Transition at Tweed

Fariña promotes longtime principal, Bloomberg-era deputy to top posts

Deputy Chancellor of Equity and Access Dorita Gibson spoke at an event promoting the Young Men's Initiative in October 2012.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña promoted a Bloomberg-era official and plucked a longtime principal from his Brooklyn school today as she began to fill out the Department of Education’s inner circle.

Dorita Gibson, previously the deputy chancellor for equity and access, will be Fariña’s second in command, the Department of Education announced today. In her previous position, Gibson supervised the department’s system of alternative schools and its work with the Bloomberg administration’s Young Men’s Initiative, and launched new programs to diversify selective high schools.

Phil Weinberg, principal of the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, is the department’s new deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. That position, which Fariña herself held a decade ago, disappeared in 2010 when the department dissolved its division of teaching and learning.

Weinberg has chosen the city’s former gifted education chief, Anna Commitante, to be his top deputy. Commitante had been working as a deputy in one of the department’s five “clusters,” providing instructional support to dozens of schools.

Together, the three appointments offer the clearest picture yet about Fariña’s priorities. All three of the new hires have been in the system for decades and have been teachers and principals in the school system.

Gibson has served at almost every level of school leadership, starting as a teacher in Queens and serving as a principal, regional superintendent and deputy superintendent. Her appointment as senior deputy chancellor also signals that Fariña doesn’t intend to purge some Bloomberg-era policies and appointees from the department.

“We’ve done such great work in the last 11, 12 years of this administration. We have great schools. We have great programs,” Gibson told Chalkbeat in August. “But how do we as a school system make sure that all of our kids, regardless of their color and socioeconomic background, succeed in these programs?”

Weinberg has served as the principal at Telecommunication since 2001, the school where he started his career as an English teacher in 1986, according to a New York Times story highlighting his longevity as a principal.

Weinberg has also voiced concerns about the new teacher evaluation system, which he said put too much faith in data, rather than principals’ judgment. “Newly necessary distractions like marketing and fund-raising and data analysis may have seemed more important than getting into classrooms and working with teachers on how to plan lessons and ask questions,” he wrote in 2012.

The city’s complete press release is below.

CHANCELLOR FARIÑA ANNOUNCES NEW APPOINTMENTS AT DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION HEADQUARTERS

Veteran Educators to Lead Tweed into a New Era of School Support

New Leadership Will Renew Emphasis on Improving Instruction to Enhance Learning

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced new members of her leadership team at Department of Education (DOE) headquarters. Dorita Gibson, previously the Deputy Chancellor for Equity and Access, will assume the role of Senior Deputy Chancellor and the Chancellor’s second in command. With more than 30 years experience in the public school system, Dr. Gibson has served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, regional and supervising superintendent, and Deputy Chancellor. In this new and expanded role, she will oversee all aspects of school support, Cluster and Network management, superintendents, support for struggling schools, District 79 programs, and school communications.

As head of Equity and Access under Chancellor Walcott, Deputy Chancellor Gibson oversaw District 79, a citywide network of over 300 alternative schools and programs serving over-age, under-credited youth; the Office of Adult and Continuing Education; and the Department’s Young Men’s Initiative work. She created the DREAM-SHSI program, which helps low-income middle school students develop skills for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, as well as the Summer Quest program, which provides students with summer learning opportunities aimed at closing the achievement gap. As she moves into the Department’s number two role, Dr. Gibson will bring her considerable expertise in expanding opportunities for underserved school communities.

Chancellor Fariña also appointed Phil Weinberg, previously the principal at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn, as Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning. With more than a dozen years as a principal and nearly three decades of experience in New York City public schools, Mr. Weinberg will oversee all professional development and curriculum, performance and accountability, Common Core and college-readiness initiatives, Career and Technical Education, and instructional support. The high school Mr. Weinberg has led since 2001 has achieved a more than 35 percent increase in graduation rates since 2005. The recipient of a 2012 Sloan Award for Public Service, Mr. Weinberg previously served on the DOE’s Division of Academics, Performance, and Support Advisory Group.

In one of his first acts as Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, Mr. Weinberg named Anna Commitante as his Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. A 27-year veteran educator, Ms. Commitante was previously a Deputy Cluster Leader of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. In her new role, she will provide leadership in curriculum development, assist schools as they transition to the Common Core Learning Standards, and direct a comprehensive professional development training program using research-based instructional methods.

