On Second Try to Hire New Chancellor, N.Y.C. Taps Houston Superintendent

By Denisa R. Superville — March 05, 2018 5 min read
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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has chosen Houston Superintendent Richard Carranza as his new schools chancellor, less than a week after the city’s top choice publicly backed out of the job.

This time around, de Blasio’s selection of the city’s top educator—who oversees the schooling of 1.1 million children—unfolded more smoothly.

Mayor de Blasio, his wife Chirlane McCray, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and Carranza were photographed entering City Hall, all but guaranteeing that this hire would stick. And the group sat for a nearly-hour long press conference. Last week, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who had accepted the chancellor’s job from de Blasio, stunned the mayor and much of New York City with his dramatic public change of heart to stay in Florida.

In some ways, Carranza is a much better philosophical fit for de Blasio than Carvalho as de Blasio super-charges his education agenda with less than four years left in his final term.

De Blasio touted Carranza’s work in San Francisco—improved graduation rates, higher test scores, narrowing of the achievement gap for Latino and low-income students—as the record of someone who can achieve results while focusing on equity.

He introduced Carranza, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, as a person whose story embodies the American dream, and he called Carranza an “educators’ educator.”

“He’s someone who understands our children and our parents,” de Blasio said.

Carranza said that there was “no daylight” between them in their aspirations for the city’s children and that they were “synergistically on the same page.”

De Blasio said that Carranza shared his “sense of urgency” and has real experience in the kinds of change that de Blasio is trying to accomplish in New York City.

From English-Learner to Schools Chief

Equity and improving the education of vulnerable students have been a key part of Carranza’s work in the 215,000-student Houston district, where he started as superintendent in Aug. 2016, and in San Francisco, where Carranza was superintendent from 2012 to 2016. He was also focused on reducing the overidentification of students of color in special education programs in San Francisco.

The son of sheet metal worker and a hair dresser in the barrios of Tucson, Ariz., Carranza did not speak any English until he attended Tucson public schools.

He started his career as a bilingual social studies teacher in Tucson. A mariachi player, Carranza started a youth mariachi band for students in the district.

De Blasio said it was a close call between Carvalho and Carranza. After he decided to go with Carvalho as his choice to replace Fariña, de Blasio called Carranza on Wednesday to let him know how much he admired him and that he hoped their paths would cross again someday.

Some day turned out to be the next day, after Carvalho publicly declined the offer to move to New York City to take the job.

By 5 p.m. Thursday, Carranza and de Blasio were again discussing the job, and Carranza flew up to New York City on Saturday. After meetings over the weekend, an offer was made at 10 p.m. on Sunday night, which Carranza accepted.

He will be paid at the same base salary as Houston, about $345,000.

He endorsed the de Blasio’s community school’s initiatives as a way to help vulnerable students, and is a passionate supporter of arts education.

At times, he sounded like Fariña. In answer to a question about improving schools, he referenced Anthony Bryk, the former University of Chicago professor, who is now president of the Carnegie Foundation. Bryk’s work has also been a cornerstone for Farina’s school improvement.

Among the things that Carranza said he looks for in schools: leadership, teaching, curriculum, school organization, wraparound services, and parent empowerment.

This is the first time that Carranza will be working in a district in which the superintendent reports directly to the mayor. In both Houston and San Francisco, he was hired by the school board.

He is also entering a system with a very heated charter-traditional school debate. Carranza said that he was “pro really good schools,” and that he has seen both good and bad traditional district and charter schools. Further, he said, that’s the wrong question. He said the question was about providing a great education for children.

That said, he added that he was a passionate supporter of public schools.

A Short Tenure in Houston

On the job in Houston for less than two years, Carranza helped the city’s schools rebound after the devastating Hurricane Harvey flooded several buildings and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

About two weeks later, Carranza reopened the schools and made attendance adjustments to those that were heavily damaged and could not be reopened in time.

More recently, the district estimated that there will be a $115 million budget shortfall, partly as a result of the hurricane damage. The district is also facing some state pressure to improve academic performance at some of its lowest performing schools in the coming years or face takeover.

The Houston school board acknowledged that Carranza’s departure comes amid several challenges.

Still, the school board, which will meet Thursday to discuss the transition, wished him well.

“We the Board wish Carranza the best in his endeavors and appreciate the leadership he brought to this district,” Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said in a statement. “We are committed to continuing the work he began and moving the district forward.”

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City teachers, was optimistic about Carranza.

“Mr. Carranza has earned a reputation for collaboration with teachers, parents and school communities and has been a real champion of public schools,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “We are encouraged by his commitment to all children, his resistance to a “testing culture” and his support for the community schools approach.”

Eva Moskowitz, the founder and president of the high-performing charter school network, Success Academy Charter Schools, offered congratulations.

“We look forward to showing you the 46 Success Academies that make up the highest performing school district in the state,” she said.

Carranza was profiled in 2015 in Education Week‘s Leaders To Learn From special report for his work with English-language learners in San Francisco Unified.

Photo: Houston Superintendent Richard A. Carranza, left, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio shake hands as Carranza is introduced as the New York City schools chancellor at a press briefing March 5 in New York. -- Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office via AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

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