Chancellor Carmen Fariña's Remarks on Her Vision for NYC Schools

  • Posted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 Updated: Mon Apr 23, 2018

Remarks as Delivered on Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thank you to those of you in the audience. And there couldn’t have been a better song to start the morning – “To Wish Upon a Star.” Because I wish upon a star every night and then I have you, and you’re the people who are going to join the army and make things happen. So I’m thrilled to have you here today.

I want to thank Principal Bernadette Fitzgerald and Principal Lisa Sarnicola. Because it was really wonderful to see how important the arts are in this school. I really hope that many of you will have an opportunity to walk in the hallways and see how every part of this building has an art and a reading and writing focus.

I remember visiting this school 13 years ago when this community was one school, 1,400 students, and more challenges than successes.

Today, it’s a community on the move because of several crucial factors. And pay close attention, because I’m going to say this many times.

Number one. First and foremost, rigorous instruction that is consistent from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Resulting in students reading, writing, and performing mathematics with energy and excitement. This is a school that doesn’t rest on its laurels, but is always looking for new approaches to get the best out of their students.

Number two. A supportive environment that recognizes that social-emotional growth is as important as academic growth and embraces guidance counselors, social workers, and community partners, many of which I see in the audience today.

Number three. And this is really important. Collaborative teachers who team teach, video tape each other during lessons, and give each other critical feedback. Competition among teachers and principals does not improve instruction. Collaboration does.

Number four, and this is almost like a no-brainer, but sometimes people need to be reminded. Effective leaders who have made their vision clear, coherent, and visible. And are model teachers in their own buildings. A principal who doesn’t model teaching is only half as effective as one who does.

Five. Strong family-community ties. When I attended the 5th grade graduation ceremony at P.S. 503—and I generally don’t do graduations—I was struck by the number of parents who were not only proud of their students, but were celebrating their teachers.

Several ran out after me and said, “I can’t tell you how much I learned in this building, not just what my children learned.” And that’s what a community school does.

Last but not least, the culture in these schools is based on trust.

I have to be honest – it’s one of the hardest qualities. Easiest one to say, hardest one to do. If people don’t trust that you mean what you say and that you say what you mean, they’re only going to work with you halfway. And to me, trust is one of the most difficult things.

Trust to be risk takers. Trust that values and respects the cultures and languages that our kids bring to our schools. Trust that all kids will be accepted at their level of entry. Trust that their achievement will be accelerated.

And this is also something that is particularly important in a school where 56% of the students are English Language Learners. Trust that they will achieve, trust that they can think just as good as anybody else – and even better in some cases. And trust that they will make it as much as anyone else. 

So now let me reiterate once again the six essential elements that have to be driven for continual school improvement. And these are the ones that move kids to the next level.

They are: rigorous instruction, a supportive environment, collaborative teachers, effective leadership, strong family-community ties, and a culture of continuous learning and trust. Clearly, everything that these schools that we're in right now have in abundance. 

I can tell you that this school’s journey was not easy. Every time I visited over the years, the common questions were, “How do we get better?” At no time did Bernadette ever say, “We have it,” but “how do we get better?” 

“Who really belongs in the classroom?”  I remember doing walkthroughs years and years ago and really looking seriously. A good teacher is a good teacher for some schools, but maybe not for a different school. So who belongs in this building? Who values their English Language Learners? Who understands that this is a very special mission? 

“What materials will improve achievement?” How do we dig deeper in our work and never be satisfied by the small steps that are made? These discussions happen all the time in Bernadette's room. In the beginning, teachers were very silent when she asked for their opinions because they didn't believe she really meant it. But over time, the teachers sometimes overwhelmed the conversations and they asked the questions. And that's the real test of a true leader. 

The work in 503 is certainly not finished nor perfect. However, it has steadily progressed in ways that can be measured and sustained, even with a population that reflects the diversity of the City: 96% of students receive free lunch, 53% are English Language Leaners, and 20% are students with disabilities.

No wonder this school was chosen as a Learning Partner school hosting many visitors this year.

I’m describing this accomplishment because we see that their progress has implications for the City as a whole.

