With her successor set, veteran schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has mixed feelings about stepping down

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman

After 52 years in New York City schools, Chancellor Carmen Fariña appears to be having a hard time saying goodbye.

Fariña, who has served in essentially every role within the country’s largest school system, will retire — for the second time — at the end of March. On Monday, her boss, Mayor Bill de Blasio, announced that Houston schools chief Richard Carranza would succeed her as chancellor.

But while Fariña made clear that she’s ready for a vacation, she also said she is sticking around — both through the transition and also after Carranza takes office for one pet project. The overlap suggests that the incoming schools chief will have to delicately navigate the unique arrangement as he finds his own footing at the education department.

In the past, outgoing New York City chancellors have largely steered clear of the education department, allowing their successors to occupy the spotlight.

But Fariña said she would be on hand to help Carranza get up to speed, and that she plans to stay involved in “one little project” she started: helping high schools that share buildings collaborate better and pool resources.

“Because I really care about this job so much,” Fariña said, “I asked Richard, would he mind if I stayed involved in that little work, and he said it would be his pleasure.”

Carranza chimed in: “Absolutely.”

Noting that overlap between top education officials is rare, Carranza — who is similar to Fariña in many ways — said he welcomed Fariña’s ongoing presence at the education department. He even made a joke at his expense, saying he would be “the spare chancellor” for a short time.

“I’m incredibly honored that Carmen Fariña is not only going to, but wants to, be a part of my transition and helping me to understand what has happened,” Carranza said. “I think that’s an invaluable opportunity that quite frankly in many transitions of large systems you don’t get that opportunity.”

A possible downside looms: Fariña has long faced criticism that she micromanages initiatives at the education department. Having “two chancellors for a while,” as Fariña put it on Monday, could expose Carranza to that tendency.

City officials appear to be attuned to the need for a clear handoff of authority. At the press conference, de Blasio jumped in to emphasize that Fariña would, in fact, vacate the education department at the end of March, when Carranza is expected to arrive in the city. (His official start date is still under discussion. Officials in Houston suggested on Tuesday that he might remain there for two to three weeks.)

And Fariña piped up that, after the transition period, the work at shared high school campuses is the “only project I expect to be involved in.”

“When I talk about retirement this time, it’s going to stick,” said Fariña, who was convinced to leave retirement and become chancellor in 2013. “But if there’s anything I can do to be a mentor or give advice, I’m open for it.”

New leader

District chief Joris Ray named Memphis schools’ interim leader

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Joris Ray, center, was appointed interim superintendent for Shelby County Schools.

Joris Ray, who started his 22-year career as a teacher in Memphis schools, will be the interim superintendent for Shelby County Schools.

The school board voted 5-4 Tuesday evening to appoint Ray, who as a member of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s cabinet oversees the district’s academic operations and student support. An audience composed mostly of educators applauded the announcement.

“A lot of people call Dr. Ray, and he gets things done,” Hopson said at the meeting.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Dorsey Hopson and Joris Ray, right.

Ray could be at the helm of Tennessee’s largest district for anywhere from 8 months to 18 months, as the board looks to hire a permanent leader, Board Chair Shante Avant said. Hopson is leaving the 200-school, 111,600-student district after nearly six years; he will lead an education initiative at the health insurer Cigna, effective Jan. 8.

Hopson will still help Ray transition into his new role a few weeks after his resignation takes effect because of his current contract terms.

Ray, a graduate of Whitehaven High School, said he intends to apply for the permanent position.

“I’m about pushing things forward. No sense in looking back,” told reporters Tuesday, noting that his goal, as he gets started, is “to listen, to get out to various community groups and transition with the superintendent … but also I want to talk to teachers and I want to talk to students because oftentimes they’re left out of the education process.”

The other two nominees to serve as interim superintendent were Lin Johnson, the district’s chief of finance, and Carol Johnson, a former superintendent of Memphis schools.

