School & District Management

Search to Fill One of Education’s Biggest Jobs Begins as New York City Chief Steps Down

By Corey Mitchell — December 21, 2017 4 min read
A 2016 portrait of New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Carmen Fariña, the chancellor of New York City Schools, announced Thursday that she would be resigning in 2018, leaving behind a school system fundamentally changed from where it stood when her tenure began four years ago.

Fariña, 74, plans to leave her job as head of the 1.1 million-student school system, the largest in the country, prior to the end of the school year.

“I took the job with a firm belief in excellence for every student, in the dignity and joyfulness of the teaching profession, and in the importance of trusting relationships where collaboration is the driving force,” Fariña wrote in a letter to staff Thursday. “These are the beliefs that I have built over five decades as a New York City educator, and they have been at the heart of the work we have done together for the past four years.”

A nationwide search for her successor is already underway, with plans to hire a successor within months, said Mayor Bill de Blasio. Under state law, the city’s mayor controls the schools.

Who de Blasio has in mind for his next chancellor isn’t yet clear, but school leadership experts say the job requires a hard-to-find combination of someone with credibility as an educator and the acumen to navigate the rough-and-tumble politics of New York City.

The job “warrants a top-caliber administrator with a reputation of success and familiarity with the complexities of running a system of that size, not the least of which is the ability to communicate with the public,” said Daniel A. Domenech, the executive director of the AASA, the School Superintendents Association. “You have the parents, you have the unions, you have the businesses, and of course, you have the politics.”

Fariña played a key role in the establishment of de Blasio’s prekindergarten-for-all program, which he considers his signature education victory. That program now enrolls about 70,000 children.

Graduation rates and test scores also improved under Fariña’s watch. The graduation rate has increased more than 6 percentage points since 2013; on New York state tests, math scores have increased 8 percent and English language arts scores 14 percent during that same period. But critics have raised doubts about those gains amid concerns about watered-down standards.

Fariña, a veteran educator who spent her entire career in New York’s school system, also ended the district policy of using only test scores to make decisions about promoting students to the next grade, started programs that allowed teachers and principals to collaborate regionally on teaching strategies, and created a senior-level position to oversee English-language learners.

Supporters say that the chancellor, a former teacher, principal, and deputy chancellor in the district, has set a new tone for the New York City school system in which parents are seen as assets and morale among teachers is on the rise after years of acrimonious relations between former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers. The city and the union agreed to a new teachers’ contract in 2014, her first year on the job. The previous pact had expired in 2009.

Fariña and de Blasio sought a clean break from the signature school policies of Bloomberg, who during his tenure, selected two non-educators to lead the school system.

“She has been able to achieve things that non-educators wouldn’t,” de Blasio said Thursday.

Under de Blasio, Fariña sought to address issues ranging from racial and socioeconomic segregation to solutions for struggling schools. Rather than closing and replacing academically struggling schools, a hallmark of the Bloomberg era, Fariña created the Renewal Schools initiative, which provided additional support to about 80 schools. Results of that work have so far been mixed; some schools have improved, while others are now slated for closure.

The mayor said on Thursday that he plans to hire an educator as Fariña’s successor, a person who will continue to carry out an already-established school improvement plan.

Some critics question that decision.

“Mayor de Blasio needs a chancellor who will check his ideological impulses and steer him towards the evidence of what works,” said Jenny Sedlis, the executive director of StudentsFirstNY, the state chapter of the K-12 advocacy group founded by Michelle Rhee, the hard-charging former chancellor of the District of Columbia school system. “The next chancellor must deliver work rule concessions in the teachers’ contract, end the failed Renewal School program, work with urgency to open new schools, take a different approach to teacher quality, and support charter schools.”

Fariña retired in 2013, but, months later, the newly elected de Blasio persuaded her to take the top position at the department.

One of the more controversial issues she’s faced involves the city’s so-called absent-teacher reserve, a pool of teachers without permanent teaching positions who remain on salary. Fariña initially promised that she wouldn’t assign teachers from the pool to classrooms. Some teachers in the absent reserve have received low ratings for their job performance or have been disciplined for other infractions. But by 2017, the financial pressures of the pool, at about $150 million a year, had caused the district to rethink that policy. It began placing teachers again this fall, with advocates claiming that the teachers were more likely be placed in schools with large numbers of black and Latino students.

Mayor de Blasio did not set a timeline for selecting her successor and said the search for his next school chief will be discreet.

“This is not a decision you [make] with a public ballot,” he said.

Associate Editor Stephen Sawchuk contributed to this report.


School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Start the School Year With Purpose. Here Are 5 Priorities
Despite the challenges educators face, they know how to improve schools for students and teachers, writes an education professor.
Tyrone C. Howard
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration of public school opening for a new school year
School & District Management School Leaders With Disabilities: 'It's Important to Share That You're Not Alone'
Educators say their own experience gives them insight into the needs of students with disabilities and how to support them.
14 min read
Joe Mazza, 44, the principal at Seven Bridges Middle School in Chappaqua, N.Y., was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. He says the diagnosis has informed his leadership, allowing him to engage with students and parents who face the same neurodevelopmental disorder. On June 24, 2022, he starts his day in the Media Studio as fifth-grader Anna Villa prepares for the morning newscast.
Joe Mazza, 44, the principal at Seven Bridges Middle School in Chappaqua, N.Y., was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. He said the diagnosis has informed his leadership, allowing him to engage with students and parents who face the same neurodevelopmental disorder.
Christopher Capozziello for Education Week
School & District Management Opinion You're an Educator. What Can You Stop Doing This Year?
Teachers and education leaders often feel stretched for time. Here are 9 ways to rethink your schedule.
5 min read
CartoonStock 543822 CS458303
Cartoon Stock
School & District Management Top Tips for New Assistant Principals From Those Who've Been There
Nurture relationships, learn on the job, take care of yourself—and other key advice.
5 min read
Image of leaders as a central figures to a variety of activities in motion.
Laura Baker/Education Week and gobyg/DigitalVision Vectors