New schools chancellor gives agenda to Bronx audience at Town Hall meet

Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña (r), fields questions alongside Community Education Council 11 President Pamela Johnson at a town hall in Williamsbrige Tuesday, April 8.
Photo by Jaime Williams

New Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña hit the borough running, pushing her agenda at a northeast Bronx community education council Town Hall meeting.

Fariña gave a crowd of about 100 parents and officials at Community Education Council 11’s meeting her list of priorities, including pushing the Common Core educational standards and implementing “cutting edge” innovations.

She responded to audience concerns about school overcrowding, the availability of vocational training and parent involvement.

Fariña also said she is committed to addressing community concerns in the district, which covers the entire northeast Bronx.

“Number one, I believe we need to bring back respect and dignity to the educational profession,” she told the audience of parents, teachers, students and administrators, as well as City Councilmember Andy King and State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson at The Evander Childs Campus in Williamsbridge.

Fariña mentioned a plan to pair up schools so administrators and teachers can learn from other talented educators, rather than bringing in outside consultants.

“Number two,” she said, “I want to say right up front I believe in the Common Core,” although she admitted its implementation and teacher preparation has been flawed.

Her third priority will be parent engagement, she said, noting that she’s creating training programs for parent coordinators at schools to improve parent-school partnerships.

Fariña’s response to general audience questions about Common Core, test prep, and teacher evaluations was to “stay tuned.”

Other’s concerns were more specific, such as overcrowding at PS 19 in Woodlawn, which community member Jeremy Skehan said was designed for 340 but is housing 501 students. Fariña called the situation “a city-wide issue and is something that has to be looked at very seriously.”

Fariña agreed with a parent who noted the need to bring back vocational and technical high schools, so students don’t have to pay expensive tuition for trade training. The Chancellor said that several such schools have already been opened across the city in the past two years and she sees them making a comeback. “Expect those to increase as we go forward,” she said.

Fariña repeatedly stressed the importance of parental involvement, noting that the Department of Education hosts parent workshops throughout the city on topics such as “Understanding the Common Core,” “Working with Special Education,” and “College and Career Readiness.”

She also drew laughs from the audience over her blunder of calling a controversial snow storm while schools were kept open “a beautiful day,” saying she’ll probably put it on her tombstone.

CEC 11 President Pamela Johnson also encouraged parents to get involved, and to bring their future concerns to the CEC, which works with administrators to help shape educational priorities of district elementary and middle schools. The council is comprised of parents who are elected every two years.

CEC meetings are open to the public, and District 11 meets the second and third Tuesday of each month. For more information visit www.BronxNewsSD11.org.

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at (718) 742–3383. E-mail her at jwilliams@cnglocal.com.

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