Introducing herself, schools boss is full of personality but light on details

Carmen Fariña and her new staff haven’t had much time to get to know one another. Appointed chancellor just a week ago, Fariña has technically been on the job less than three days, one of which was a day when schools closed due to a snow storm.

On Monday, an extended introduction yielded a strong sense of the new boss’s personality, but not many details about her staffing and policy plans.

Fariña referred to the Department of Education employees gathered in the Tweed Courthouse rotunda — many of whom don’t know for sure that they’ll have the same jobs a month from now — as “my army” and stressed the idea of teamwork to the masses.

“I was worried where is my army, but here you are,” she said, and seemed surprised at the size of the crowd.

Fariña said she plans to stop by every cubicle in the department by Friday. “I want to know what you do and how you do it.”

But she didn’t hint at what she plans to do with that information and seemed to play it safe by focusing on process rather than policy. She spoke in general terms in discussing challenges ahead in the department.

In her remarks, Fariña reinforced what she’s said would be her focus as the new boss of the school system: collaboration, communication and restoring “joy” in the classroom.

She said that along with her chief of staff, Ursulina Ramirez, she plans to make herself to staff available every other Friday from 8-9 for anything they want to discuss, including both what’s working and what’s not.

“Bring me good news one in a while, okay guys?” said Fariña, who struck a light-hearted tone that was reflected in the crowd’s mood.

She told people not to be surprised if she calls them in for meetings with people they don’t know or never expected to work with — a process she said was already under way.

Other tasks that have kept her busy through her tenure’s first official 72 hours: visiting schools, amassing entire books worth of her growing to-do list and sitting down for one-on-one conversations and cubicle visits with her leadership team.

Kathleen Grimm, who introduced Fariña, worked with Bloomberg-appointed chancellors for three terms and, like many of her colleagues, has had to adjust overnight to her new boss’s style and policy goals. Grimm alluded to that adjustment when she said that she and Fariña “didn’t always agree on everything,” when Fariña was a deputy chancellor, but that she learned from working with Fariña and believes the rest of the department will “learn a great deal from her.”

Department of Education employees gathered in the Tweed rotunda to hear their new boss speak. (Emma Sokoloff-Rubin)

Fariña’s talk left many questions unanswered, including speculation about who among the department’s top leadership will stay and who will go. Fariña was not made available for questions from reporters.

Reiterating a distaste for formal titles, Fariña reminded her staff to call her Carmen. But in a joking nod to the challenges ahead — and to the fact that interactions may not always be characterized by such ease — Fariña added, “if I have a look on my face that says I’ve been through hell and back, maybe that’s not the time to call me Carmen.”

She ended by emphasizing her resistance to following someone else’s script. “I don’t write my speeches,” she said, holding up a neon post-it note she brought with her to the podium. “The first time they gave me a three page speech I ripped it up.”