Transition at Tweed

Fariña promotes longtime principal, Bloomberg-era deputy to top posts

Deputy Chancellor of Equity and Access Dorita Gibson spoke at an event promoting the Young Men's Initiative in October 2012.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña promoted a Bloomberg-era official and plucked a longtime principal from his Brooklyn school today as she began to fill out the Department of Education’s inner circle.

Dorita Gibson, previously the deputy chancellor for equity and access, will be Fariña’s second in command, the Department of Education announced today. In her previous position, Gibson supervised the department’s system of alternative schools and its work with the Bloomberg administration’s Young Men’s Initiative, and launched new programs to diversify selective high schools.

Phil Weinberg, principal of the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, is the department’s new deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. That position, which Fariña herself held a decade ago, disappeared in 2010 when the department dissolved its division of teaching and learning.

Weinberg has chosen the city’s former gifted education chief, Anna Commitante, to be his top deputy. Commitante had been working as a deputy in one of the department’s five “clusters,” providing instructional support to dozens of schools.

Together, the three appointments offer the clearest picture yet about Fariña’s priorities. All three of the new hires have been in the system for decades and have been teachers and principals in the school system.

Gibson has served at almost every level of school leadership, starting as a teacher in Queens and serving as a principal, regional superintendent and deputy superintendent. Her appointment as senior deputy chancellor also signals that Fariña doesn’t intend to purge some Bloomberg-era policies and appointees from the department.

“We’ve done such great work in the last 11, 12 years of this administration. We have great schools. We have great programs,” Gibson told Chalkbeat in August. “But how do we as a school system make sure that all of our kids, regardless of their color and socioeconomic background, succeed in these programs?”

Weinberg has served as the principal at Telecommunication since 2001, the school where he started his career as an English teacher in 1986, according to a New York Times story highlighting his longevity as a principal.

Weinberg has also voiced concerns about the new teacher evaluation system, which he said put too much faith in data, rather than principals’ judgment. “Newly necessary distractions like marketing and fund-raising and data analysis may have seemed more important than getting into classrooms and working with teachers on how to plan lessons and ask questions,” he wrote in 2012.

The city’s complete press release is below.

CHANCELLOR FARIÑA ANNOUNCES NEW APPOINTMENTS AT DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION HEADQUARTERS

Veteran Educators to Lead Tweed into a New Era of School Support

New Leadership Will Renew Emphasis on Improving Instruction to Enhance Learning

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced new members of her leadership team at Department of Education (DOE) headquarters. Dorita Gibson, previously the Deputy Chancellor for Equity and Access, will assume the role of Senior Deputy Chancellor and the Chancellor’s second in command. With more than 30 years experience in the public school system, Dr. Gibson has served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, regional and supervising superintendent, and Deputy Chancellor. In this new and expanded role, she will oversee all aspects of school support, Cluster and Network management, superintendents, support for struggling schools, District 79 programs, and school communications.

As head of Equity and Access under Chancellor Walcott, Deputy Chancellor Gibson oversaw District 79, a citywide network of over 300 alternative schools and programs serving over-age, under-credited youth; the Office of Adult and Continuing Education; and the Department’s Young Men’s Initiative work. She created the DREAM-SHSI program, which helps low-income middle school students develop skills for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, as well as the Summer Quest program, which provides students with summer learning opportunities aimed at closing the achievement gap. As she moves into the Department’s number two role, Dr. Gibson will bring her considerable expertise in expanding opportunities for underserved school communities.

Chancellor Fariña also appointed Phil Weinberg, previously the principal at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn, as Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning. With more than a dozen years as a principal and nearly three decades of experience in New York City public schools, Mr. Weinberg will oversee all professional development and curriculum, performance and accountability, Common Core and college-readiness initiatives, Career and Technical Education, and instructional support. The high school Mr. Weinberg has led since 2001 has achieved a more than 35 percent increase in graduation rates since 2005. The recipient of a 2012 Sloan Award for Public Service, Mr. Weinberg previously served on the DOE’s Division of Academics, Performance, and Support Advisory Group.

In one of his first acts as Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, Mr. Weinberg named Anna Commitante as his Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. A 27-year veteran educator, Ms. Commitante was previously a Deputy Cluster Leader of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. In her new role, she will provide leadership in curriculum development, assist schools as they transition to the Common Core Learning Standards, and direct a comprehensive professional development training program using research-based instructional methods.

“This is a new era for our schools, and these appointments send a clear message: our focus is on improving each and every classroom across the five boroughs. Having three educators with such extraordinary expertise about our City’s schools will help us channel all of our energy into quality instruction,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Principals, teachers, and staff should know they will have leaders who will not only listen, but take action to support them. This is the first step in the process of making our school system more in touch, more responsive, and more mindful of those we work with and serve.”

