News of NYC schools chancellor’s departure brings ‘sense of optimism’ to some Queens elected officials and education activists

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability on COVID-19 with Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza at City Hall in March 2020. (Photo by Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

After a tumultuous three years leading the nation’s largest public school system, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced he is resigning from his post next month. Some of Queens’ education advocates and elected officials have begun reacting to the news, welcoming new leadership to the Department of Education.

On Feb. 26, Carranza said he’s leaving his position in mid-March due to the personal toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on him, and to take time to grieve the 11 family members and friends he’s lost to the virus.

“This is a bittersweet moment for me,” said Carranza. “I came to New York City three years ago with a mission to help the Department of Education reach its full potential and of course to serve and lift up all, not just some, but all of our public school children.”

Meisha Porter, who currently serves as Bronx executive superintendent, will succeed Carranza. Porter, a Queens native, is the first Black woman to hold the chancellor’s office.

Carranza counts the initial closing of the public school system and move to remote learning in March; distribution of half a million devices for remote learning; distribution of 80 million meals; as well as school reopenings last fall as some of his tenure’s successes during an unprecedented year of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said he felt comfortable finally taking time to process the impact the virus has taken on his family now that officials have “stabilized” the public school system.

Yet, for many parents, educators and students, the public school system — which serves more than 1.1 million students — is still far from stabilized during the ongoing pandemic.

Phil Wong, president of Community Education Council 24 representing parts of western and central Queens, said there is still much to be fixed — from reopening all schools for in-person learning to ensuring all students who live in homeless shelters have access to the internet.

“Overall there’s been poor planning, poor organization and poor execution,” Wong told QNS.

But Carranza’s time as the head of the city’s public school system was filled with backlash from some Queens parents and elected officials, even prior to the pandemic. 

One of the main points of contention was Carranza’s efforts to reform both the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and Gifted and Talented program, as part of his mission to desegregate schools and bring equity into the city’s public school system. But that has been a complex issue to address in New York City, which is considered one of the most segregated school systems in the nation.

Reports from The New York Times suggest arguments between the chancellor and Mayor Bill de Blasio over the Gifted and Talented program may be a reason behind his departure.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew’s statement regarding Carranza’s departure alluded to possible tensions.

“Richard Carranza was a real partner in our efforts to open school safely,” Mulgrew said. “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.”

Carranza, though, maintains that his departure is for personal reasons. In a letter to the school community, Carranza wrote he is unsure what is next for him.

Wong is part of a group of education advocates who have staunchly opposed Carranza and his policies. Most recently, he’s dismayed by how the city is administering the Gifted and Talented program.

“The issue has alienated parents,” Wong said. “Thousands signed up, then were told there would be no test, then were told there would be a lottery. There was no clear direction. The result is parents losing confidence and they leave for charter schools, Catholic schools and even [leave] the city.”

This year, the city reported an unusual decline in enrollment rate of about 43,000 students, or 4 percent decrease. But enrollment has been steadily declining for years for varying reasons, including declining birthrates and an increase in charter school enrollment, according to Chalkbeat.

Councilman Robert Holden, Carranza’s most vocal critic in the City Council, didn’t mince words following the announcement of his departure.

“Chancellor Carranza, the city’s most overpaid non-essential worker, constantly put his own political agenda ahead of our students’ education” Holden said. “His relentless attacks on academic standards and Gifted and Talented opportunities hurt our public school system. His resignation is the best thing to happen to our city’s students and teachers in a long time. We need to focus on making sure our hardest working students have the opportunities they earn.”

Adriana Aviles, president of Community Education Council 26 representing parts of northeast Queens, told QNS she felt Queens “was never part of the conversation” under Carranza. Aviles points to Carranza abruptly leaving their town hall in Bayside last year as the start of the disconnect.

In the town hall last January in Bayside, parents were not only protesting to keep the SHSATs, but also asking for answers about troubles at a local middle school. Aviles said “he never came back” to the district, and families were left “short-sighted in terms of transparency and communication.”

Now, Aviles said the community is mostly “excited” to have someone new in the role.

“Personally, I’m very happy that we’re going to have a chance for somebody new, and from Queens, so we can be a part of these conversations,” Aviles said. “I wish [Carranza] well.”

State Senator John Liu, who clashed with Carranza following the town hall last year, said that while Carranza had a difficult tenure with “some missteps from the outset, unhelpful micromanagement from the mayor, and an unimaginable crisis with the global pandemic,” he appreciated his efforts and wishes him the best.

He added that Porter will have a huge challenge once she takes on the role in April.

“Reopening schools full-time for the start of the school year in September must be her overwhelmingly top priority,” Liu said. “Also important will be her commitment to pursuing both equity and excellence without sacrificing either. An early indicator will be how she leads the public discussion on how to move gifted and talented programs forward and how she receives and considers the important views and suggestions from the diversity of parents in this city.”

Porter has an extensive history with the DOE, from serving as a teacher and most recently an administrator. She’ll be the first person appointed from within DOE leadership in recent history to lead the department.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards congratulated Porter for her new role.

“The challenges facing our students, families and the entire school system amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented but Queens has full confidence in the immense ability of Queens-born trailblazer Meisha Porter, the first Black woman to lead the Department of Education,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards. “Queens thanks Chancellor Richard Carranza for his leadership both before and during this devastating public health crisis, and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”

State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. is also optimistic about what new leadership may bring.

“I believe that with every announcement of a new commissioner or chancellor being appointed, it brings a sense of optimism that the concerns of my constituents will be heard,” Addabbo said. “I’m hopeful that the new chancellor will acknowledge and act upon the voices of parents, students, administrators, teachers and elected officials as we advocate for the best education possible for all our school-aged residents.”