We are looking beyond test scores and focusing on making sure that each school has what it needs for sustained and continuous growth. And we have developed a framework that mirrors the essential elements we see in schools that continually improve.

For the past six months, we solicited feedback from many of you in this room and also through focus groups and conversations with more than a thousand stakeholders, from parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents to labor leaders, elected officials, advocates, and nationally-recognized researchers.

We built our framework around an established body of research conducted by Anthony Bryk and his colleagues from the University of Chicago. In their public school system over a seven-year

period, they identified 100 elementary schools that had substantially improved—and 100 that had not.

The schools that improved demonstrated a comprehensive set of practices and conditions, once again. And we're going to have a test at the end of this to see how many of these elements you remember: rigorous instruction, a supportive environment, collaborative teachers, effective leadership, strong family-community ties, and a culture of continuous learning and trust.

These schools were 10 times more likely to substantially improve in reading, math, and attendance, and 30 times less likely to stagnate in these areas.

Bryk’s findings have been further validated by other independent researchers across the country.

Today, I am announcing our new framework adapted from his research. Our framework provides a robust basis for building on each school’s strengths, addressing its needs, and determining a course of action that holds everyone in our school system accountable for our students’ future. And that includes the DOE. 

It will provide the basis for how schools will be evaluated and supported and give superintendents clear guidelines for individualizing their supervision and providing support. Supervision without support doesn't work. 

One size does not fit all.

With student achievement at the center of everything we do, the first element focuses on the classroom and the delivery of rigorous instruction that aligns practice with the Common Core State standards — within and across grades.

The second element revolves around the classroom and measuring schools’ capacity to foster a supportive environment that encourages students to be there for one another and provides for their social and emotional growth. A school that is silent is a school that is not learning. I want to see interactive learning in every single classroom in New York City. 

The third element focuses on the head of the class, celebrating and honoring collaborative teachers who are committed to the success of their students, improvement across the schools, and continuous professional learning. I'm looking for schools with teachers who have opened doors, give away their secret recipes. And understand that their turf is not within their four walls, but the turf is the entire city. 

For the fourth element, we step just outside the classroom to turn our attention to how well the rest of the adults in the building collaborate. Effective school leaders who support teachers, work with their school community, and build coherent instructional and social-emotional support will improve student achievement.

The fifth element focuses on the capacity to build strong family and community ties. Schools that welcome, value, and incorporate families and communities, and build strong partnerships with businesses and community-based organizations, function most successfully. One of the things that I'm particularly proud of is that, in this school, parents are involved in every single facet of school life. They don't come just when it's parent-teacher night or when someone makes a phone call.

At a meeting I was at yesterday, one of the teachers actually said that the most successful night this year was Curriculum Night, that we had thanks to the UFT contract, where parents came who had never come into the building before. And teachers stayed late who had never volunteered to do that before. So we really are on a path in terms of family engagement. 

All of this work must be done in a culture of trust, the sixth element, which is the engine for rapid improvement across all of the elements. We will create a school culture where value and respect exist across the system — among teachers, principals, staff, the DOE, and families.

There is a new era in education in New York City.

We are no longer forcing change on people, we’re creating change with people. And that is very important. 

Having transformed how we approach school accountability, it is crucial that we also revise the way we report progress. You notice I'm smiling. I've been dying to do this. 

To keep our promise to make change that will make our school system more transparent and accessible for students, families, and school staff.

The original intention of our Progress Report was to reward schools that were making a big effort to move in the right direction. Unfortunately, it often gave a misleading impression to families about what was actually happening in a school.

In my first year as a consultant, I walked into an A school with a progress report pasted on every single door and I was horrified when I opened those doors and saw not very good classroom instruction and that collaboration was missing. And in many cases, they were totally silent classrooms. 

It was possible that test scores were moving in the right direction, but there was no evidence of students conversing, problem solving, or engaging in critical analysis so crucial in preparing students for college and careers. Test prep may improve grades, but it does not get you ready for life. 

The principal couldn’t wait to tell me—that’s why people are anonymous in my speech—that  because of the A, the school had arrived and it was at the end of the journey. She didn't realize it was only the beginning.