Hopson commended both Lin Johnson and Ray as “truly my brothers in this work.” He also acknowledged the work Carol Johnson has done in recent years to train teachers in her role as director of New Leaders in Memphis.

Some school board members wanted to preclude the interim appointee from applying for the permanent post — especially if the interim selection was an in-district hire — but a resolution formalizing that position failed in a 6-3 vote.

“If it were me… I’d think twice about going up against that person to take the job. I really would,” Teresa Jones, a board member, said. But she said she wants to create an environment “where individuals feel where they can come forward and apply” for the superintendent job.

The appointment comes one day after Hopson presented a plan to combine 28 aging school buildings into 10 new ones. Ray said he will look to get community input before pursuing the plan while he is at the helm.

“We need to continue to unpack the plan,” Ray said after the meeting. “And I rely on the community to get their input. But most of all, it’s what’s best for students.”

There’s more from the meeting in this Twitter thread:

Movers and shakers

These Colorado lawmakers will shape education policy in 2019

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Colorado House of Representatives

When the Colorado General Assembly convenes in January, Democrats will control both chambers for the first time since 2014. That shift in the balance of power, along with a lot of turnover in both chambers, means new faces on the committees that will shape education policy.

The incoming committee chairs in both chambers  — state Rep. Barbara McLachlan of Durango and state Sen. Nancy Todd of Aurora — are former teachers themselves and experienced lawmakers. One of the incoming members, representative-elect Bri Buentello of Pueblo, is currently a special education teacher. The ranking Republican on the House Education Committee, state Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, is also a former teacher and school superintendent. He’s the only Republican returning to the committee from the previous session.

In the House, Democrats now hold a three-seat majority on the committees responsible for deciding which bills will advance to a floor vote. In the Senate, Democrats have a one-vote advantage on most committees.

The new Democratic majorities open the possibility of advancing issues that once stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, like funding full-day kindergarten — a priority of incoming governor Jared Polis — and expanding access to mental health services in school. But these decisions will have to be made without major new revenue and in competition with other budget needs. Democrats may also have to grapple with disagreements among their own ranks on charter schools, teacher evaluations, and school choice, issues that have long enjoyed bipartisan consensus. 

But one newly appointed member of the Senate Education Committee won’t serve out his term. State Sen. Daniel Kagan, a Democrat from Cherry Hills Village, recently announced he’ll resign in January following accusations that he repeatedly used a women’s restroom in the state Capitol. State Rep. Jeff Bridges, a Democrat from Greenwood Village, has announced his intention to seek the vacancy and could take Kagan’s place on the education committee.

The other new Democrat on the Senate committee, Tammy Story, has a long record as an education advocate in Jefferson County. She worked to recall school board members there that supported charters and performance-based teacher pay.

Senator-elect Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, is a former member of the State Board of Education and served on the House Education Committee. State Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, the ranking Republican on the committee, is the former chair.

House Education Committee:


Chair: Rep. Barbara McLachlan, Durango

Vice-Chair, rep.-elect Bri Buentello, Pueblo

Rep. Janet Buckner, Aurora

Rep. James Coleman, Denver

Rep.-elect Lisa Cutter, Jefferson County

Rep. Tony Exum Sr., Colorado Springs

Rep.-elect Julie McCluskie, Dillon

Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, Commerce City


Ranking member: Rep. Jim Wilson, Salida

Rep.-elect Mark Baisley, Roxborough Park

Rep.-elect Tim Geitner, Colorado Springs

Rep.-elect Colin Larson, Ken Caryl

Rep. Kim Ransom, Littleton

Senate Education Committee:


Chair: Nancy Todd, Aurora

Vice-Chair: sen.-elect Tammy Story, Conifer

Sen. Daniel Kagan, Cherry Hills Village


Ranking member: Sen. Owen Hill, Colorado Springs

Sen.-elect Paul Lundeen, Monument