Op-Ed: Being a chancellor for all our children

Chancellor Richard Carranza


You may know me as the leader of New York City’s public school system—it’s my most public role, and one that is the subject of much discussion in Queens and beyond.

But you may not know that long before I was Chancellor, I was a social studies and music teacher, and then a principal. And underlying these professional callings is my most important role: being a father.

Being an educator and a parent makes me understand on the most profound level that families want what is best for their children—because I want that, too.

I know that some Queens families are concerned about the intention and impact of our work. It’s my job to listen to you, and to clarify our approach and the ways it serves your children. And I think it’s healthy to be frank and apologize whenever I come up short, like I did in January after a particularly contentious District 26 Community Education Council meeting.

Policy disagreements are inevitable in a city as large and proudly committed to education as ours, but I believe that the most important things—our values—are in sync.

We all want our children to have the high-quality education that will set them up for success, from their earliest years in school to college and beyond.

The DOE has set a bold agenda for the future of the city’s public schools in order to get this done. We call it Equity and Excellence for All because we believe that every child deserves to graduate with the academic and social-emotional skills they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Underpinning our work is the commitment to set a high bar for every child. This is excellence. And it means ensuring every child has the supports they need to reach that bar—this is equity.

Some students need more support than others, and Mayor de Blasio and I are committed to providing them, and opening up opportunities to these student communities that have been profoundly underserved for decades.

We are focused on students who are part of what we call the “opportunity gap,” which includes an intersection of students from every racial and ethnic background. It includes students with disabilities. Students who are homeless. Students who are living in poverty. Students who are English language learners. Students who identify as a part of the LGBTQ community. Students who have less access to the kinds of opportunities that lead to academic and life success. Yes, the reality in this city is these students are more often black and Hispanic, but they are also Asian and white.

We will never champion a policy that would include some students and exclude others from reaching their full potential.

So when we talk about the Specialized High School test, or Gifted and Talented programs, or promoting diversity, we are talking about expanding opportunities for more students, many of whom never historically ever had them.

We are not talking about taking things away. And we are committed to moving forward in a way that respects the voices of our families.

We have learned a great deal from families in Queens about ways to ensure they are seen and heard. We are making real changes to how we empower our school communities to contribute their voices.

Discussions about expanding opportunity can be uncomfortable. However, it can have profoundly positive results. Consider what challenging the status quo and creating more opportunity has already meant for the city’s families: hundreds of thousands more kids in free, full-day, high-quality pre-K; graduation rates at an all-time high; AP for All and Computer Science for All giving kids a jumpstart into college and careers; and much more.

The hallmark of this work is that it applies to every student, no matter their zip code. That’s because I am Chancellor for all 1.1 million public school students, millions of parents, and all 150,000-plus educators across 1,800 schools.

In a system this large, it’s inevitable that not everybody will agree on every idea. My job is to steer the power of the largest school system in the country, in the greatest city in the world, to serve every student.

I depend on partnerships with families to do that. And I will always remain available to the people we serve: to listen, to learn from any missteps we may make, to ensure families are part of the decision-making process.

Because in spite of our differences, I believe we share the same belief that every single child, in every classroom, in every New York City public school, deserves a rigorous, inspiring, and nurturing learning journey.

And we share the same bright vision: to graduate students who are exceptional—as scholars, professionals and, most importantly, as New Yorkers.

I look forward to working with our 1.1. million families to bring this vision to life.

Carranza is the New York City Schools Chancellor.

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