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

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

In the glory days, Lethem would give an all-night reading at BookCourt (above) or DUMBO's Powerhouse (below).
The Brooklyn Paper / Andy Campbell

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.”

Pucker up: Mayor Bill DeBlasio leans in to smooch Carmen Farina, his pick for education chancellor, at MS 51 in Park Slope.
Photo by Paul Martinka

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