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What’s new in NYC schools this year? An exclusive interview with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

Brooklyn schools take lead in computer science; Surprise: Cursive writing is back!

September 8, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña spoke about the new school year in an exclusive interview with the Brooklyn Eagle. Photo by Mary Frost

In an exclusive interview with the Brooklyn Eagle, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña spoke about the exciting new developments in store for students this school year, which begins today for public school students.

Many of the city’s new initiatives will be rolling out in Brooklyn schools.

“The great thing about September is that it’s the beginning of everything,” Fariña told Eagle reporters. “Everything’s possible.”

This year, city schools will pilot the Department of Education’s new Equity and Excellence Initiatives on a district by district basis. These initiatives are designed to boost reading skills in the lower grades, guide students through the college application process and beef up students’ technology skills, among other goals.

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The initiatives “are truly new ways of improving student instruction but also getting communities involved,” Fariña said.

They’ll also build on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Pre-K for All initiative, enrolling a record number of kids this year across the city.‎

Universal Literacy

In some parts of the city, including four districts in Brooklyn, students will be getting literacy coaches in kindergarten through second grade. Brooklyn Districts 17 and 32 will have the coaches in all of the schools.


The city picked Bushwick in particular to pilot literacy coaches because of its large immigrant population, Fariña said. “We need to have everybody on grade level by second grade, because the content area starting in third grade is much tougher.”

By the end of the roll out, every school will receive support from a dedicated reading coach.

Single Shepherd

In another initiative, called Single Shepherd, students will be assigned a guidance counselor or social worker on the first day of sixth grade who will work with the students and their families for the next seven years.

“One of the goals is to start talking about college in sixth grade, and also talk about what steps you need to take to get there,” Fariña said. “What financial resources will you need? What does your family have to start doing?” The counselor will also plan activities like visits to college campuses, she said. Brooklyn’s District 23 will be participating.

One student who visited a college last year was amazed to see that “‘there’s a cafeteria with food you can choose’ – those are the words from the student,” Fariña said.

De Blasio and Fariña started their first day of school tours today with a seventh-grade student and her new “Single Shepherd” at I.S. 392 in Brownsville.

College Access for All

Through the College Access for All initiative, every middle school student will have the opportunity to visit a college campus by the 2018-19 school year. This school year, 167 middle schools across 10 districts will bring more than 20,000 students to college campuses.

At the high school level, College Access for All will provide resources to enable students to graduate with an individual and career plan.

All New York City high school juniors will be able to take the SAT free of charge during the school day on April 5, 2017.

Computer science, algebra

While STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) studies are a citywide initiative, the bulk of the city’s new Computer Science for All programs are in Brooklyn, Fariña said.

“Brooklyn was the borough that started Black Girls Who Code,” she said, adding that Borough President Eric Adams is “very committed” to computer science programs in the schools.

“I just visited this summer one of our pilot summer programs at P.S. 16 in District 17, which is the Crown Heights area. They had a couple of hundred elementary school students who came from as far away as Canarsie,” she said. “The kids were involved all day long in STEM programs — Scratch, coding, Minecraft. For every grade, we have a different Scope and Sequence,” she said.

Fariña called P.S. 88 in Park Slope “one of the model middle schools for technology in the city.” The Arbor School in Williamsburg is also going to pilot the program.

This school year, 246 elementary, middle and high schools are participating in Computer Science for All. Every student will receive computer science education by 2025.

Another initiative, Algebra for All, will provide algebra at the middle school level.

Kids who are able to score well on specialized high school entrance exams have studied algebra, Fariña said, “So making sure all our middle schools have algebra and algebra teachers is crucial.” The city provided training to algebra teachers over the summer.

This school year, 67 elementary schools are “departmentalizing” fifth-grade math – having their math instruction led by a specialized teacher who received intensive training over the spring and summer.

AP for All

Only some schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses and that’s not fair, Fariña says.

“It’s the equity,” she said. “Some schools have a lot of AP courses. You go to Brooklyn Tech and you can take an AP course on just about anything. And then you have other schools where if they didn’t have a select number of students who they thought would do well, they didn’t offer the course. So, our goal is to put AP course classes in every school.

“Where we have found it’s particularly helpful is in schools that are co-located, and there are many in Brooklyn,” she said. “I’ll use one example: Thomas Jefferson. If you have four or five schools in a building … and you want to take an AP course in global studies but your school doesn’t offer that, you can take it in each other’s schools in the same building.”

AP classes are not the answer to everything, she said. Many AP courses have been criticized for being too detail focused, with a lot of trivia, Fariña said. “What we’re saying is, if you offer all students’ high level work, you’re going to get high level results.”

One of the biggest challenges for students is learning how to organize their studies, Fariña said. “What we’re doing in AP for All is making sure that the rigor that they’re going to be expected to do in college, they’re preparing for in high school.

The city trained teachers in AP over the summer, she said.

This school year, 63 high schools are offering new AP courses, including 35 that offered no AP courses last year.

Cursive writing is back!

One of the most surprising changes Fariña announced is the return of the teaching of cursive writing in public schools.

The change came about after requests from parents, Fariña said.

“I’ve read the research on the motor coordination issues, and particularly for students who have some learning disabilities, speech in particular … At some age the cursive writing forces you to use a different part of your brain, which I think is important.

“But also on the social side,” she continued. “All of you get letters from people and the first thing you see about a person is their handwriting.

“When I do my town hall meetings, the parents say, ‘How are they going to sign a check?’”

Photos by Mary Frost

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This article is the first of a series based on conversations with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. Check back for more.

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