Fariña on the gifted and talented (and relatively comfortable)

Carmen Fariña (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña fielded questions on racial diversity in public schools and gifted and talented programs from parents in one of the city's wealthiest school districts, Manhattan's district 2, at a town hall meeting on Monday evening.

Fariña, who became well-known and widely respected within education circles for her tenure as principal of Public School 6, one of the city's best elementary schools, was questioned by parents and community members who took turns thanking Fariña for her work as chancellor, but pushed her on delicate topics that she does not often address.

(Capital obtained a video recording of the meeting, which was open to press, from education activist Norm Scott.)

When a suit-clad father of a district 2 student complained to Fariña that his daughter didn't test into a gifted and talented program, Fariña was not overly sympathetic.

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"If you're in district 2, the feeling is that every school is one that's gifted and talented," she said.

As principal of P.S. 6, Fariña famously eliminated the school's gifted and talented program, initially alarming parents who wanted their children in high-level classes but who were, according to a parent at the time, eventually reassured by Fariña.

Fariña has not spoken in detail about her philosophy on gifted and talented, but on Monday alluded to the issue of inequality within schools that caused her to toss out the gifted program at P.S. 6 in the first place.

"How do you tell a child that he is gifted but his brother or sister isn't?" she asked.

When asked what she would do to address the well-documented achievement gap between minority and white students, Fariña, who does not often directly address race, said the issue was "foremost on the mind of the mayor and myself."

Fariña said the Department of Education's plan to double the number of summer school programs would help low-income and minority students who need extra academic support and a place to go during the summer. The programs will be run primarily in the Bronx and East New York, Fariña said.

"The mayor has made a decision and I totally support this, that we are not closing schools and we are supporting struggling schools," she said.

The Bloomberg-era policy of closing poor-performing schools has been criticized by some as disproportionately affecting minority students in poor neighborhoods.

And when pressed on what would replace the equally controversial Bloomberg-era system of issuing letter grades for schools, Fariña said information from the progress reports would be folded into quality reviews.

Quality reviews are issued by the D.O.E. after two-day visits to schools. 

"There will be no more scarlet letters," Fariña said, referring to the letter grades.