“This is a new era for our schools, and these appointments send a clear message: our focus is on improving each and every classroom across the five boroughs. Having three educators with such extraordinary expertise about our City’s schools will help us channel all of our energy into quality instruction,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Principals, teachers, and staff should know they will have leaders who will not only listen, but take action to support them. This is the first step in the process of making our school system more in touch, more responsive, and more mindful of those we work with and serve.”

“With more than three decades working on behalf of City students, I’m honored to take on this role as Chancellor Fariña’s second in command. My plan is to support schools no matter what their challenges may be – instructionally, operationally, or otherwise,” said Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson. “As I work to support all of our schools, I will lead by listening. We’re taking a new tone – and we plan to back it up with action.”

“I started my career as a teacher over 28 years ago, and I’m so proud to be named to this instrumental new role today. I first became a teacher because I believed it was the most authentic way I could contribute to our community. In this new role as Deputy Chancellor, I have the ability to work with, support, and empower those on the ground doing the hard work of educating our students each day,” said Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Phil Weinberg. “The most important thing to a student’s success is the quality of a teacher, and all of my focus will be on developing and streamlining ways to enhance instruction.”

“This is a time of renewal for our schools, and I’m thrilled to be in in this role to help our schools during this transition to Common Core,” said Anna Commitante, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. “I’ve dedicated my career to the development of principals, teachers, and schools, and I look forward to continuing to do that. With our renewed focus on professional development, we will prepare our teachers like never before for the important work that lies ahead.”

About Dr. Dorita Gibson

Dr. Dorita Gibson has spent more than 30 years in the New York City school system as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal at various schools in Queens, and has served as a deputy, regional and senior supervising superintendent. Appointed Deputy Chancellor for Equity and Access in May 2011, Gibson oversees programs and initiatives that focus on ending long-standing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities and directing supports to high-need communities. She directs District 79, a citywide network of over 300 alternative schools and programs serving over-age, under-credited youth whose schooling has been interrupted, the Office of Adult and Continuing Education, as well as the Department’s Young Men’s Initiative work. As Deputy Chancellor, Gibson has expanded Advanced Placement courses in the City’s most underserved neighborhoods and communities. She also created the DREAM-SHSI program, which helps low-income middle school students develop skills for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, and the Summer Quest program to improve, expand, and sustain summer learning opportunities in the South Bronx as a key strategy for closing the achievement gap. Gibson holds a Doctorate in Education from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education.

About Phil Weinberg

Phil Weinberg has nearly three decades of experience in New York City’s public schools. For more than a decade he taught English at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn. He later served as assistant principal there, and was named principal in 2001, a position he has held for 13 years. At this large, urban, high-poverty school, in which more than 70 percent of students are Title 1 eligible, Mr. Weinberg established small learning communities, through which his students saw extraordinary success: the graduation rate has increased by more than 35 percent since 2005. A 2012 recipient of the Sloan Award for Public Service, Mr. Weinberg holds a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College and a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

About Anna Commitante

Anna Commitante, a 27 year veteran educator, was most recently Deputy Cluster Leader of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development in Cluster 2. Previously, Ms. Commitante was the K-12 Director of Literacy, Social Studies and Gifted and Talented Programs for the NYC DOE. She began her career in education as an elementary school teacher at PS 29 in Brooklyn, worked in school support as a district literacy coach/staff developer, and led a job-embedded professional development program for schools at City Hall Academy. Ms. Commitante also served as principal of New Voices Middle School in District 15, Brooklyn, a school that offers a strong humanities curriculum and fully integrated arts program. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Hunter College and a degree in educational administration from City College.

Q and A

Here’s what Richard Carranza had to say in his first TV interview as New York City chancellor

Chancellor Richard Carranza was pressed on segregation, testing and metal detectors in schools.

New York City schools chief Richard Carranza has been cramming, if his first media interview since taking over the city’s schools on Monday is any indication.

Carranza spoke with NY1’s Lindsey Christ for about 30 minutes Wednesday, with an empty classroom as a backdrop. She pressed him on some of the most pressing issues facing the city, including school segregation, whether metal detectors belong in schools, and the city’s expensive Renewal program for struggling schools — where Carranza signaled that changes could be coming. He also addressed a gender discrimination lawsuit from his time as the head of San Francisco schools and called boycotts of standardized tests an “extreme reaction.” 

A few times, Carranza acknowledged he is still learning the ropes: Until he arrived in New York City, he had never worked in the country’s largest school system. He comes from Houston, where he was superintendent for less than two years.

Here’s what he had to say in Wednesday’s interview, which you can watch in its entirety here.

