March 2018 Newsletter


Carranza NYT Image

Richard A. Carranza, second from right, strode into a news conference where his appointment as the new school chancellor was announced. Photo Credits: Kevin Hagen for The New York Times

Beta Phi's Richard Carranza, 1989, Named Head of New York City Schools

From The New York Times

There were two finalists in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s search for a new schools chancellor, and on Monday, just days after being spurned by his first choice, the mayor said the job would go to the runner-up, Richard A. Carranza, the superintendent of the Houston schools.

And this time, the mayor was taking no chances.

When he named his first choice, Alberto M. Carvalho, the Miami-Dade superintendent, to the post last week, Mr. Carvalho stayed home in Florida, where he appeared in a dramatic televised emergency school board meeting and turned the offer down.

On Monday, not only was Mr. Carranza, 51, in City Hall’s Blue Room for the announcement and a news conference, but so was his wife, Monique Garcia Carranza, along with the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, who regularly influences hiring decisions, and Carmen Fariña, the departing chancellor.

Mayor de Blasio said that he had called Mr. Carranza on Wednesday to tell him he had not been chosen. “‘Richard, I really like you and I hope our paths will cross again someday,’” he recalled telling Mr. Carranza.

“Twenty-four hours later —— ” Mr. de Blasio continued, then the room erupted in laughter.

If Mr. Carvalho had a touch of star power and a record of success in Miami-Dade, Mr. Carranza in many ways seemed to hew closer to the educational vision of the de Blasio administration.

In his remarks, Mr. Carranza repeatedly echoed the mayor in speaking about equity — a byword of Mr. de Blasio’s educational philosophy. “The equity agenda championed by our mayor is my equity agenda,” Mr. Carranza said.

“There is no daylight between Mayor de Blasio and myself, in terms of what we believe in, what our aspirations are for the children of New York City,” he went on.

Mr. Carranza, no less than Mr. Carvalho, has an up-from-the-bottom story that appealed to Mr. de Blasio. His grandparents moved to the United States from Mexico, and he and his twin brother grew up speaking Spanish and did not learn English until they began school in Tucson. The boys’ father was a sheet-metal worker and their mother was a hairdresser.

As a youth, Mr. Carranza learned to play the guitar and fell in love with mariachi music, a continuing theme in his life. He paid his way through college by playing mariachi gigs.

He eventually became a social studies teacher, then a principal and a school administrator. He spent seven years in San Francisco, first as deputy superintendent and then as superintendent, before moving to Houston in August 2016 to become superintendent.

In coming to New York — a city that he said he had little experience in — Mr. Carranza is taking on a much bigger system than anything he has managed in the past. New York City has about 1.1 million students in about 1,800 schools.

Houston, the seventh-largest school district in the nation, has about 215,000 students in about 284 schools across 312 square miles.

In Houston, 61 percent of students are Hispanic, 24 percent are black, 8 percent are white and 4 percent are Asian. Three out of four students are “economically disadvantaged,” according to information on the district’s website.

Mr. Carranza might be coming to New York City with a sense of relief. He will inherit a school system where test scores and graduation rates have been improving, a trend that began under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and has continued under Mr. de Blasio.

Mr. Carranza with John Bradford, 7, on the first day of school at Codwell Elementary School in Houston in September. Credit David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Like most major urban districts, Houston suffers from achievement gaps between low-income and wealthy students. Mr. Carranza and others have also argued that the district’s current method of funding schools exacerbates inequality.

He had to grapple with daunting budget cuts. Hurricane Harvey struck the city in late August and caused massive damage to the schools.

In an op-ed in The Houston Chronicle in January, Mr. Carranza said the Houston school district was in “a financial storm unlike any the district has seen before.” Damage from Hurricane Harvey could lower the area’s property values, which would mean less money for the schools. Enrollment had fallen, he said, and was expected to continue its decline.

He was praised for his efforts after the storm to get the schools working again. About 80 percent of the city’s schools opened after only a two-week delay. Mr. Carranza also secured donations from officials and philanthropists in San Francisco to help with the response, including a $1 million donation from the founder of Salesforce, Marc Benioff.

In recent months, Mr. Carranza has faced some turmoil in Houston, where he has proposed a new model of funding schools that he says is designed to create greater equity among the district’s sharply segregated schools.

Jolanda Jones, the first vice president of the district’s board of trustees, said there had been “tremendous pushback” to the proposal from people in affluent communities that have benefited from the current funding system, and their representatives on the board.

“He’s really not going to leave a legacy of change or of anything positive,” said Robert Sanborn, president of Children at Risk, a Texas-based research and advocacy nonprofit. “It’s a legacy of: He hung out in Houston for a while and now he’s leaving.”

Mr. Sanborn said that Mr. Carranza found himself hamstrung by the school board. “He came in with a lot of great intentions,” he said. “In the whole scheme of things, the biggest obstacle for Carranza was a school board that did not want to change.”

Mr. Carranza’s great strength, he added, is that he’s personable. “In front of an audience, he’s a guy that you love,” he said.

Many politicians and education officials in Houston complain that schools there are badly underfunded by the state.

”From a state perspective, it’s a failure that we couldn’t keep him because he has a lot of talent,” said Armando Walle a Texas state representative whose district includes part of Houston. “I hope this doesn’t become a pattern where we get talented people to come in, and then they leave the district because we don’t give them the tools they need.”

After restarting discussions with the mayor, Mr. Carranza flew to New York on Saturday and spent the weekend in intense conversations with Mr. de Blasio and other top staff members. Mr. de Blasio said that sitting at a table in Gracie Mansion at 10 p.m. Sunday, he offered Mr. Carranza the job and Mr. Carranza said “Yes.”

He will be paid $345,000, which the mayor said was his salary in Houston. Ms. Farina made $244,430, but after decades working in the city’s school system, she also collected a pension.

The speed of the announcement underscored Mr. de Blasio’s need to find a replacement for Ms. Fariña, 74, who seemed to already have one foot out the door. Her goodbye party at Tweed Courthouse, the Education Department’s headquarters, was held on Friday, after which she flew to Florida, where she has a home. But at Monday’s news conference, she suggested that she would be around for a while, saying that there would be two chancellors for a period. And she wants to continue to work on a high schools initiative even after Mr. Carranza takes over, she said.

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Beta Phis who have recently entered Chapter Eternal:

  • Brother Herbert S. Valentine III, Beta Phi 1967

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