Long before veteran New York City educator Carmen Fariña was tapped to lead the nation's largest school system, she presided over class 4-506 at PS 29 in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn -- encouraging her fourth-graders to intern at local shops, hosting parent-teacher conferences at her home and emphasizing the importance of reading.
Fariña, 70, who rose through the ranks from teacher to principal to deputy chancellor in her 40-year career, was named New York City schools chancellor Monday by Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. It was a selection heralded by former students and community leaders in the section of Brooklyn where she had served as a teacher and, later, district superintendent.
"She was great at fostering a sense of community," said Trudy Whitman of Cobble Hill, whose daughter attended Farina's fourth-grade class at PS 29.
Whitman said Fariña would routinely hold parent meetings at her home to cultivate "a real home and school connection."
Described by former students as warm yet strict, Fariña encouraged learning outside of the four walls of her classroom. She arranged class trips to historic sites in Philadelphia, took students to volunteer with seniors and paired students with local artisans.
"Here we were as 9- and 10-year-olds in the community, giving back," said Trish Appel Peterson, a former student who now works for the department of education overseeing teacher training at several Brooklyn schools. "She taught you about the importance of giving back to your family and your community."
In 1989, Fariña was honored for her work in the classroom by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a New York City nonprofit that annually selects six city employees for its Sloan Public Service Award.
Fariña was named principal of PS 6 in 1991, and was credited with improving reading and math scores to make the Upper East Side elementary school one of the top 10 ranking city schools, according to de Blasio officials. Ten years later, she was elected community superintendent of District 15 in Brooklyn, meeting de Blasio, then a school board member.
In March 2004, former Chancellor Joel Klein, who served under outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, named Fariña deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. She left in 2006, saying she wanted to spend more time with her grandchildren.
Fariña co-authored "A School Leader's Guide to Excellence: Collaborating Our Way to Better Schools" in 2008, with Laura Kotch, a former Department of Education administrator.
A lifelong Brooklyn resident, Fariña is married to Tony Fariña and the couple have two daughters.