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At 2014 Carol Gresser Forum, Schools Chancellor Stresses Collaboration and Communication

Left to right: Carmen Fariña, Jerrold Ross, and Carol Gresser at 2014 Carol Gresser Forum Lecture.
Monday, April 28, 2014

Carmen Fariña, chancellor of New York City’s Department of Education (DOE), shared her goals for the nation’s largest school district with an audience of more than 200 people when she delivered St. John’s University’s 2014 Carol Gresser Forum Lecture at The Cooper Union’s historic Great Hall in lower Manhattan on April 16.

St. John’s students, faculty, and administrators joined New York City teachers and principals for the lecture, entitled “100 Days and Beyond.” Established in 1998 and named for Carol Gresser ’59Ed, former president of the New York City Board of Education, the forum was created as a vehicle for the exploration of educational issues by leaders in the field. Jerrold Ross, Ph.D., dean of The School of Education, kicked off the event by noting the Great Hall’s proximity to St. John’s new Manhattan campus at 101 Astor Place.

“The Great Hall is known as a stronghold for free speech,” Ross said. “It is famous for being the site where Abraham Lincoln denounced slavery, making it the perfect venue for the new chancellor to spell out her agenda to provide public school education to children of all backgrounds.”

Fariña described an educational philosophy steeped in her life experiences. The daughter of Spanish immigrants, she was the first in her family to graduate from college. She went on to build a 40-year career in education as teacher, principal, district superintendent, and deputy chancellor.

With 1.1 million children and 1,800 schools under her supervision, Fariña is committed to inculcating changes in the educational culture. Her policies are centered on making education more student-oriented by fostering an environment where teachers and principals are on a first-name basis with their students and parents are involved in every phase of school life. 

“Teachers should be proud of the work they do,” she said. “On the top of my list of priorities is finding a way to bring the city’s large population of homeless children into the classroom, as well as redesigning report cards to better reflect student achievement.” 

In particular, Fariña voiced her advocacy for universal pre-K, which readies preschoolers for kindergarten and prepares them for success by the time they enter the third grade.  “There is no other initiative so important for enhancing student  development,” she stated. Other goals include integrating Common Core strategies into the curriculum, building affiliations with businesses to enable middle school students to hold internships, and forming partnerships with cultural institutions like the New-York Historical Society to extend classroom learning.   

As chancellor, Fariña hopes to quadruple participation in the Learning Partners Program, which matches host institutions, including colleges, universities, and cultural institutions that have areas of expertise with partner schools that are undergoing difficulties.

Committed to furthering collaborative partnerships to enhance the educational system, Fariña explained that she plans to strengthen alliances similar to the one the DOE currently enjoys with St. John’s. She praised the University’s efforts to help troubled middle schools resolve learning issues. “Taking advantage of the resources St. John’s offers, staff and students were embedded into these schools to mentor teachers,” she said, “and were able to help transform them into high performers.”

In response, Ross stated, “what makes this relationship even more meaningful is how closely aligned our mission of responding to the needs of the marginalized is with the chancellor’s commitment to making education accessible to students of all backgrounds.”