On segregation

Carranza is proving to be more frank than his boss — and his predecessor, retired Chancellor Carmen Fariña — on the issues of segregation and integration. Mayor Bill de Blasio has avoided those terms, preferring to speak more broadly about “diversity.” Carranza didn’t mind saying that “segregation and integration” have been issues in every district where he has worked. In Wednesday’s interview, Carranza was asked about his choice of words.

Back to Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court used the word segregation. So it is what it is. I think we get caught up sometimes in the terminology and miss the broader picture. The broader picture is that, if we have a public education system that truly belongs to the public, then every member of that public body — every single student, regardless of race, class, socioeconomic status, religious creed — should have access to all — all — opportunities in that system. And if [there is] segregation, then we need to work to end it.

On specialized high schools

New York City’s specialized high schools are some of the most prestigious in the system, but they are also starkly and persistently segregated. Only 10.4 percent of admissions offers for next year’s ninth-grade class went to black and Hispanic students, even though they make up about 70 percent of students citywide. Under de Blasio, the city has tried a number of initiatives to address the problem, but the admissions picture has not budged. Carranza suggested he wanted to see changes — but signaled that he had accepted his boss’s position that state law could be a barrier.

I’m starting to learn about what these issues are… State law notwithstanding, other protocol notwithstanding, how is that OK? From my perspective it’s not OK to have a public school in a city as diverse… and that you have only 10 African American students in a high school. So I’m looking at that, absolutely.

On a gender discrimination settlement from San Francisco

Shortly after Carranza was named chancellor, the New York Daily News uncovered a 2015 gender discrimination lawsuit involving Carranza when he was superintendent of San Francisco schools. The suit, which was settled for $75,000, was filed by a district employee who said she was denied a leadership role during Carranza’s tenure because of her gender and charged he retaliated against her for confronting him about flirting with a woman during a work conference. City Hall told Chalkbeat that officials were aware of the lawsuit but believed the allegations to be false — which Carranza echoed.

It just didn’t happen. It never happened. I’ve been an educator almost 30 years. I’ve worked with thousands of colleagues and there are many people who would talk about my character and who I am … I will stand on my record and I’ll stand on the relationships that I built. But it never happened.

On the city’s long-running investigation into yeshivas

In 2015, the education department said it would investigate whether private yeshivas offer adequate instruction in secular subjects such as math and science. The results of that politically charged investigation have yet to be revealed, and the city hasn’t offered a timeline for when it would be completed. Meanwhile, a new state law seems to hand state education leaders the power to evaluate the schools — rather than the local district. Carranza wouldn’t commit to a timeline to wrap up the city’s investigation, or even promise to finish it.

I haven’t been fully briefed on the investigation, or what this history of the investigation has been, but I believe that every student — regardless of where they go to school — needs to have a quality education. … My commitment is to be very transparent in terms of where the investigation is and what the next steps in the investigation are.

On metal detectors

Metal detectors are a polarizing issue in the debate over how to keep schools safe. Some advocates say the city would be better off investing in services like mental health supports, but others argue that metal detectors keep students and staff safe. Once metal detectors are installed in schools, they are almost never removed. But Carranza signaled he is open to having conversations about taking scanners out of schools.

The most effective, in my experience, security system is an environment where students feel a responsibility for their safety and feel comfortable in reporting when they hear or they see something… I think in some places there may be a very good reason why we have metal detectors. Again, I’m just getting here but that’s one of the topics I really want to explore. If we have metal detectors, what’s the reason for it, what’s the justification for it and if there’s no need for it, then how do we get rid of those?

On testing

New York has one of the largest opt-out movements in the country, with parents instructing their children to refuse to take standardized tests. Carranza said English and math tests should not crowd out other subjects such as art, but he also was clear that he does not encourage opting out.

I think it’s an extreme reaction to where I think we could have a much more nuanced approach. All right, let’s look at how much testing is happening in our schools, and then let’s decide what has to be there so that we know where our students are, and then let’s eliminate whatever we don’t need to have… There are a number of tests that serve a purpose. I think that’s a more nuanced conversation. What’s the purpose and why is that important?

On the Renewal program for struggling schools

De Blasio has spent more than $500 million to support struggling schools through Renewal, which floods dozens of struggling schools with extra support, social services such as health care, and a longer school day. Though the mayor promised “fast and intense” improvements, Renewal has produced mixed results. Carranza called the program “incredibly proactive,” but also suggested there might be changes coming.  

