Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thoughts on de Blasio's choice of Carmen Farina as his schools chancellor

The educators and activists I know and whose opinions I trust in N.Y. all think Mayor BdB made a great choice, and that Carmen Fariña will be a breath of fresh air in a school system stinking from Michael Bloomberg's corporate pollution.

So do I, especially considering the other names that were being floated around. I'm sure the DFER hedge-funders, corporate reformers and charter profiteers like Eva Moskowitz, were all exerting pressure on the mayor to pick a Michelle Rhee-type like D.C.'s Kaya Henderson or even (yikes!) Barbara Byrd-Bennett, whose credibility string in Chicago ran out long ago. I don't doubt more of the same was coming down the pike from Arne Duncan and the Obama team at the DOE.

I'm also thinking back to the pitiful string of  corrupt, corporate-style union busters (Joel Klein), know-nothings (Cathleen Prunty "Cathie" Black, remember her?), and neer-do-wells (Dennis Wolcott) that Mayor Bloomberg sicked on N.Y. teachers and parents over the past decade. Seen in that light, the choice of a democratic-minded, highly competent, career educator like Fariña should bring a smile to faces of the school community and rightfully so.

I also like that she's a small-schooler and helped create several new, small middle schools within District 15, a tactic de Blasio has praised.

Having said that, and listening to the great exhale all the way from Chicago, I'm also reminding myself that education, like politics, like democracy, isn't a spectator sport. The changes we need don't begin and end in either the mayor's or the chancellor's office.

The de Blasio victory and the independent movement that led to it in New York, are all worth celebrating -- like the Occupy Wall St. movement that preceded it. I hope we can learn the appropriate lessons here in Chicago. As the new year approaches, the future looks a lot brighter for New York educators than it looked before.

Side Note:  I'm taken by the fact that Fariña (like me) is 70 and that she's the daughter of immigrants from Spain who fled the Franco regime. I feel a certain kinship there and wish her well.

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