Teachers, too, were singing their own praises and were so busy congratulating themselves that they couldn’t think of any next steps in improving their craft except, as one teacher told me, "They're now ready for more homework." And I said, "Oh my god." I didn't have any power, but I kept it in the back of my head. 

Conversely, I received a frantic phone call from a principal who had gotten a D. I knew for a fact that the school was full of engaged families, collaborative teachers, and students participating in hands-on, interactive learning.

At the principal’s request, I attended the PTA meeting that night to give my feedback on the school and what she was hoping was some support. And I tried to rationalize the existing grade. I found it difficult to answer parents' questions and had to admit that if I were grading the school, they would have received a much higher grade.

In 100 subsequent school visits throughout the City, I was consistently amazed that my evaluation often did not match the Progress Report.

So I am beyond thrilled today to announce that our new Quality Snapshot will replace the Progress Report — and change the way we inform schools and communities about what’s going on in the classroom and the way we hold schools accountable. No more letter grades. 

The Snapshot will provide the first balanced picture of a school’s quality that reflects our promise to stop judging students and schools based on a single, summative grade.

This is just a common sense approach. I realize common sense is not as common as it should be, but to me this is one of the things that we must put on the forefront. That recognizes that students learn and display knowledge in different ways, and we must respect, not denigrate, the qualities that make each student unique.

Likewise, schools have unique qualities that cannot be captured in a letter grade. They are not restaurants.

In lieu of an A to F grading scale, the Snapshot will provide rich details about the life of the school by capturing successes, challenges, and strategies for improvement.

This is a totally new approach. We are no longer penalizing a school for its weaknesses.

One way we will support schools is to evaluate their performance based on multiple measures, including information collected during the Quality Review, which is undergoing a significant change. This year, the Quality Review will be modified based on feedback from the field and it will evolve next year to align to the new framework.

The Quality Review will provide principals with specific feedback about what to look for in classrooms and where they can prioritize their ongoing efforts to improve their schools. It will also offer support in the areas of need by their superintendents and other professionals. People will not visit and judge and never be seen again. People will come, evaluate, and support—and that's a really good change. 

There is another major change that will move us away from grading schools on a curve.

Unlike the Progress Report, the School Quality Snapshot compares a school performance to all schools in the City serving the same grade levels—regardless of student population. This is no longer a competition. All of our schools need an accurate picture of how they’re doing if they hope to improve. This is what transparency is all about. This is what the Mayor and I promised students and families.

Our city is engaged in transformational change.

This is a new era of support and collaboration.

We have heard—and loudly, I might add—that accountability does not begin with a DOE algorithm to measure schools. Algorithms belong in mathematics classes and maybe in an architect's office, but not as a way to evaluate the hardest work there is to do, which is to teach in our schools. 

Rather, it begins with the people in the system: the teachers, students, parents, and principals who are in our schools every day. They are the ones who know what is working and what requires our attention.

This year, we will revamp our annual NYC School Survey to align with the six elements I have been describing. Feel free to chime in: rigorous instruction, a supportive environment, collaborative teachers, effective leadership, strong family-community ties, and a culture of continuous learning and trust.

The Survey results will allow the system to focus on leading indicators rather than relying on the results of state tests that come well after the students have moved onto the next grade. I could never understand what I was going to do with test results that come in the summer and then the kids are with a different teacher. So we're trying to say that there's a way to evaluate—again, common sense—that we can use immediately. 

We will also evaluate ourselves at the DOE. We should not be separate from, but be part of. To ensure that our efforts are driving higher student achievement. 

The new NYC School Survey will launch in January 2015, and by the end of this spring we will have data to begin real change to our system.

There will be people who ask why are these changes significant. Let me amplify that both the Snapshot and the framework will yield important information so that we may help our schools.

The Mayor and I have promised a school system and city based on equity, transparency, and

respect. Of course it all depends on increasing student achievement. Therefore, let me just gloat a little and reiterate our accomplishments.

In the nine months of our administration, we have made distinctive strides in launching and reintroducing practices we know will improve student achievement:

We launched a historic expansion—and I don't want to say who in this audience were the naysayers, but there were some of you—of pre-k to over 50,000 students. That hasn't happened anywhere. And I am now getting calls from all over this country: “How did you do it?” “Was there a secret?” Yeah. The secret was determination and true grit. And thanks to a very small group of people who made it happen, but talked to a lot more people. 

