NYC schools chancellor lays out path for equity

July 2, 2019

At a USC Rossier event, Richard Carranza gave students and alumni leadership advice

By Dakota Gryffin

Chancellor Richard Carranza

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza leads the nation’s largest school system, with 1.1 million students. (Photo/Rebecca Aranda)

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza spoke about equity and leadership Friday evening at an event hosted by the USC Rossier School of Education.

Born in Tucson, Ariz., to a hairdresser and a sheet metal worker, Carranza grew up with a strong emphasis on the importance of education in his life and that of his family.

“[My parents] just knew that the American dream was paved on the road to a higher education, that the public school system in Tucson would give their boys the commensurate education that they need,” Carranza said. “There’s a lot of educators and education leaders in this room right now, so think about the tremendous faith—knowing what we know, knowing what can go wrong—that parents put in the public education system.”

That emphasis on education grew into a passion for driving equity in the educational realm, according to Carranza. When Carranza came to the New York City school system many years later, he knew from his years working in K-12 administration that he wanted to change the system, instead of improving the system.

“It’s the way we’ve set up the educational system that doesn’t serve the current students in our urban centers,” Carranza said. “And if you think about it in that way, then how in the world as enlightened educators can we ever say that we want to ‘improve’ the system?”

Carranza’s most recent project has been working on diversifying specialized schools in the system—a set of eight public high schools that have systematically exclusive standards for acceptance.

“There were eight Black students admitted to Stuyvesant High School as part of the freshman class,” Carranza said. “The African-American population of students in the New York City Public School system is 27 percent. There’s a disproportionality of representation in these specialized schools as compared to who the representation is in the school system.”

Lead for equity

Carranza may be facing pushback in restructuring the system, but he said he’s taking the opportunity to work on other initiatives, including hiring social workers for multiple areas that need additional aid. With the challenges facing New York City schools, leadership and support is more important than ever, according to Carranza.

“You can’t not lead in these tumultuous times, in these times of rhetoric that is contrary to students of color,” Carranza said. “You can’t lead from a timid place—you must be bold and you must lead for equity. Because if you don’t lead for equity, you are not going to be leading to educate the children of tomorrow.”

The theme of equity and leadership struck a chord with EdD doctoral candidate Vidalia Resendes, who has previously taught in the New York City school system.

“It’s true what [Carranza] says,” Resendes said. “We definitely need to figure out more ways to get a true representation of the New York student population into those schools, and I really am all behind him in breaking that ceiling.”

Carranza ended his speech with a passionate last remark to the professionals and policymakers who attended.

“There’s incredible things happening—the passion, the well-prepared professionals in New York City—but make no mistake,” Carranza said. “There is baked-in institutional racism, there are baked-in systems and structures that don’t serve all of our students, and I will say to you as a multilingual learner who should be on a roof in Tucson, Arizona, installing sheet metal work, but is instead given the opportunity to be the leader to the largest school system in America: If you’re not going to do the job, don’t take the job.”

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