7 things to know about Richard Carranza, New York City’s new schools chief

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Houston Independent School District Superintendent Richard Carranza, who will become New York City schools chancellor, reaches for his wife's hand.

He’s the son of laborers, a lifelong educator, and an accomplished mariachi musician — and now he’ll be New York City’s schools chancellor.

Richard Carranza is leaving the Houston Independent School District, which he has run for the last 18 months, to run New York City’s schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday. Here’s what you need to know about the man who will lead the country’s largest school system.

  1. He’s a lifelong educator. This was one of de Blasio’s requirements for job candidates, and Carranza meets it amply. He taught bilingual education before becoming a principal and then moving into district administration. De Blasio praised him as “an educator’s educator” and Carranza said he continues to prioritize visiting classrooms — something that undoubtedly won him favor with Carmen Fariña, the chancellor he’ll replace.
  2. He’s worked in four school districts — two in the last 18 months. Carranza has been in his current job for less than two years. Before that, he ran San Francisco’s schools for four years. The duration of those stints put Carranza in line with the average for urban superintendents, which is just over three years. Lifelong employment in a single district — a characteristic of Fariña and, for that matter, Alberto Carvalho, de Blasio’s first choice to run the city’s schools — is unusual. Before he took over in San Francisco, Carranza also worked in Las Vegas and Tucson schools.
  3. He is leaving a district under the threat of state takeover. Houston’s school district faces a $115 million budget shortfall and could be taken over by the state due to the some of its schools’ poor academic performance, according to the Houston Chronicle. “I was hoping he’d finish out the year,” one of the Houston district’s elected trustees, Sergio Lira, told Chalkbeat. “We’re facing some tough challenges.” San Francisco, Carranza’s previous district, is also facing criticism because of longstanding performance gaps between  its black and Latino students and its white and Asian students.
  4. He led Houston schools’ response to Hurricane Harvey. Last year’s storm damaged hundreds of schools in Houston and left thousands of students homeless. In the wake of the storm, Carranza expanded the number of “community schools” offering services to students and their families, then used the district’s fundraising arm to give holiday gifts to staff affected by the storm. “When you look at Richard Carranza’s leadership in Houston during Hurricane Harvey, you see extraordinary strength,” said de Blasio, whose education department has prioritized community schools.
  5. He comes from a working-class background. Carranza, who was born in Arizona, is the grandson of immigrants from Mexico. His father was a sheet metal worker and his mother, a hairdresser. Like Fariña, who noted the similarities between their life stories at the press conference announcing his appointment, Carranza spoke only Spanish at home and learned English for the first time attending public schools.
  6. He believes all students should speak multiple languages. “I don’t see how any student is going to be successful in the next 10 years without being multilingual, without at least being bilingual,” Carranza told Education Week in 2015. In the districts where he has worked, he has worked to expand bilingual classes and widen the pipeline of bilingual teachers.
  7. He’s an accomplished mariachi musician. It’s such a big part of his identity that his official profile on the Houston district’s website includes the information. Here he is performing with Houston students last year.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”