‘We’re going to move the agenda’: Chancellor Carranza speaks at graduation for top screened middle school

Chancellor Richard Carranza spoke at the Mott Hall School’s eighth-grade graduation ceremony on Tuesday, where he praised the hard work and dedication of the students, and used his speech to address the controversy his education agenda has sparked in recent weeks to a largely friendly audience of students, parents, and educators. 

“Our fundamental belief is that every student deserves a great education and let me tell you what that looks like,” Carranza said to a room erupting in applause. “It looks like the classrooms of Mott Hall School.”

The school is screened for students who must live in District 6 in upper Manhattan who apply and qualify for admission. In the past, Carranza has questioned the appropriateness of screens in public education, which can work to exclude low-income black or Hispanic students. Eighty-one percent of students at Mott Hall, by contrast, are Hispanic, and 77 percent are considered economically disadvantaged. Last week, state education officials recognized it as one of the highest achieving schools in the state. 

Priscilla Jimenez, who came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when she was seven years old and spoke very little English and is one of the school’s two salutatorians, is representative of students at the school. Many of the graduates are first-generation immigrants from the D. R., and Carranza likened their experiences as immigrants and English language learners to his own. 

Speaking in both English and Spanish, the chancellor told the graduates that they were “powerful examples of why the Department of Education is focused on equity and excellence for all,” and referenced the pushback his agenda has encountered.

“While there may be a bunch of adults in the Department of Education, our agenda is the children’s agenda,” the chancellor continued. “That means that sometimes we’re going to move the agenda to serve our students, and people that have been very comfortable for a very long time doing absolutely nothing for the children that they’re supposed to serve are going to feel uncomfortable.”

Carranza’s education platform has raised charges from some quarters that he’s a divisive figure in the city. Several lawmakers have criticized his controversial anti-bias training, “contentious rhetoric” about race, and perceived overemphasis on integration over academics. On Wednesday, a group of his critics will hold a rally on the steps of City Hall to pressure the mayor to fire him.

But the chancellor also enjoys fierce support among his allies, who see his bold support of integration as long overdue.

Ydanis Rodríguez, a council member for District 10, was also a featured speaker at the graduation and praised Carranza for his work. In his speech, he noted that Mott Hall didn’t have the same resources as other schools in the city. 

“The New York City education system is the most segregated in the whole nation, and that’s why the chancellor is being attacked,” Rodriguez said. “How is Mott Hall able to say we are preparing the students to go to high school and then to college when we don’t have the same building that other schools have?”

Student speakers credited Mott Hall for offering them the support they needed to feel ready to start high school in the fall.

“The academic and personal achievements we have reached as of today did not come for free. During our journey together, I have learned so much from so many people here today,” Jimenez said. “This ceremony is a reflection of our arduous work and effort.” 

Simona Jegelevicius, the second salutatorian, said she was thankful for the valuable lessons that helped her grow as a student. 

“Everyone in this graduating class has a good head on their shoulders,” she said in her speech. “We’ve all made it here today despite the challenges. With hard work there are no limits.”