At Academic Festival, a Chancellor Who Listens, Speaks
Published in TC Community
By Siddhartha Mitter
With additional reporting by TC staff
In just over three months at the helm of the nation’s largest and most diverse school system, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has been on a listening tour through the five boroughs, hearing teacher concerns, personally calling parents on the phone, and seeing for herself how individual schools find ways to innovate.
“I’ve been to 30 schools so far and in every one I’ve found something to replicate and share,” Fariña told a packed audience at the Teachers College Academic Festival on April 12. “We have to stop keeping what we do well a secret – and give it away.”
Fariña’s major address at TC marked the first 100 days of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration as she set out the City’s education agenda. Delivering the Phyllis L. Kossoff Lecture on Education and Policy, Fariña’s speech served as keynote for the sixth annual Academic Festival – the College’s signature homecoming event at which hundreds of alumni return to campus to reconnect with one another and hear about TC’s latest research and ideas. Taking its theme “Where the Future Comes First” from TC’s $300 million campaign, the festival coincided with Admitted Student Weekend, giving newly admitted students the opportunity to meet and mingle with alumni, faculty, and current students throughout the day.
A former teacher, principal, and superintendent in the city’s schools, Fariña credited TC for its “pivotal role” at key moments in her career, with faculty such as Lucy Calkins, Celia Oyler and Aaron Pallas helping to shape her ideas and professional decisions. Fariña also served on the board of TC’s Cahn Fellows program for distinguished principals.
She presented a vision for a New York City school system that values the accumulated knowledge of teachers, staff, and parents and looks for ways to develop and share best practices through collaboration. “All the answers are in the room,” she said.
Fariña described an agenda based on four pillars: “Return dignity and respect to the workforce. Improve student achievement by aligning Common Core strategies with all that we do. Engage parents in every aspect of school life. Create new collaborative models,” including with universities and cultural institutions.
The chancellor promoted the administration’s progress toward “universal, high-quality, full-day pre-K,” expansion of after-school programs in middle school, and a Campus Squad team that resolves conflicts in school co-location. She promised a move away from accountability based solely on a single letter grade to “new ways to convey meaningful school quality information in a clear and transparent manner.”
She also outlined other priorities including support for bilingual education and English language learners, summer programs to stanch learning loss, technology to work with students on the autism spectrum, and discipline that does not over-rely on suspensions.
The standing ovation that Fariña
received at the end of her speech set an enthusiastic tone for the rest of the
festival. A ceremony followed honoring four distinguished alumni: David W. Johnson (Ed.D. ’66), professor
emeritus of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota; Deborah Kenney (Ph.D. ’94), founder and
Chief Executive of Harlem Village Academies; Kate Parry (Ed.D. ’86), Professor of Applied Linguistics at Hunter
College; and James Gordon (Ed.D.
’85), Associate Dean and Chair of the Division of Biokinesiology and
Physical Therapy at USC, who eloquently described TC as: “A borderland,
an interface where the real world and the world of ideas are free to mix with
Eric Shyman (Ed.D. ’09) Assistant Professor of Special Education in the School of Education at Dowling College, was honored with the Early Career Award.
A special honor and recognition was bestowed on O. Roger Anderson, Professor of Natural Sciences and chair of the Math, Science and Technology Department, for 50 years of teaching at TC. “Many remarkable people have passed through Teachers College during its 125 history,” John Allegrante, Professor of Health Education and Associate Vice President for International Affairs, said in his tribute to Anderson. “You stand among the very, very few of whom it can be truly said: ‘TC would not be TC without him’ – and by no means solely because your time here encompasses nearly half of those 125 years.”
TC President Susan Fuhrman promised the day would be an “intellectual feast” with sessions on topics ranging from movement therapy to arts administration, inclusive education, motor skill learning, climate change, and spirituality. Festival-goers also had the opportunity to visit TC’s high-tech “classroom of the future,” while those who brought children enjoyed kids’ dance, music and cooking events.
The afternoon Faculty Showcase featured Ryan Baker, Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development, whose research combines educational data mining, learning analytics and quantitative field observation methods to better understand how students interact with technology and how these responses impact their learning; Sandra Okita, Assistant Professor of Technology and Education, who explored the impact of technology on learning and the use of robots as learning partners for students; and Barbara Tversky, Professor of Psychology and Education, an internationally recognized cognitive psychologist who spoke on “Thinking with the Body and the World.” Tversky has helped to create a growing field which posits that physical gesture corresponds with and can enhance different kinds of thought processes.
The day was capped off with a networking reception where alumni had the chance to catch up with friends and faculty from their days at TC and chat with current and prospective students about their future careers.
“Academic Festival is the highlight of our alumni events calendar,” said Rosella Garcia, Senior Director of Alumni Relations. “As part of our commitment to enhance alumni engagement during the campaign, we look forward to welcoming back even more TC graduates and future alumni next year.”
Watch Eric Nadelstern on a discussion of his book: Ten Lessons from New York City Schools: What Really Works to Improve Education at TC's 2014 Academic Festival