A New Schools Chancellor in New York City

In the middle of an unprecedented school year, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, a promising new Schools Chancellor steps in.

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As chancellor, Meisha Porter will play a substantial role in planning how New York City public schools transition from remote learning to in-person classrooms this fall.

A Series of Red Flags

“Houston, we have a problem” rang especially true for Houston’s education system. Richard A. Carranza, a Mexican-American educator, knew this to be true because he was superintendent in Houston, prior to his chancellorship in New York City. During his time in Houston, Carranza focused on ending economic segregation in schools by redistributing and expanding funding. However, his plans were consistently and relentlessly shut down by the school board. Houston appeared to be a lost cause so Carranza began to look elsewhere and, luckily for him, someone was hiring. 

In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio began his search for Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s successor. Fariña only served four years as chancellor before announcing her retirement at the age of 74. She was raised and taught, like most prior chancellors, in New York City. However, de Blasio decided to expand his options for chancellor outside the “big apple.”

His first choice as a replacement was Albert M. Carvalho, a Portuguese-American superintendent in Miami-Dade, Florida. Carvalho rejected the offer, affirming his unwavering commitment to improving Florida. De Blasio, therefore, defaulted to his second choice, Carranza.

This decision was considered questionable by many. How could Carranza, who had only taught and supervised in Houston and San Francisco, possibly understand what New York students needed? The New York City public school system is the largest in the country, with over one million students, which is more than twice the size of enrollment in Houston and San Francisco combined. Nonetheless, Carranza was not alarmed and was eager to start, hoping that he would find more support in New York City.

Long Story Short – History Repeats

Similar to Houston, New York City public schools also have concerning divisions at schools. Black and Hispanic students are disproportionately represented in rigorous and successful schools. For example, in 2019, it was reported that only 10% of students in specialized high schools are Black and Hispanic, although more than 65% of students in New York City are Black and Hispanic. 

Carranza began his role as chancellor intending to change this. In his introduction letter, Carranza highlighted his modest upbringing in a Hispanic household. He wrote, “I want to share a bit about my life and career. I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, the son of a sheet metal worker and a hairdresser. My grandparents were immigrants from Mexico, and I did not learn English until kindergarten.” 

Carranza attempted to handle the diversity problem at elite schools through multiple angles, one of which was extremely controversial – eliminating the SHSAT. In 2019, Carranza urged the state legislature to terminate Hecht-Calandra, the state law that required the SHSAT to be the sole form of admittance into Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, and Brookly Tech. Carranza thought he should be able to fully oversee New York City public schools without the interference of out-of-city laws such as Hecht-Calandra. This move put Carranza on the wrong footing for many New York City parents, causing a slew of petitions that protested the abolition of the law.

In a process of his ambitious moves to integrate schools, it became clear that Carranza and de Blasio had two very different visions surrounding the future of public schools. Whether their quarrels further influenced Carranza’s decision to resign is up for speculation, but it certainly did not encourage Carranza to stay.

On February 26th, 2021, Carranza announced in a press conference that he would no longer remain as Schools Chancellor, where he stated that the death of several friends and family members during the Coronavirus pandemic had impacted him severely.

Although the state of public school diversity did not drastically change under Carranza’s leadership, it is worth emphasizing that he made an effort to change the system. 

New Semester, New Chancellor

On March 15th, 2021, a month into the second semester of the 2020-2021 academic year, Meisha Ross Porter became the first Black woman to be chancellor in New York City. Porter was born and raised in Queens by a single mother who was also an educator. Not only did she attend New York City public schools, but she also graduated from New York City colleges, Hunter College and Mercy College. 

Her qualifications are substantial; she was the principal at the Bronx School for Law, Government, and Justice, and she served as the executive superintendent of the Bronx, playing a part in the borough’s impressive graduation rate increase

Like Carranza, Porter is also interested in diversifying New York City public schools, due to her own understanding of what it means to be Black while navigating predominantly white classes. She shared a story of how her honors English teacher assumed she was lost when she entered the classroom.

Unlike Carranza, Porter does not plan to advocate for the abolition of the SHSAT but rather wants to discuss potential reforms with the state legislature. Porter has also expressed distaste towards enrollment tests for gifted and talented programs in elementary and middle schools.

Other initiatives Porter wants to roll out include “trauma training” for educators and administrators who will be dealing with students who have been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic, promoting alternatives to suspension, and establishing a more inclusive school curriculum.

Porter has a lot that she wants to accomplish with very little time. She will only be chancellor until next January 2022 when a new Mayor takes office and is allowed to select their own chancellor. No one is expecting Porter to significantly change New York City public schools given her brief tenure; however, any change for the positive will be more than celebrated.

On March 15th, 2021, a month into the second semester of the 2020-2021 academic year, Meisha Ross Porter became the first Black woman to be chancellor in New York City.

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