primer

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.

New leader

District chief Joris Ray named Memphis schools’ interim leader

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Joris Ray, center, was appointed interim superintendent for Shelby County Schools.

Joris Ray, who started his 22-year career as a teacher in Memphis schools, will be the interim superintendent for Shelby County Schools.

The school board voted 5-4 Tuesday evening to appoint Ray, who as a member of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s cabinet oversees the district’s academic operations and student support. An audience composed mostly of educators applauded the announcement.

“A lot of people call Dr. Ray, and he gets things done,” Hopson said at the meeting.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Dorsey Hopson and Joris Ray, right.

Ray could be at the helm of Tennessee’s largest district for anywhere from 8 months to 18 months, as the board looks to hire a permanent leader, Board Chair Shante Avant said. Hopson is leaving the 200-school, 111,600-student district after nearly six years; he will lead an education initiative at the health insurer Cigna, effective Jan. 8.

Hopson will still help Ray transition into his new role a few weeks after his resignation takes effect because of his current contract terms.

Ray, a graduate of Whitehaven High School, said he intends to apply for the permanent position.

“I’m about pushing things forward. No sense in looking back,” told reporters Tuesday, noting that his goal, as he gets started, is “to listen, to get out to various community groups and transition with the superintendent … but also I want to talk to teachers and I want to talk to students because oftentimes they’re left out of the education process.”

The other two nominees to serve as interim superintendent were Lin Johnson, the district’s chief of finance, and Carol Johnson, a former superintendent of Memphis schools.

Hopson commended both Lin Johnson and Ray as “truly my brothers in this work.” He also acknowledged the work Carol Johnson has done in recent years to train teachers in her role as director of New Leaders in Memphis.

Some school board members wanted to preclude the interim appointee from applying for the permanent post — especially if the interim selection was an in-district hire — but a resolution formalizing that position failed in a 6-3 vote.

“If it were me… I’d think twice about going up against that person to take the job. I really would,” Teresa Jones, a board member, said. But she said she wants to create an environment “where individuals feel where they can come forward and apply” for the superintendent job.

The appointment comes one day after Hopson presented a plan to combine 28 aging school buildings into 10 new ones. Ray said he will look to get community input before pursuing the plan while he is at the helm.

“We need to continue to unpack the plan,” Ray said after the meeting. “And I rely on the community to get their input. But most of all, it’s what’s best for students.”

There’s more from the meeting in this Twitter thread:

Movers and shakers

These Colorado lawmakers will shape education policy in 2019

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Colorado House of Representatives

When the Colorado General Assembly convenes in January, Democrats will control both chambers for the first time since 2014. That shift in the balance of power, along with a lot of turnover in both chambers, means new faces on the committees that will shape education policy.

The incoming committee chairs in both chambers  — state Rep. Barbara McLachlan of Durango and state Sen. Nancy Todd of Aurora — are former teachers themselves and experienced lawmakers. One of the incoming members, representative-elect Bri Buentello of Pueblo, is currently a special education teacher. The ranking Republican on the House Education Committee, state Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, is also a former teacher and school superintendent. He’s the only Republican returning to the committee from the previous session.

In the House, Democrats now hold a three-seat majority on the committees responsible for deciding which bills will advance to a floor vote. In the Senate, Democrats have a one-vote advantage on most committees.

The new Democratic majorities open the possibility of advancing issues that once stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, like funding full-day kindergarten — a priority of incoming governor Jared Polis — and expanding access to mental health services in school. But these decisions will have to be made without major new revenue and in competition with other budget needs. Democrats may also have to grapple with disagreements among their own ranks on charter schools, teacher evaluations, and school choice, issues that have long enjoyed bipartisan consensus. 

But one newly appointed member of the Senate Education Committee won’t serve out his term. State Sen. Daniel Kagan, a Democrat from Cherry Hills Village, recently announced he’ll resign in January following accusations that he repeatedly used a women’s restroom in the state Capitol. State Rep. Jeff Bridges, a Democrat from Greenwood Village, has announced his intention to seek the vacancy and could take Kagan’s place on the education committee.

The other new Democrat on the Senate committee, Tammy Story, has a long record as an education advocate in Jefferson County. She worked to recall school board members there that supported charters and performance-based teacher pay.

Senator-elect Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, is a former member of the State Board of Education and served on the House Education Committee. State Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, the ranking Republican on the committee, is the former chair.

House Education Committee:

Democrats:

Chair: Rep. Barbara McLachlan, Durango

Vice-Chair, rep.-elect Bri Buentello, Pueblo

Rep. Janet Buckner, Aurora

Rep. James Coleman, Denver

Rep.-elect Lisa Cutter, Jefferson County

Rep. Tony Exum Sr., Colorado Springs

Rep.-elect Julie McCluskie, Dillon

Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, Commerce City

Republicans:

Ranking member: Rep. Jim Wilson, Salida

Rep.-elect Mark Baisley, Roxborough Park

Rep.-elect Tim Geitner, Colorado Springs

Rep.-elect Colin Larson, Ken Caryl

Rep. Kim Ransom, Littleton

Senate Education Committee:

Democrats:

Chair: Nancy Todd, Aurora

Vice-Chair: sen.-elect Tammy Story, Conifer

Sen. Daniel Kagan, Cherry Hills Village

Republicans:

Ranking member: Sen. Owen Hill, Colorado Springs

Sen.-elect Paul Lundeen, Monument