Schools chancellor-designate Carmen Fariña speaks at a December 30 press conference as Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and Ursulina Ramirez look on. | GAY CITY NEWS
Continuing a pattern of appointing people who have long experience in government to prominent roles in his administration, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio selected Carmen Fariña to be schools chancellor, citing her 40-year career in the city schools.
“I came to know someone who at the time was already legendary throughout the city,” de Blasio said of his first encounter with Fariña when he served on a local school board in Brooklyn. “For years, I’ve turned to her as an advisor, as a friend, as someone I could trust.”
Fariña began her career in the city schools as an elementary school teacher and rose to become a deputy chancellor for teaching and learning in the Bloomberg administration. De Blasio’s two children attended the city’s public schools, and his son still attends a city school.
The choice of Fariña was “deeply personal,” de Blasio said.
Announcement comes just as little-noticed Bloomberg health department study of school bullying sees light of day
“She’s also going to be the chancellor for my children,” he said at a December 30 press conference that was held at a Park Slope school his two children attended.
Fariña left the Bloomberg administration in 2006 for professional and personal reasons.
“I think to the degree possible that my position working at [the city’s Department of Education], working with principals and teachers directly, was a very important one,” Fariña said. “I think when the notion that they were not the major players in the system began to be more acknowledged, there was a little bit of a different feeling.”
Also on December 30, de Blasio announced that Ursulina Ramirez, who has been his deputy public advocate and senior policy advisor in his current city post, would be Fariña’s chief of staff.
The de Blasio announcement came the same day as media reports surfaced of a city health department study showing that nearly one third of queer New York City high school students reported being bullied in 2011.
That year, the city’s health department surveyed 11,570 high school students in all five boroughs. The bullying data showed that 29 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students reported being bullied versus 17 percent of heterosexual students. Students who were bullied were more likely to report using alcohol and drugs, missing school, carrying weapons to school, and experiencing mental health problems. The health department declined to comment about the report on the record.
The data on school bullying, which was quietly made public on December 19 of this year, is a departure from the Bloomberg administration’s practice over the past several months. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been holding press conferences to boast of his achievements over the past 12 years and City Hall has been releasing data and statements meant to further bolster his legacy.
On December 30, Fariña said that the city schools were safer today than in prior years.
“I really believe that sometimes we have to listen with a grain of salt because if there’s one thing that is actually much more improved by and large in the system, it’s school safety,” she said.
Fariña’s comment was in response to a reporter who cited a parent saying she was going to home school her child because there was too much violence in the city schools.
While de Blasio emphasized Fariña’s teaching credentials, he also promoted her progressive values, as he has done when announcing earlier appointees. The statement distributed to reporters by the de Blasio transition team quoted out gay City Councilman Daniel Dromm of Queens, a former school teacher, and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, among others, praising Fariña.
As Gay City News was completing this story, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) had not responded to requests seeking comment. The Hetrick-Martin Institute, which serves queer youth, declined to respond.
On December 29, de Blasio appointed Zachary Carter, a former US attorney who is currently a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, a law firm, to run the city’s Law Department. In published reports, de Blasio said the Law Department would withdraw its appeal of a federal court order that placed curbs on the police department’s use of stop and frisk practices and it will settle a lawsuit brought by five men who were wrongly convicted of a 1989 rape in Central Park.