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2023 Doctoral Convocation Dorothy Height Awardee: Carmen Guillén Fariña (BS ’65)


Childhood Education alum Carmen Guillén Fariña (BS ’65) has led a distinguished 50-year career as an educator, dedicated to the children and families of New York City.

The daughter of Spanish immigrants, Fariña grew up in Brooklyn and learned English as her second language. She was the first person in her family to graduate from college. 

“Going to Steinhardt was a really big deal in my family,” says Fariña, who took the train into campus as a commuter student to pursue her undergraduate degree in education. “It felt like a whole world apart from what I was used to, and my eyes and mind were opened in so many different ways.”

Being a teacher is a commitment to making the world a better place. It’s a role that deserves a lot more acknowledgment and prestige.

Carmen Fariña (BS ’65)

A product of a parochial school, Fariña took courses in topics like the arts and political science for the first time ever, and she learned things in her science classes that were “the antithesis of what [she’d] been taught in school.” 

“This made me realize that being a teacher would be so special,” she says. “If I could be so drastically changed just by sitting in class, then I could make a big change in other people’s lives, too.”

Upon graduation, Fariña landed a job right away – partly due to the prestige of an NYU diploma, as well as the program’s reputation for being one of the few places that required school-based experiences as soon as freshman year. Fariña was an educator for 22 years before she made the move into the administrative side – a trajectory she calls “atypical.”

“I was an innovative teacher and got a lot of notoriety for trying different things, like teaching history from multiple perspectives when that wasn’t really done,” recalls Fariña, whose honors include Teacher of the Year in New York State and the Sloan Public Service Award, which is presented annually to exemplary civil servants in New York City. “I loved teaching and had never really considered leaving.”

A professional photograph of Carmen Fariña.

In 1991, Fariña became principal of Public School 6 on the Upper East Side, a move that she says allowed her to “put into perspective some of the stuff I’d done in my classroom in new and larger contexts.” After a decade, she became superintendent of Cobble Hill's District 15.

As superintendent, she appointed a study group to answer the question, “Why can’t children with autism who can do grade-level academic work be educated in their neighborhood schools?” The outcome of this initiative would become the NYC Department of Education’s and Steinhardt’s ASD Nest Program, which seeks to advance the development and implementation of educational solutions for children living with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Next, Fariña became deputy chancellor for teaching and learning for several years under then-mayor Michael Bloomberg's Education Department before taking some time off to travel and consult. She was called back to serve as education chancellor under the next mayor, Bill de Blasio, in 2013 – a position she held until she retired in 2018. 

“As chancellor, I really believed in the importance of training teachers,” says Fariña. “To this day, professional development has been one of the most important aspects of my education, and I think it deserves more value.”

Even though she hasn’t been in a classroom in 30 years, Fariña still stays in touch with many of her former students.

“Being a teacher is a commitment to making the world a better place,” she says. “It’s a role that deserves a lot more acknowledgment and prestige.”

While happily in retirement, Fariña does advising for schools and the education community when she can, including for Horizons, an organization that works with students, families, and teachers in high-poverty areas to improve educational equity. She splits her time between her winter home in Miami and the same south Brooklyn neighborhood in which she grew up.

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