Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s to-do list for the school year starting Thursday includes: new classes for 3-year-olds, fresh efforts to desegregate schools and added services for homeless students.
In an interview with the Daily News, Fariña, 74, said the city also will close some struggling schools, and merge others, in the coming year, which is her 52nd as a city educator.
“There’s still a lot of work left to do, but in terms of opening school with a lot of hope and a lot of expectation, we’re in a really good place,” Fariña said. “I’m really excited with all the things we’ve managed to put in place.”
In addition, city schools this year will offer free lunches to students for the first time, Fariña said.
The lunch plan will provide more than 200,000 additional students with a midday meal. Last school year, 75% of students were eligible for free lunch.
Fariña said she will be paying special attention to a pilot program offering full-day public schooling to 3-year-old children in two districts.
The city’s 3-K for All program is kicking off with 1,600 seats in the Bronx and Brooklyn. The chancellor hopes to take it citywide by 2021, building on the success of Mayor de Blasio’s signature universal pre-K program launched in 2014.
Fariña and de Blasio have both said they hope the twin early education programs will ease the stark and persistent achievement gap faced by black and Hispanic city students, who trail their peers on a variety of academic indicators.
After years of mounting criticism, Fariña in June issued a plan to desegregate the city schools, which have been identified by academics as some of the most racially segregated schools in the country.
Critics have panned the 12-page plan for doing too little. And some researchers have said Fariña could achieve the integration program’s goal of 50,000 more kids enrolled in schools with student bodies that reflect the system’s overall racial makeup without doing anything.
The plan seeks to diversify schools by eliminating requirements to attend school open houses and by posting applications online and boosting programs that set enrollment targets for demographic groups.
Fariña said she is already working with the leaders of a number of districts on a broad effort to create more diverse schools through rezoning and other means.
“This is not necessarily a school-by-school decision, but how do we work with an entire district,” Fariña said.
“We’re looking very carefully at enrollment practices throughout the city and there’s going to be a much more concentrated effort,” she added. “Everything we do has a diversity lens and I think you’re going to see a lot of changes.”
Fariña said she is also working on a number of programs to aid homeless students, whose numbers grew to a record 105,445 kids in the 2015-16 school year.
“The number keeps growing and we have to be more on target in how we service them,” Fariña said.
Multiple schools will be closed and merged, Fariña said, with announcements going out after enrollment counts are finalized in October.
The closures and mergers will be based on factors, including attendance, test scores and parent involvement, she said.
Fariña has committed to staying on through de Blasio’s first term, but she wouldn’t provide any details on the search for her successor.
“The reality is, there are a lot of very qualified people for every job in New York City,” she said. “That’s the beauty of living and working in New York City, where our resources are our people.”
She added: “I’m looking forward to doing this job to the best of my ability and then supporting whatever happens next.”