Farina and Stella

Mar 15, 2017 by

Carmen Farina bucked a generation of slothful decision-makers and broke what had been previous chancellors’ almost uninterrupted chain of haze and iffiness when it came to closing schools during extreme weather emergencies.  By shutting them around noon on the day before the forecasted blizzard on Tuesday, she demonstrated leadership.

Any mature person who has had no connection to the Department of Education would be mystified why making the only intelligent choice should be celebrated as if she had cracked the Enigma Code. To understand, they would need to realize that most of the Agency’s policies and practices are driven more by politics and public relations than by education.

Keeping a school open shouldn’t be confused with keeping it operational. When every school district for 100 square miles heeds a blizzard or hurricane warning and entreats its students and staff to remain safe at home, the DOE often keeps its buildings open. They want the public to get the message that the City takes education so seriously, and every moment of instruction is so precious, that the system will soldier through.

The public school system is more a force of nature than a force of nature itself, don’t you know?

Schools stay open for other reasons also. They are often hubs for social services and are not uncommonly the only place where children reliably get a good meal.

These priorities should not be minimized. They are not trivial. Fair enough.

But no child should be encouraged to walk on streets lined with trees whose limbs are encased in sleeves of ice just to get that bruised apple from the cafeteria. And on extreme days, the skeleton staff that could successfully brave the roads and arrive at school is tied up with emergency mass assignments all day, so they can’t use the time to tutor or otherwise advance instruction.

The auditorium would be filled with kids whose parents kicked them out of the house, often having no choice as they had to go to work themselves or attend to other chores.

These kids would spend the day watching cartoons or maybe something less consciousness-raising on the school’s wide-screen theater system.

The kids knew it was a waste, but the top educrats were reflexively clueless. But Carmen Farina’s sensible pre-emptive action on Monday was a significant morale-booster to the educators and support staff of the public schools.

During the regimes of Chancellors Klein and Walcott, the decision to close schools, though expected and in some cases inevitable, was not made until an hour when the preponderance of teachers would have already dug out and been en route on treacherous roads.

It was Klein and Walcott’s way of showing who’s boss.  Their loathing of unionized educators knew no bounds.

Carmen Farina was a 5-star chancellor for a day.  On June 5th, 1944, our 5-star general Dwight Eisenhower had to decide whether to proceed with the “D-Day” invasion to liberate Europe. It had already been postponed once and according to the weather-forecasters, the conditions to proceed would not be optimal again for many days later. The weather was threatening and far less than ideal, and Eisenhower had to make a decision, based largely on the weather, on which the course of civilization depended.

He gave the green light and, as they say, “the rest is history!”

Farina is no Eisenhower.  But her troops stand solidly behind her judgement call on Nor’easter Stella.

Ron Isaac


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