Schools Chancellor Fariña Speaks with Ethnic Media

NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña answering a question, with Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson (Photo by Jiwon Choi/Voices of NY)

NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña answering a question, with Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson (Photo by Jiwon Choi/Voices of NY)

Carmen Fariña, New York City Chancellor of Schools, addressed a group of more than 30 members of the community and ethnic media on June 10, assuring them that the city was attentive to the concerns of communities across New York and was vigorously pursuing policies that would improve outcomes for English language learners and provide universal pre-K in safe environments.

Flanked by her deputies, to whom she often deferred in responding to questions, Fariña repeatedly invited the journalists to bring input from their various communities to the attention of her office. “Let us know,” she said, “when you see something bubbling up in your community.”

And she entreated community and ethnic media outlets to help get the word out about pre-K and other programs. “As we move forward with our innovations, your readers are often the people with the least information, and we need you to help us get that information out,” she said.

Fariña and her colleagues answered questions at a roundtable discussion organized by her office and the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. The session was held at DOE headquarters in the imposing Tweed Courthouse downtown at 52 Chambers St.

While the registration process for pre-K spots in district schools is over, thousands of seats remain to be filled in community-based early childhood centers. In response to a question from one reporter seeking assurances that parents would know that their young children would be safe in these new environments, Fariña said multiple agencies are inspecting each site.

“If we see any problems whatsoever we have a very quick turnaround to make sure they are brought up to code,” she said.

The agencies involved in these inspections include the Fire Department, the Department of Buildings, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Administration for Children’s Services and others.

“Every school has to be a good enough school for my grandchildren and if it isn’t, it’s not good enough for anybody else’s grandchildren, and I mean that most sincerely.”

The chancellor said more than once that “professional development” was the key to addressing a wide range of concerns in the schools, and to achieving better outcomes for students who required specialized instruction.

In response to a question about whether the Muslim Eid holidays will be designated as school holidays, something Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he would consider, Fariña said that “it’s an ongoing discussion,” then noted that because Eid occurs over the weekend next year, the decision does not have to be made immediately.

However, she took the opportunity to note that the discussion of religious holidays is but part of a larger education initiative in the works to create teaching guides on the numerous cultures represented in all schools.

“We are actually going to be reaching out to members of the communities to help us put these together and we have people already working on that,” said Fariña.

Josh Wallack, chief strategy office of the DOE (Photo by Jiwon Choi/Voices of NY)

Josh Wallack, chief strategy officer of the DOE (Photo by Jiwon Choi/Voices of NY)

Josh Wallack, chief strategy officer at the DOE, whom Fariña called “the universal pre-K King,” said that the new program will be tailored to be responsive to English language learners.

“We realize that a huge percentage of the kids that we’re going to serve in our pre-K for all program come to us as English language learners and we want to support that and do everything we can,” he said.

“We are trying to match people within their communities, within their neighborhoods, and whatever their particular needs are,” Wallack said.

Corinne Rello-Anselmi, deputy chancellor of Special Education and English Language Learners, said pre-K will give students time to learn and that part of her division’s focus will be addressing the “over-identification of English language learners for special services and supports,” or as special needs students.

More than 160 languages are spoken by students attending NYC schools.

On other topics, Fariña said she will be focusing on middle schools that are off the radar.

“One of the things that I’m really seeing as I go around the city is that every parent wants to get their kids into the same two middle schools, in every neighborhood, whereas there may be a lot of great middle schools.”

The schools chancellor also noted that the DOE will shortly announce its new metrics for rating schools that will replace the current letter grades. “I think it’s crucial that we don’t label schools by absolute letters,” Fariña said, “particularly since some of these letters were given as long ago as seven years ago.”

Families still looking to enroll in pre-K can go to nyc.gov/prek to sign up online or call 311 to speak with a specialist. Parents can text “prek” or “escuela” to 877-877 and get alerts and information on the closest early childhood centers.

Jennifer Lehman is a student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter.

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