“With more than three decades working on behalf of City students, I’m honored to take on this role as Chancellor Fariña’s second in command. My plan is to support schools no matter what their challenges may be – instructionally, operationally, or otherwise,” said Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson. “As I work to support all of our schools, I will lead by listening. We’re taking a new tone – and we plan to back it up with action.”

“I started my career as a teacher over 28 years ago, and I’m so proud to be named to this instrumental new role today. I first became a teacher because I believed it was the most authentic way I could contribute to our community. In this new role as Deputy Chancellor, I have the ability to work with, support, and empower those on the ground doing the hard work of educating our students each day,” said Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Phil Weinberg. “The most important thing to a student’s success is the quality of a teacher, and all of my focus will be on developing and streamlining ways to enhance instruction.”

“This is a time of renewal for our schools, and I’m thrilled to be in in this role to help our schools during this transition to Common Core,” said Anna Commitante, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. “I’ve dedicated my career to the development of principals, teachers, and schools, and I look forward to continuing to do that. With our renewed focus on professional development, we will prepare our teachers like never before for the important work that lies ahead.”

About Dr. Dorita Gibson

Dr. Dorita Gibson has spent more than 30 years in the New York City school system as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal at various schools in Queens, and has served as a deputy, regional and senior supervising superintendent. Appointed Deputy Chancellor for Equity and Access in May 2011, Gibson oversees programs and initiatives that focus on ending long-standing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities and directing supports to high-need communities. She directs District 79, a citywide network of over 300 alternative schools and programs serving over-age, under-credited youth whose schooling has been interrupted, the Office of Adult and Continuing Education, as well as the Department’s Young Men’s Initiative work. As Deputy Chancellor, Gibson has expanded Advanced Placement courses in the City’s most underserved neighborhoods and communities. She also created the DREAM-SHSI program, which helps low-income middle school students develop skills for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, and the Summer Quest program to improve, expand, and sustain summer learning opportunities in the South Bronx as a key strategy for closing the achievement gap. Gibson holds a Doctorate in Education from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education.

About Phil Weinberg

Phil Weinberg has nearly three decades of experience in New York City’s public schools. For more than a decade he taught English at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn. He later served as assistant principal there, and was named principal in 2001, a position he has held for 13 years. At this large, urban, high-poverty school, in which more than 70 percent of students are Title 1 eligible, Mr. Weinberg established small learning communities, through which his students saw extraordinary success: the graduation rate has increased by more than 35 percent since 2005. A 2012 recipient of the Sloan Award for Public Service, Mr. Weinberg holds a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College and a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

About Anna Commitante

Anna Commitante, a 27 year veteran educator, was most recently Deputy Cluster Leader of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development in Cluster 2. Previously, Ms. Commitante was the K-12 Director of Literacy, Social Studies and Gifted and Talented Programs for the NYC DOE. She began her career in education as an elementary school teacher at PS 29 in Brooklyn, worked in school support as a district literacy coach/staff developer, and led a job-embedded professional development program for schools at City Hall Academy. Ms. Commitante also served as principal of New Voices Middle School in District 15, Brooklyn, a school that offers a strong humanities curriculum and fully integrated arts program. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Hunter College and a degree in educational administration from City College.

End of an era

Longtime deputy chancellor Kathleen Grimm to retire

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm (left) at a City Council hearing to discuss the department's five-year capital plan in March 2014.

Kathleen Grimm, the deputy chancellor for operations and a fixture in the Department of Education under four chancellors, is stepping down, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced Wednesday.

Grimm oversaw a sprawling portion of the department, including the offices overseeing safety, school support, school food, athletics, space planning, enrollment, human resources, and construction. The only official to have remained in a top post at Tweed since the beginning of the Bloomberg era, Grimm saw her responsibilities expand even further under Fariña, who moved some offices under Grimm when she shrunk the department’s cabinet.

“It is with deep personal regret that I announce a leave pending retirement of Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, an esteemed colleague who has worked tirelessly to create safe, nurturing environments in which all of our students can learn and thrive,” Fariña said in an email to department staff members.

Grimm, a tax lawyer, was brought on in 2002 for her budgeting and finance expertise and experience in navigating city and state bureaucracy. She had previously served in the state comptroller’s office and the city finance department.

Over her 14-year career at the Department of Education, Grimm preferred to stay behind the scenes, but was thrust into the spotlight when changes to school bus routes, budget cuts, and space planning made headlines.

Her oversight of the city’s transportation of students meant she faced fierce criticism when repeated changes to bus routes angered parents and City Council members. Her oversight of the capital budget and the Blue Book, which sets guidelines for school space use, also made her a frequent target of class-size reduction advocates, who often said the city’s calculations did not reflect reality.

