The former Bard of Boerum Hill loved Carmen Farina so much he dedicated “Gun, with Occasional Music” to her

Teacher’s pet: Jonathan Lethem says new top school official was his favorite educator growing up

for The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

By Ryan Sit

The city’s new school chancellor is Brooklyn to the core — and one famous native son would give her another apple if he could.

Carmen Farina began her new gig as head of the nation’s largest school system on Thursday, but she got her start as an elementary teacher at Cobble Hill’s PS 29, where she made a big impression on fourth-grader Jonathan Lethem.

“Carmen Farina was my favorite teacher, but I imagine anyone who’d been in one of her classrooms would say the same,” said the novelist known as the Bard of Boerum Hill until his shocking defection to Southern California in 2010 and subsequent trash-talking of the borough that made him the following year.

“I’m thrilled at the news,” he said of her appointment.

Lethem listened to Elvis for the first time and drank his first root beer float during his class’s end-of-the-year retreat at Farina’s country home in the Poconos, the news website Capital New York reported.

“I still think of that group as a magic group of kids,” the scribe, now a professor at Ponoma College, told the website.

Lethem loved the so much he dedicated his first novel “Gun, with Occasional Music” to her.

Farina takes Dennis Walcott’s place having served at almost every level of the school system, making her the most experienced education honcho in decades.

Farina taught at PS 29 for 22 years and Lethem was not the only one who described her skills there in supernatural terms.

“She was magical for the children,” said Cobble HIll resident Dorothy Siegel, an autism specialist at New York University who trains public school teachers.

Siegel, 67, first met Farina when her daughter was enrolled in Farina’s third grade class more than three decades ago. The two have remained close and even drove to Park Slope’s MS 51 on Tuesday for the announcement of Farina’s appointment as chancellor.

Sloper-in-chief Bill DeBlasio’s kids attended MS 51 and he and Farina initially crossed paths in 2001, when she was leading the neighborhood’s school district and he was a member of its school board, his first elected post. She has been a sounding board for the rising political star ever since.

DeBlasio was elected Park Slope’s councilman soon thereafter and Farina went on to became the superintendent for region 8 in Brooklyn, which serves scores of schools from Williamsburg to Sunset Park.

Siegel remembers Farina as an “irresistible teacher” who went through the region leaving her mark.

“Williamsbu­rg, Bushwick, Sunset Park, Park Slope, Kensington — she went to all those schools and inspired everybody,” Siegel said.

Farina was appointed deputy chancellor in 2004, but stepped down two years later over differences with then-chancellor Joel Klein. Farina was particularly opposed to the increased weight given to standardized test scores. Both DeBlasio and Farina have said they are unhappy with Bloomberg’s data-driven approach to school planning and the school pro helped DeBlasio craft his call for universal pre-kindergarten, a pillar of his mayoral campaign.

Siegel swears teachers and principals citywide are tickled pink to have Farina in charge for a change.

“People in the system are exploding with excitement about her being the new chancellor,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody started dancing.”

Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

Reasonable discourse

Jim from Cobble Hill says:
I had her for 3rd Grade. She got mad one day (something about her daughters or something) and came in during the middle of an assignment and just asked the entire class "How many people here think I yell too much?" ...guess who the only one in a class of 32 had the balls to keep their hand up after she stared the other kids down.

Falibility issues aside, I wasn't about to let someone reinforce their ego at the expense of a public school classroom. Yes, this did happen, and yes, she's that kind of person... perfect for politics.
Jan. 4, 2014, 11:24 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
At least de Blasio hired someone who actually had experience in teaching for chancellor of the DOE unlike Bloomberg who didn't.
Jan. 4, 2014, 4:02 pm

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.