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NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza Resigns After Enduring Heavy Pandemic Losses

NBC New York logo NBC New York 2/27/2021 Brian Price
a man wearing a neck tie: Richard Carranza, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, speaks during a news conference at New Bridges Elementary School in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. New York City’s public schools can hold in-person classes this fall, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced, paving the way for the district to become the only major U.S. system to open its doors despite growing unease among teachers, administrators and parents. Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images © Bloomberg via Getty Images

Richard Carranza, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, speaks during a news conference at New Bridges Elementary School in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. New York City’s public schools can hold in-person classes this fall, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced, paving the way for the district to become the only major U.S. system to open its doors despite growing unease among teachers, administrators and parents. Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

What to Know

  • Chancellor Richard Carranza will step down from the top post for the nation's largest school district
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Bronx Executive Superintendent Meisha Porter will take over the position in mid-March
  • Carranza spent almost three year's in the role, leading the district through an unprecedented pandemic in his final year

After nearly three years at the helm of New York City Schools, Chancellor Richard Carranza is preparing to step down from the top post after weathering a difficult chapter for the district amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Carranza will transition out of the role by mid-March when Bronx Executive Superintendent Meisha Porter takes over the position, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday. Porter, the first Black woman to serve in the role, will start March 15.

"It has been my greatest honor to serve as New York City Schools Chancellor and I can't think of anyone who would be better to take the helm than Meisha Porter," Carranza said in a statement from the mayor's office.

The outgoing chancellor came to the city via Houston where he served there as superintendent. In the spring of 2018, he accepted top post overseeing the nation's largest school district after Carmen Fariña's retirement.

"In my culture we don't say goodbye, we say 'hasta luego'," Carranza said at the mayor's public briefing Friday morning. "I'm a New Yorker, while not by birth, by choice, a New Yorker who has lost 11 family and close childhood friends to this pandemic and a New Yorker who needs time to grieve."

Carranza acknowledged there's "never a perfect time" to leave the district, but feels his replacement is more than qualified to lead schools through the rest of the academic year. He fielded multiple questions over reports of contention with the mayor over issues of segregation in schools, especially as it relates to gifted and talented classes. Carranza's departing words for the mayor were positive, and while acknowledging policy making is never a perfect process, he said the mayor allowed for diverse voices at the decision-making table.

“Let me just say, when I came to New York City three years ago, it was because I believed that this mayor believes in equity and believes in tearing down systems that oppress anyone," Carranza said. "Policy is never made in a perfect four-corner box where everybody automatically says ‘Yes, this is a piece of cake,’ and I’m going to love it. What I have appreciated about this mayor is that he has allowed all of us at the table to have differing views and to argue those views and to advocate those views and come to a consensus."

Advocates said an increasingly diverse Department of Education staff under Carranza’s oversight has helped move the department toward racial justice.

“From day one, Carranza challenged white supremacy in education and called out the inequity, bias and segregation in New York City schools. Not only did he name the problem, but he took major steps to move the city schools in a more equitable direction,” Zakiyah Ansari of the Alliance for Quality Education said in a joint statement with the director of the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, Natasha Capers.

"I'm leaving because I need to take care of me and I need time to grieve. This city, this school system deserves a chancellor who 100 percent is taking up the helm and leading the charge to bring everybody back in September," he said, emphasizing his decision to leave was a personal one.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, whose union represents more than 120,000 teachers, guidance counselors and other school staff members, praised the work of Carranza during his tenure, adding that he looks forward to working alongside Porter when she transitions into the role.

“Richard Carranza was a real partner in our efforts to open school safely. Too often he had to fight behind the scenes to keep the needs of students, staff and their families ahead of politics. We wish him well. He will be missed," Mulgrew said.

Porter, who started as a teacher in the district and worked her way to the Bronx post, is the first educator appointed to chancellor from within the Department of Education "in recent history," the mayor's release said. She's held the executive superintendent post since 2018.

Back in 2002, Porter said in an interview with NBC New York that "a good school can't be a good school with a bad principal. It cannot."

Porter is credited with overseeing significant gains in graduation rates within the Bronx. The number of graduates leaving schools jumped over 5 percent in her three years in the position, almost double the number citywide. Previously a Columbia University Cahn fellow and an Aspen Institute fellow, Porter has also taught at CUNY as an adjunct professor.

"As a lifelong New Yorker, a product of our City's public schools, and a career educator, it is the honor of my lifetime to serve as Chancellor. Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza have laid an incredible foundation for me and I am ready to hit the ground running and lead New York City schools to a full recovery," Porter said.

Leading schools through the end of the pandemic "won't be easy," Porter admitted Friday, but made a pledge to students to get all schools back open with an emphasis on reopening high schools soon. (Mayor de Blasio has said he hopes to make an announcement on that soon).

"As chancellor, my job will be to remove the barriers to direct resources to where they are needed most and to communicate clearly our goals and commitments," Porter said, adding that she promises never to forget what it is like being in a classroom and planning lessons.

"Mental health is at the core" of addressing students' needs when bringing them back into schools, she said. That's not to mention the mental health of parents and teachers, two groups the mayor said have been "going through hell...and it's not getting the attention it deserves."

COVID-19 at New York City Public Schools

This map shows all known cases of COVID-19 at New York City public schools. It is updated Sunday through Friday at 5:30 PM.

     Building that has been closed

     One or more classrooms has been closed

     A member of the school community has tested positive but the school community was not exposed

Source: nyc.gov

The news of a reshuffling at the top of the department comes one day after the district welcomed back tens of thousands of New York City middle school students to their school buildings on Thursday for the first time since schools moved all remote citywide in mid-November.

Classroom doors reopened for the 62,000 students in grades 6 through 8 whose parents chose a mix of in-person and remote learning for their children. There are about 196,000 students in those grades in the city's public schools.

"We can truly say the safest indoor locations in the city of New York are in the classrooms of the New York City Department of Education," Carranza said Thursday. "We will continue to provide the safest learning environment possible for students, educators and staff."

Teachers were part of the second group eligible for vaccination in New York. That group also includes first responders, food delivery and restaurant workers and people age 65 and older. Many have said they struggle to get appointments given supply limitations, though the city had said it planned to prioritize middle school vaccinations last week while students were on mid-winter break anyway.

Reopening the city's schools has proved difficult and tumultuous, with many clashes between the city's top officials, teachers, unions, parents and students. In the fall, the union representing New York City's principals and other top school administrators delivered a "no confidence" vote for de Blasio and Carranza. The union asked the state to oversee the city's schools.

School superintendents around the country have been departing in higher numbers than usual this year because of the stress related to the pandemic, said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. Each of the 14,000 school districts in the country has been navigating its own way through the crisis with little direction from state and national governments, he said.

“The pressure they are dealing with on opening schools, the pressure from parents, teachers, and school boards is significant and is taking a toll on them,” he said.

Turnover has held relatively steady in big city districts, where the average tenure of a school superintendent is around 3 1/2 years. But it has been notably higher in suburban and rural communities, where superintendents typically stay closer to six years, Domenech said.

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