Fariña, Elia Try to Find Common Ground on NYC School Reform


Both New York State education commissioner MaryEllen Elia and New York City schools chancellor Carmen Fariña say that improving struggling schools is a priority, but they also say it will not happen unless each other holds up her end of the of the bargain. The two seem to be allies and share the same ideas and plans to turn schools around, writes Eliza Shapiro of Politico New York.

“We won’t always agree, but it’s helpful to have someone who speaks your language,” Fariña said Monday.

Elia and Fariña visited the School of Diplomacy in the Bronx, which is one of 94 underperforming “Renewal” schools, in their first joint public appearance. These schools have received almost $400 million for supports used to increase academic and social services.

“Everyone needs to be accountable, including the state,” Fariña said, standing next to Elia, after the visit. “If the state is asking us to do something, they need to set benchmarks that are reasonable and doable.”

Fariña is against receivership, which is a process which allows an outside entity to take over a struggling school. Elia, however, would like to see the city make use of the improvement plan. Elia has a record of turning around failing schools in Hillsborough County, Florida, where she served for years as superintendent before coming to New York.

Both women are lifelong educators, so it was not unusual that during their tour of the school, each visited with students and read children’s work. Elia told school officials at the school that she would be back in a few months to check student performance statistics and to visit more low-performing schools. Both said they did not think the only measure of the success in Renewal schools were ratings on tests.

Elia told reporters she approves of Fariña’s work to turn around that school and others like it. “We’re on the right road,” Elia said. “I’m really pleased to see the work that’s been done in this school.”

Lisa L. Colangelo and Ben Chapman write for the New York Daily News that the NYC Education Department has asked the state to waive the teacher evaluation system required by law. This move would postpone the contentious teacher rating system for a year.

The main issue between Elia and Fariña concerns two differing plans for reform, which are Renewal and receivership. Receivership allows a school to have one or two years to show progress before facing the prospect of being taken over by an outside group. Renewal, which is NYC’s plan, gives $150 million for the support of staff and students to be used within a strict three-year time limit to improve.

While visiting the School of Diplomacy, Elia and Fariña agreed that four non-charter middle schools should not be sharing the same building, especially when three of the four schools in the building were part of the Renewal program, writes Monica Disare for Chalkbeat. When asked why this was the case, Farina smiled and answered:

“What a wonderful question, “We’re working on this. To be continued. This is what we inherited.”