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His predecessor, Carmen Fariña, by contrast, had worked in the system for years and was more bureaucrat than activist. “She knew where the bodies were buried. She totally understood the culture of buildings,” Hanna said. Fariña was also a longtime ally of de Blasio’s, going back to their days in Park Slope, when she was a superintendent and he was a school-board member.
“They had a lot of history together. They knew many of the same players in New York City politics and approached those problems with a similar sort of base of knowledge and set of assumptions,” Wallack said of Fariña and de Blasio. They shared, in other words, the same understanding of how to get things done. In an emailed response to my interview request, Fariña wrote that, given the ongoing schools crisis, she was “happy to be retired!”
Which is to say: The chancellor’s job is always hard, and you’re always going to get pushback. Carranza wanted to be de Blasio’s “bulldog” for reform, one person close to him said. He had been through this before with Houston’s board of education — “people just didn’t have the stomach to take the fight,” he’d said — and had expressed his frustration with the “political agendas” of board members. One Texas education observer told the New York Times that Carranza seemed to struggle with the internal politics of his job there, too.
One of Carranza’s other projects in New York was bringing a “culturally responsive” curriculum to schools — ensuring that lessons are engaging and relevant to kids from a range of linguistic and cultural backgrounds. In many ways, he wanted the schools to feel more welcoming to people like his younger self. Carranza once shared a vivid memory of his kindergarten teacher’s efforts toward this: “I still remember to this day, when I’m in department stores and I smell that perfume that she used to wear — because I couldn’t speak English, so I got lots of hugs,” he said. “She was creating a well-rounded social-emotional learning environment for me to be able to learn.”
He instituted anti-bias training for staff and pushed to fill the school libraries with books by a more diverse range of authors and to get teachers to incorporate a wider array of experiences into their classroom lessons — to think about teaching things like the Stonewall riots alongside the civil-rights movement, for instance.