Where have the results been mixed and then how do we change strategies or how do we update our strategy? How do we become strategic in certain areas? That’s part of improving.

Compare and Contrast

Five first days of school: How Richard Carranza’s start as chancellor compares to his predecessors’

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Richard Carranza climbed the steps of Tweed Courthouse, the education department headquarters, on his first day as chancellor. Carranza previously led schools in San Francisco and Houston.

Richard Carranza’s first day as New York City schools chief started with a photo opportunity: a snowy walk-and-wave into Tweed Courthouse, the education department’s Lower Manhattan headquarters, shortly before 9 a.m.

Later today, he plans to have lunch at an iconic New York City restaurant, Katz’s Delicatessen, with Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray. (It must be said: The third day of Passover makes an unusual choice for a visit to a Jewish deli.)

What Carranza won’t be doing: visiting any schools. This week is spring break, giving Carranza at least five work days before he’s likely to face any on-the-ground challenges. That should give him time to get to know his colleagues at Tweed and start getting up to speed on the major issues he’ll have to tackle.

The schedule makes Carranza’s first day very different from those of the most recent chancellors he succeeds. Here’s a look at what each of them did on day one.

Carmen Fariña eased into the limelight.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

On her first day in 2014, Fariña made a public appearance at one school, M.S. 223 in the Bronx, where she answered questions about where she planned to take the city’s schools. As a longtime veteran of the city’s schools appointed by a mayor who had vowed to shift the education department’s direction, would she seek to roll back Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education agenda? She said she would work, at least at first, within “the framework that existed” — though four years later it’s clear that she changed the education department substantially.

Fariña also said her first day had been busy, with lots of coffee, lunch skipped, and meeting with current staffers to talk about ways to “duplicate” their policy successes — a mission at the heart of some of the programs she created. And she also foreshadowed her hesitance to be a public figure, saying “the word chancellor kind of gives me the shivers.” De Blasio is reportedly hoping Carranza will take a different approach.

Dennis Walcott made waffles.

PHOTO: Anna Phillips

He was still a few days shy of officially taking over the city’s school system when Dennis Walcott, then still a deputy mayor for Bloomberg, stopped by P.S. 10 in Brooklyn to make his trademark waffles in an appearance that many education insiders remember as his inaugural public appearance. The visit — not even his first since being appointed — fulfilled a promise made to a third-grader to prove that Walcott’s waffle recipe (sugar-free, in keeping with his fastidious health regimen) was the best in the world. A student’s question also presaged the chancellor’s first marathon several months later. The visit kicked off a gruelingand, he said, rewarding — pace of school visits that characterized Walcott’s tenure, which lasted until Bloomberg left office at the end of 2013.

Cathie Black made what might have been her longest public appearance.

PHOTO: Maura Walz
Cathie Black visited P.S. 262 in Brooklyn on her first official day as chancellor in 2011.

Cathie Black’s appointment came as a shock, but her first day on the job in January 2011 was thoroughly choreographed as she visited schools in each of the five boroughs. The city had time to prepare: It took several weeks between when Bloomberg picked her for state policy makers to give her the waiver she needed to run the city’s schools despite a total lack of education experience, and she didn’t take office for six weeks after that. At the time, Black told us she had visited roughly 20 schools before her official first day, when she stopped by a music-themed high school, a charter school that teaches Korean, and a school for students with severe disabilities. But her school-visit schedule quickly slowed as her public appearances became landmines for the city, and she resigned just three months after her official first day.

Oh, and Joel Klein was uncharacteristically quiet.

Joel Klein. (GothamSchools file photo)

Schools were also closed when Klein took office in August 2002, but he didn’t stick around the education department’s headquarters, then still located in Downtown Brooklyn. “I wanted to send a clear message that I’m going to be out and in the schools,” Klein said about why he met with a deputy in Bedford-Stuyvesant on his first day. “If schools were open today, I’d be in school. Because that’s going to be a key part of my mission.”

That meeting was closed to the press, as part of a first day that the New York Times reported “represented a striking departure from tradition, and suggested that he might, at least for now, keep a lower profile than his predecessors.” (Several of them visited schools and held press conferences, according to the Times story, and one served French toast to students — likely with syrup.) Ultimately, that proved to be far from the case: Klein was a relentless leader and divisive public figure, frequently rolling out game-changing new policies during splashy press conferences without first building support from people who worked in schools.

A takeaway from Klein’s first day more than 15 years ago: A quiet first day hardly means a low-key administration — something to watch for now as Carranza digs in.