Borough Bosses

Fariña names seven powerful new leaders of borough support centers

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
Chancellor Fariña speaking at P.S. 503, whose principal Bernadette Fitzgerald will lead one of the Brooklyn field support centers.

Updated 4:55 p.m. — The city has hired the powerful directors of the new support centers that will soon help schools with every part of their work, from hiring and training staffers to handling safety issues, officials announced Monday.

The directors will manage seven new “borough field support centers,” which Chancellor Carmen Fariña created this year to replace a system of about 55 school-support networks. The new hires, who start training this week, include leaders of the old support networks, current education department officials, a Brooklyn principal, and a Boston school official.

They will work within a new Office of Field Support under just-appointed Senior Executive Director Mariano Guzmán, an advisor to the chancellor and a former superintendent. Guzmán ran one of the centers that provided operational support to schools for a time under the previous administration, and was a candidate to become chancellor in the 1990s.

With starting salaries of $138,000, five to six deputies, and staffs likely to number in the dozens, the directors will play a crucial role in making sure the city’s 1,600 district schools get the support they need. And they must begin to do all of that on a tight timeline: The new centers must be fully staffed and operational by this summer, ready to help schools start next academic year under a completely new support system.

“I am thrilled to welcome these seven dedicated, talented educators to their new positions as borough field support center directors and Mariano Guzmán as senior executive director of field support,” Fariña said in a statement, adding that the directors will coordinate with newly empowered superintendents. “I am confident in these leaders’ ability to work closely with superintendents, schools, and DOE leadership as we work to make New York City the best urban school district in the nation.”

One of the directors’ most pressing tasks will be to hire the support center staff members who will help schools with classroom matters, hiring and budgets, health and safety issues, and providing services for English learners and students with disabilities. Hundreds of network employees currently do that work, and they have been told by department officials that they will be able to find positions at the new centers, according to network sources.

However, it is still unclear how the hiring process will work. Fariña has said that one of the purposes of the school-support overhaul was to make sure that all schools have equal access to high-quality resources and specialists. But the city has not said whether it will oversee the hiring process to make sure the directors are not competing for the most experienced and effective staffers.

“Is it going to be a free-for-all, or will there be a system?” one network employee asked soon after the new structure was announced. “Will the borough directors be working together, or will they throw their lassos out in any direction they want to?”

An education department spokeswoman said the agency would provide guidance during the hiring process, but that directors will make the final decisions. She did not provide an estimate of how many staffers each director will bring on, but said the size of their teams will depend on the needs of the schools they serve.

The new directors include: Yuet Chu, a network leader who will oversee Manhattan’s support center; Lawrence Pendergast and Marlene Wilks, network chiefs who will lead Queens’ two centers; Jose Ruiz, who oversaw several networks as a “cluster” leader and will direct the Bronx center; Bernadette Fitzgerald, the principal of P.S. 503 in Sunset Park, and Cheryl Watson-Harris, a senior Boston education department official and former Brooklyn principal, who will lead that borough’s pair of centers; and Kevin Moran, a department official who oversees school operations, who will direct Staten Island’s center.

The city is still figuring out where to put the new directors and their teams. One idea is to house them in the same buildings as the borough enrollment centers, which is where the superintendents and their small teams will now work, city officials said last month.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”