But Grimm was revered within the department for her calm under pressure. She frequently defended the school system in front of the City Council, bearing the brunt of then-education committee chair Eva Moskowitz’s relentless criticism of the city’s toilet-paper offerings in 2004 and, more recently, testifying at hearings on toxic lighting fixtures and school overcrowding.

“Cool and effective, Kathleen stayed for the full twelve years of the Bloomberg administration and did a tough, unglamorous job with distinction,” Klein wrote of Grimm in his memoir “Lessons of Hope.”

On Wednesday, Fariña offered her own praise. “As a senior member of my leadership team, Deputy Chancellor Grimm has provided a strong foundation for our most critical initiatives, including Pre-K for All, Community Schools, and our expanded school support and safety services,” she said.

Grimm’s chief of staff Elizabeth Rose will take over as interim acting deputy chancellor during a search for Grimm’s replacement, Fariña said.

year in review

In first year as chancellor, Fariña counts on fellow educators to drive changes

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Chancellor Carmen Fariña speaks to superintendents and principals overseeing the city's designated renewal schools.

To understand how things have changed since Carmen Fariña became schools chancellor, consider where she has chosen to be on roughly 200 occasions this year, often five times per week: in schools.

She uses the hour-long visits to find model schools that other educators can tour and to size up principals, noting whether teachers seem surprised to see their bosses (a sign they aren’t poking into classrooms enough) and if the principals bring any deputies along for the tours (a hint they know how to delegate). She inspects students’ writing and asks the principal to show her a strong teacher in action and a weak one.

Twelve months into her stint leading the nation’s largest school system, Fariña’s attention to such details seems misplaced to some critics, who worry that it comes at the expense of big-picture thinking and suggests a shift away from the greater autonomy that principals gained under the previous administration.

But to her many admirers, the visits reflect a belief that even in a system of 1.1 million students and 75,000 or so teachers, change can happen school by school and classroom by classroom when educators are empowered, without the seismic policy shakeups that seemed to occur routinely under her recent predecessors. As Fariña, who has spent nearly half a century working in schools, likes to say, “The answers are in the classroom.” In other words, this is educator-driven education reform.

“There’s a sense,” said Alison Coviello, principal of P.S. 154 in the Bronx, “that we’re all in this together.”

When Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled Fariña from semi-retirement last January, she decided that she would have to roll back the Bloomberg-era policies she disagreed with even as she put her own into place: To “undo while [she’s] doing,” as she told Chalkbeat earlier this year.

And that’s just what she’s done. She downsized the office that helped create new schools — a signature Bloomberg initiative — while resurrecting the department devoted to teacher training. She re-empowered superintendents, who were marginalized under Bloomberg, and insisted that would-be principals and superintendents both spend more years in schools (a rejection of the Bloombergian idea that talent trumps experience). And she axed the Bloomberg policies that tied student promotion to test scores and assigned schools letter grades as she launched her own signature program, which sends educators to visit successful schools to pick up ideas.

That program, called Learning Partners, exemplifies Fariña’s approach. It is educator-led, cooperative, and subtle, allowing Fariña to spread her ideas through proxies rather than edicts.

“We have gotten more schools to change practices not by mandating, but by collaborating,” she said in an interview Monday. “I could have said across the board, ‘Every middle school needs to do X, Y and Z.’ And we didn’t do that.”

She also helped forge new contracts with the principals and the teachers unions, which had given up on negotiating with the previous administration. The teachers got a big payout in the contract (though not big enough to satisfy everyone), while Fariña was able to embed time for training and interacting with parents into teachers’ weekly schedules (at the cost of student-tutoring time, which was repurposed). Cynics charged that the city secured the contracts by giving into most of the unions’ demands, but Fariña argues that they were the product of her collaborative approach.

“What we got out of those contracts,” she said, “probably would not have been possible without that kind of partnership.”

She also helped the mayor fulfill his promise to get 53,000 four-year-olds into classrooms.

“How could I forget?” Fariña said. “Pre-K!”

For all that she has already done and undone, Fariña has a big year ahead of her. On Monday, she ticked off a few of the biggest items on her to-do list.

First, she must help de Blasio add the 20,000 additional pre-kindergarten seats he has promised, even as charter schools demand more space of their own. Then, she must turn two of his most ambitious plans into reality: to convert nearly 130 schools into service hubs for students and their families, and to turn around more than 90 low-performing schools.

That last task will be especially daunting. Rather than shut down chronically underachieving schools or replace their staffs, Fariña has proposed lifting them up through a mix of supports for students and coaching for educators. That is a big gamble, which Fariña made clear at a meeting Monday with the leaders of those struggling schools.

“I’m holding you even more accountable,” she told the principals. “Because I went out on a limb, as did Mayor de Blasio, and said, ‘We’re not closing schools. We’re giving everybody a second chance.’”