Charter school officials fret over Fariña appointment

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Carmen Farina. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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Anti-Bloomberg education activists and union leaders had the expected effusive praise for Carmen Fariña, but one group's concern over her appointment as schools chancellor stood out - charter school operators and advocates.

While mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has vowed to charge some charters rent on a sliding scale and place a moratorium on charter co-locations in district schools, charter officials expressed muted hope he and Fariña would support the movement's growing population.

Eva Moskowitz, the most powerful and influential figure in the New York charter school movement, issued a brief statement through a spokeswoman shortly after Fariña's appointment: "I know Carmen well and she is an educator who cares. The question is will she protect and expand public charter school options for families who need and are demanding them?"

Any major expansion of charters under a de Blasio-Fariña D.O.E seems highly unlikely: Fariña tried (and failed) to stop one of Moskowitz's Success Academies from opening near her home in Cobble Hill. But when Moskowitz was still a councilwoman, she called Fariña "hands on, and no nonsense."

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A release from Families for Excellent Schools (F.E.S), a charter school advocacy group which organized this fall's massive pro-charter march across the Brooklyn Bridge, praised Fariña's resume but said her credentials were "unproven when it comes to charter schools and the high quality education they provide to students who need it most."

"New Yorkers need to wait and see if she'll grow and protect charter schools, which have demonstrated exceptional results," Jeremiah Kittredge, executive director of F.E.S, said in a statement. "We stand ready to offer our help."

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools also chimed in on Fariña's announcement, showing the high stakes of the charter movement's future in New York City.

"We encourage [Fariña and de Blasio] to consider the vital role charter schools have played in increasing options and quality for students and families across the city," Nina Rees, the organization's CEO, said in a statement. "The rest of the country has always looked to NYC as an example of vibrant and successful charter schools and we hope that trend will continue."

But one local charter leader praised Fariña without hesitation. Morty Ballen, the founder of the Explore Schools, a small charter network of four schools in Central Brooklyn, said in a statement, "I have known Carmen for more than a decade and her values as an educator always struck me as aligned with ours at Explore Schools - parental access to great public school options; support, respect and a higher bar for teachers; and above all else, excellent instruction for children who are capable of so much more than many give them credit for."

Jenny Sedlis, the executive director of Students First NY, the local branch of Michelle Rhee's organization supporting the Common Core and tougher accountability measures for students, offered cautious praise for Fariña.

"We hope that the historic reforms that have helped make New York City the nation's model are not rolled back ... While we have concerns about her aversion to assessment-based measures of accountability and the possibility of a rollback on new schools in the pipeline, we look forward to working with the new chancellor ..."

Fariña firmly reiterated her opposition to excessive high-stakes testing during Monday's announcement, a position that brought enthusiastic support from her backers, though some were cautious.

Jonathan Schleifer, the executive director of Educators 4 Excellence, a teacher advocacy group that helped create the city's new teacher evaluation system, was more optimistic, despite the suggestion by some experts that Fariña might re-examine the new evaluation system.

"De Blasio has appointed a chancellor with a track record of supporting teachers and considering their experiences in developing public school policies," Schleifer said in a statement. "This approach will be more important than ever as city educators take on challenges presented by the Common Core and new evaluation system."

Union officials were much less measured in their praise.

United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew told Capital: "We are probably some of the happiest people come tomorrow night at midnight," adding that the last four years of relations with the Bloomberg administration were "especially ugly" and said Fariña's respect for teachers "will go a long way in working out a negotiation that is not about a political attack on an organization."

Principals' union president Ernest Logan said his organization was "delighted" with Fariña's appointment in a statement. "Carmen is universally recognized as one of the great educators in this city," said Logan. "Without a doubt, she is an educator's educator -- something we have not had for 15 years."