"I'm not a Mary Poppins kind of person," says Carmen Fariña in a profile in today's New York Times.
Fariña, who became New York City's schools chancellor on January 1, began her career as a teacher in Brooklyn. Tough with both students and parents, she drew upon "poetry, puppet shows and international cuisine" to immerse kids in history, culture and the arts.
Fariña was also known to have dressed as Peter Stuyvesant, using a toilet plunger as a wooden leg. What would Stuyvesant make of the fact that a woman has been chosen to lead the country's largest school system? In an age of, well, ageism, it's also refreshing that the new chancellor is 70 years old. Why not draw on her wisdom and years of experience?
"I think of her as a woman who has the gift of leadership," says Marie Arnold, who was a teacher at Manhattan's coveted P.S. 6 in 1991 when Fariña took over as principal.
Fariña, whose parents fled the Spanish Civil War, cares not only about children, but also about their teachers. She has already shared some inspired ideas for easing anxiety about the Common Core Standards, whose implementation thus far has been rocky.
In her letter to the city's principals, Fariña promised to "emphasize holistic instructional practices and enhance professional development for teachers and school leaders" and "move aggressively to increase parents' involvement in their children's education."
Her own immigrant father, according to the Times, "helped nurture her rebellious streak."
I hope that the same spirit of adventure will pervade the hallways of the city's schools this year, where many children face unimaginable challenges. A little Mary Poppins magic could go a long way.