3 things Fariña is talking about as the school year approaches
The first day of school for New York City’s 1 million public school students is just three weeks away, and Carmen Fariña is optimistic. It will be the start of her third full school year as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s schools chancellor, and with the pair’s signature program, universal pre-K, going steady, Fariña’s focus is on a whole new plan: Equity and Excellence. De Blasio and Fariña announced that initiative and its ambitious goals one week into the school year last year, so many of its programs begin to take shape this school year, which starts Sept. 8.
The former classroom teacher focused on many of those big plans in her keynote address at City & State’s On Education forum Wednesday at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. Here’s some of what she had to say.
1. College talk starts early.
Fariña said the Department of Education is focusing on “planning backwards by design,” or making a plan of action by first asking where the journey will end. In the schools’ case, Fariña and her colleagues are asking, “Where do I want my kids to be after they graduate college or after they choose a profession of their own liking?”
Fariña gave a number of ways the plan would be implemented, like expanding a program in which all seventh-graders in certain districts visit a college campus during the year, and offering college-readiness workshops for parents in more languages, like Mandarin, Bengali and Arabic. This year will also mark the start of the Single Shepherd pilot program, in which each student will get a part-social-worker, part-counselor “shepherd” who will stick with them from sixth to 12th grade to help with their high school application process and getting into college, as well as help with problems at home or in their community.
“Getting seventh-graders committed to want to go to college is much, much better than waiting till 10th grade or 11th grade,” Fariña said.
2. More Advanced Placement courses.
“To me, AP courses for only the kids that are ‘qualified’ really is a big mistake,” Fariña said. She believes that students are more likely to be engaged with learning while taking a rigorous course, which is reflected in the Equity and Excellence goal of giving all high school students access to five of the more challenging AP classes by 2021. This year, 63 high schools are offering new AP courses – 35 of which did not offer a single Advanced Placement course last year
3. New teachers at Renewal schools.
The de Blasio administration’s tactic of investing heavily in struggling schools to extend the school day and add counseling services has seen criticism lately for its lack of discernable results. Fariña has surely heard the criticism, and mentioned how many new teachers would be joining the 94 targeted schools. “We now have 248 teacher leaders going into our Renewal schools by choice,” many of whom are rated “highly effective,” she said. “More people are going into the schools than are asking to go out. That’s a game-changer.”