience leading large, complex systems,” Noguera said.

Insider or Newcomer?

Domenech said an internal candidate may already be the favorite to fill the role.

Fariña fit that bill back in 2013. A former deputy chancellor in the system, she was a recent retiree when de Blasio tapped her for the role after persuading her to come out of retirement.

Citing unnamed sources, The New York Daily News speculates that senior deputy chancellor Dorita Gibson, one of Fariña’s top aides, is among the candidates to replace her.

Noguera thinks de Blasio should consider two former deputy chancellors, Andrés Alonso and Shael Palokow-Suransky, for the job. Alonso is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He led the Baltimore city schools from 2007 to 2013. Palokow-Suransky is the president of the New York-based Bank Street College of Education.

Noguera also suggested that Alberto Carvalho, the schools chief in the Miami-Dade schools in Florida, the fourth-largest district in the country, should be encouraged to apply. Carvalho, who has led that district since 2008, was named superintendent of the year in 2014 by AASA.

While Fariña has faced criticism for her on-the-job performance, Domenech said she wouldn’t have lasted four years if she was not effective.

“New York City does not take kindly to chancellors that are not capable of doing the job,” said Domenech, who has some insight into the hiring process for the job.

Domenech was a finalist to lead the district in 1995 when he was a district superintendent for a regional board that oversees 18 school districts in western Suffolk County on Long Island. The school board ultimately hired Rudy Crew to the lead the district.

“You have parents who need to develop confidence that the person [who] is leading the system and is making decisions on behalf of the students is someone that knows the business,” Domenech said.

Unsolicited Advice

Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of the New York City-based Success Academy charter school network, distributed a list of 14 people she deems as strong candidates to run the school system. Moskowitz has clashed with Fariña and de Blasio, with their debates over the role of charter schools in the city and squabbles over co-locating charters in buildings with regular, district-run schools.

Moskowitz’s list of favorites, which is heavy with superintendents leading Florida school districts, has a strong theme: Many have a track record of working at least amicably with charter schools; and some in direct partnership with charters.

On her list are Alonso and Carvalho, along with: Robert Avossa, superintendent of the Palm Beach County, Fla., schools; Malika Anderson, former superintendent of the Tennessee Achievement School District; Desmond Blackburn, superintendent of the Brevard County, Fla, schools; Tom Boasberg, superintendent of the Denver public schools; Lewis Ferebee, superintendent of the Indianapolis schools; William Hite, superintendent of the Philadelphia schools; Barbara Jenkins, superintendent of the Orange County, Fla., schools; Pedro Martinez, superintendent of the San Antonio Independent schools; Robert Runcie, superintendent of the Broward County, Fla., public schools; David Steiner, the director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy; Clayton Wilcox, superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., schools; and Antwan Wilson, chancellor of the District of Columbia schools.

While de Blasio has declined to reveal or discuss possible candidates for the job, he briefly addressed Moskowitz’s recommendations.

“I will not hold [Moskowitz’s] endorsement against any of those candidates,” the mayor said during Thursday’s press conference, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Here’s a look at the Moskowitz list.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.