This initiative will give our youngest learners the opportunity to enter kindergarten knowing additional vocabulary, ready to learn to read and write, and prepared with social skills necessary for future school success. This is not a small accomplishment. 

We launched the largest-ever expansion of after-school seats for middle school students. These students are benefiting from an extended school day, with opportunities to participate in a variety of arts and sports programs, technology experiences, small-group instruction, and one-on-one tutoring. Many offer guidance and emotional support.

Our students learn their first lessons at home. Developing strong family ties is a priority of my administration. The new contract with the UFT provides an additional 40 minutes each week to involve families in more creative ways—not just a phone call when things go wrong. I am so impressed by the variety of things that principals are telling me they're doing. They're providing dinner on Tuesdays, so parents will come in and eat and talk about their kids.

One of the things I heard this morning is also they're coming in and teachers are inviting them into their school one table at a time. The principal says every Tuesday, a different—teachers  invite kids that sit at certain tables—to come in so they can have a more extensive digger deep [sic] in terms of what is expected of them. So it's about being creative but understanding that families matter and they matter deeply. 

Student-led parent-teacher conferences and all-day family conferences will further cement the home-school connection.

Holding Community Education Council and Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council meetings in community settings, one of which I'm going to tonight, are helping to bring the conversation beyond what is often perceived as a “Tweed” experience. 

I actually answer questions at CEC meetings if I know the answers. And if I don't, I make sure someone gets back to them. We're also experimenting with CEC meetings on Saturdays and have a whole series of them prepared, because for many of our parents, Saturday is the day that they can come, so why not? 

We recognize that a school is the anchor of its neighborhood, and that one can’t prosper without the other. To strengthen that relationship, we are developing more than 40 new community schools that will welcome, value and incorporate families and community into the life of the schools; providing vitally important services, ranging from mental health support to homework help and family counseling. 

Community Schools have a proven track record of helping at-risk children succeed in schools and beyond. Their families benefit as well.

We have established a new Office of Guidance and School Counseling to provide professional development for counselors and social workers to enable them to support all our students to be effective learners and engaged citizens. We cannot say that school is about academic learning only.

             If kids come to school not ready to learn, with a lot of needs, we need to be able to provide those as well -- including stand-alone middle schools' free lunch, which I'm having a great time with. Very nice things happening in some of our middle schools. 

Our new, stand-alone Department of English Language Learners and Student Support will ensure—you can clap for that one—that our ELLs have access to cutting-edge bilingual and dual-language programs and they're going to get necessary supports to ensure the high-quality education they deserve. 

We will be opening a lot more dual-language programs because we know there's a tremendous need. Because the people I basically feel sorry for in the city are the ones who only speak one language. So we really need to give them another language to learn. 

Likewise, through our Division of Specialized Instruction and Student Support, we will make sure that each school has a plan to welcome students with special needs and we will insist on it, not just plan for it. And provide them the instruction they need to graduate college and be workforce ready. We will train teachers in intervention strategies for specific disabilities. And this is not a small thing. We started with autism, and expect to expand those needs to other areas. 

We are expanding arts education because when the arts are part of the DNA of a school, students achieve artistically and academically. I hear from more and more parents that they are choosing middle schools that have strong arts programs, and why not.

Think of New York City as a cultural institution. Our Teen Thursdays are ready to go, and that's all about getting the kids in our museums. We're not going to have the patrons of tomorrow if these kids don't go to museums and other cultural institutions today. We need to start fostering that. 

We are enhancing our Career and Technical Education schools, which provide an opportunity for our students to prepare for the workforce while also getting college ready. This is a commitment that we have entered into with the New York State Education Department and the Partnership for New York City. We need partners to make our schools work, and why not go to the best when we want to see something.

And I want to debunk the theory that CTEs are vocational schools. They are not. They are schools that are going to get our kids ready, and also give them the understanding that there are jobs for them out there, and we need to prepare them for that. 

