Fariña taps Milady Baez to run a newly independent department focused on English learners

Chancellor Carmen Fariña is making moves to focus the department’s efforts on English language learners, a group she’s promised to be attentive to since Mayor Bill de Blasio first named her to lead the city schools.

She announced Wednesday that Milady Baez, an expert in dual-language programs, will come out of retirement to run a newly independent office of English Language Learners. That department had previously been grouped with special education under Deputy Chancellor Corinne Rello-Anselmi.

Baez will report directly to Fariña, and the city said Baez’s focus will be on reducing the achievement gap between English language learners and their peers, expanding professional development for teachers, and monitoring the needs of unaccompanied minors who arrive in the city. This year, just 3.6 percent percent of the city’s English learners reached the proficiency bar on the state reading tests, and 14 percent did on the math test.

Like Fariña, Baez is a veteran of the city school system. She was a bilingual elementary-school teacher for more than 10 years, and served as principal of Queens’ P.S. 149 and Brooklyn’s P.S. 314, where she established dual-language programs. She was instructional superintendent for a group of Queens schools before retired in 2006, after which she continued to consult for the Office of English Language Learners. Baez was appointed to the Panel for Educational Policy by Mayor de Blasio earlier this year, and a department spokesman said she had already resigned from that post.

“From the start of my career, I’ve focused on ensuring educational equity and opportunity for English Language Learners, and I believe that this role will allow me to leverage my experience and passion to serve students of linguistic diversity and English learners across New York City,” Baez said in a statement. 

Baez’s appointment signals the department’s growing focus on dual-language education programs. More than 14 percent of city students are classified as English language learners, and most of them are enrolled in English as a second language programs, in which teachers use both the student’s native language and English. When students become proficient in English, they exit those programs.

Dual-language programs have a different aim—for English-learners and native English speakers to become fluent in both languages—and students don’t have leave the programs once they are no longer classified as English learners. A 2013 report notes bilingual programs “are in the midst of a period of steady expansion.”

Since becoming chancellor, Fariña has often noted that she entered school as an English learner and promised to put new resources toward those students.

“A promise I make to every parent in New York City is that your child will be spoken to by the name that you gave her, not by the name someone else gives her,” Fariña said at the press conference announcing her own appointment.