Spain’s Queen Letizia, center, poses for a ‘selfie’ with a student as New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, right, laughs during the queen’s visit to a Harlem school in September. Ballesteros/Zuma Press
New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña wants students and staff to chill out.
In her weekly memo to principals, released Wednesday, the 71-year-old grandmother strikes a maternal note, saying that in the pursuit of increased rigor, “Sometimes I worry that we are putting too much pressure on ourselves and adding unnecessary stress to the lives of our teachers, students, and families.”
Ms. Fariña urged principals to think about how to turn schools into “stress-free zones” full of the “joy of learning.” That includes making sure homework is not overwhelming — no more than 15 minutes of math and 20 minutes of reading in first grade, for example. In middle and high schools, she said, teachers should confer to set different days for tests to reduce students’ anxiety. And everyone should take off at least one day a week, she wrote, just as she tries to avoid work on Sundays, at least until 6 p.m.
The memo comes amid calls for less testing from many parents, teachers unions and politicians. But its soft touch stands in contrast to the urgent tone of calls from advocacy groups pushing for immediate improvements in instruction, teacher quality and low-performing schools. When Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday announced his three-year plan to pour $150 million into 94 of the most troubled city schools, some critics said it was full of feel-good rhetoric but too vague and slow to help children trapped in them now.
Ms. Fariña advised principals to avoid burnout. “While I know that your workday does not end at the closing bell but often goes into the wee hours and takes a chunk out of your weekend, I encourage you to strive for balance between your work and home life,” she wrote.