We are redoubling our efforts to support teachers through professional learning opportunities, something very close to my heart. A professional learning handbook and a new Social Studies Scope & Sequence ensure a Common Core Curriculum with substance added to strategies. 

We need to make sure that America—particularly New York City—are productive citizens. And you cannot be a productive citizen if you do not know the history of your own country. And you need to be able to vote in a democracy. It's an embarrassment what our level of voting is in this country. And you can't do it unless you study the history of what happens when people don't do that. So I'm thrilled to see Social Studies back front and center. 

Educators now have an additional 80 minutes each week devoted to professional learning. Teachers, principals, and other educators have demonstrated their hunger: more than 13,000 voluntarily came this summer to attended workshops that we offered in a variety of areas. 

Through our Learning Partners program, more than 70 schools are collaborating to leverage the rich reservoir of expertise that resides in our school communities. We can find answers to the struggles we face when we share our knowledge and experience with each other. Visitations and collaborations enhance all of our schools. Our goal is to create the network of support among colleagues and allow the collective wisdom to go viral. 

So we've actually added now Showcase Schools, who are going to be allowed to visit once, so you get to see what it is. And I'm encouraging people to steal from each other, very legitimately, because I can go to a school and someone says to me, "I got this from Mrs. So-and-So." I then make sure Mrs. So-and-So gets a letter that says, “Thank God you gave something away.” It is a new era. 

Our focus is on customized, inclusive, motivating instruction that meets the needs of all of our students — from new immigrants learning English to students with disabilities to students in gifted and talented classrooms.

While we care deeply about achievement in every grade level, we know that at certain grades, there are crucial benchmarks that students must reach to enable them to advance to higher levels of performance. Therefore, we are focusing our attention on 2nd, 7th, and 10th grades and providing additional support, including a renewed focus on STEM during summer school and additional mentoring and internships in 10th grade. It’s critical that our students meet certain academic, social, and emotional benchmarks. 

As I go school to school, principals tell me stories. And one principal actually said, "I'm rethinking all of my second grade teachers, Carmen. So if I can't get them up to where I want them, they're going to get extra support." And I don't think this is a small thing. This is a big thing, because we know that if students go into 3rd grade better prepared for the content area, then it's crucial for their success.

I also know that 7th-graders are bathed in hormones and other things and challenges, but if you get a 7th-grader hooked onto reading and learning, you've got them for life. So middle school people need to focus. Those 7th graders need a lot of extra attention. 

And the 10th grade is where many of our students decide if they're going to go to college and be career-ready. So it's crucial that we give them the support they need and the extra learning and we think mentorships and internships are the way to go. 

I’m proud to be a lifelong learner and educator. Wherever I travel in New York City, I meet former students. It drives my people crazy. There's always at least two degrees of separation from P.S 6, and one degree of separation from P.S. 29. I actually had one this morning here. 

My students are writers, videographers, doctors, and even teachers, who remind me of the days they spent in my classroom and the lessons they still carry with them. These students and the ones in our classrooms today are at the heart of the work we do.

The power of being Chancellor is the opportunity to turn our hopes and dreams for our children into reality.

What I have found particularly important in this journey has been the chance to reflect on all that I’ve learned in my role as a teacher, principal, superintendent, and deputy chancellor—and employ the most effective strategies to move the City as a whole.

In every single job I always thought I had reached the pinnacle. What always motivated me to go to the next step was the power of making a difference in children’s lives. And I might add, in teachers' and principals' as well. 

Knowing that in New York City today there will be more children headed to college, more families engaged in fulltime work and, most importantly, more people who believe that anything is possible.

Even that a little girl who started kindergarten unable to speak English would one day become Schools Chancellor.

The challenge before all of you in this room today is to join our dream.

Whatever talent you have, whatever interest you have, whatever gift you have to give, I stand here today to invite you to join me and Mayor de Blasio in transforming our school system.

Todos sabemos que la Ciudad de Nueva York es una rayo de esperanza para el resto del mundo. Únanse a nosotros para hacer de esta la ciudad donde todos nuestros sueños se hacen realidad.

We know that New York City is a beacon to the rest of the world. Join me in making this city where all of our dreams come true. And wish upon a star. Thank you. 
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