Fariña previews “significant” changes in first message to principals

In case principals haven’t picked up on it yet, new Chancellor Carmen Fariña wants them to know that change is coming to the Department of Education.

In her first Principals Weekly, the long bulletin of announcements and reminders that schools leaders get every week, Fariña promises a renewed focus on teacher training, “holistic instructional practices,” and parent involvement — all things that the Bloomberg administration was criticized for giving short shrift.

“In the coming months, the focus of the Department of Education will shift significantly,” Fariña writes.

She also reports back on her first weeks on the job, which she said included five school visits and a barrage of “emails, phone calls, invitations, and messages of support” from principals. And she offers some additional hints about her next steps, including that she plans to focus her visits on middle schools and boost the role of social studies. She even invites principals to email her about how they succeed at working with parents, serving English language learners, and focus on the humanities.

The message offered a sharp contrast to those sent by Bloomberg’s chancellors, who often focused on improvements in the system or upcoming due dates. Chiara Coletti, a spokeswoman for the principals union, said it was notable to her that Fariña had “waited to deliver a personal message until she had time on the job.”

Coletti added, “It is also an educator-to-educator type message and I haven’t seen that in about 15 years.”

Fariña’s complete message is below. And here’s the final message that Fariña’s predecessor, Dennis Walcott, sent last month.

Dear Colleagues, It has been a privilege and a pleasure to return to serve the students and families of New York City. I have received emails, phone calls, invitations, and messages of support from so many of you, and for that I am deeply grateful. I am focused now on re-connecting with you and your school communities so that, together, we can celebrate the tremendous work happening in our classrooms and deepen our commitment to the path ahead. During my first two weeks as Chancellor, I have learned a lot from walking your hallways. Thus far, I have visited five middle schools, including a high-poverty school leading rigorous literacy and dual language instruction, a school that merges academics with medical services, and an after-school program that nurtures students’ self-confidence and talents. I also visited a large school divided into specialty houses, one of which is doing exemplary work aligning technology to the Common Core. Because students’ performance in middle school lays the foundation for their future success, I plan to continue to visit middle schools for the foreseeable future. I invite principals to email me personally to highlight innovative practices that are worth sharing. As I noted earlier this month, I am looking for best practices that achieve excellence and I am particularly interested in ideas for expanding our engagement with parents and serving our English Language Learners. In addition, as a former social studies teacher, I am committed to expanding learning opportunities using a social studies lens. I ask principals of schools with a particular focus on the humanities and social studies to email me personally to share interactive instruction that works. I look forward to building on your expertise and on the contributions of your team members. In the coming months, the focus of the Department of Education will shift significantly. We will emphasize holistic instructional practices and enhance professional development for teachers and school leaders. We will also move aggressively to increase parents’ involvement in their children’s education, and change the way we make decisions so that all of our stakeholders feel included in the process. As Chancellor, I promise to communicate clearly with you about the direction in which we’re going and why. One of the ways I’ll do that is through a new monthly newsletter, which will both honor your successes and provide useful information to help you bolster your practice. I’m also planning my first citywide principals’ meeting in the next month. Please stay tuned for details. Thank you in advance for your willingness to collaborate on behalf of the City’s students. Sincerely, Carmen Fariña Chancellor