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.

who is in charge

School turnaround leader promoted to oversee all academics in Memphis schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Antonio Burt became assistant superintendent in 2017 over the Innovation Zone and other struggling schools within Shelby County Schools. He is now the district's academic chief.

After nearly two years without an academic chief, Shelby County Schools has promoted a longtime expert in improving low-performing schools to the position.

Antonio Burt returned to Memphis last summer to oversee some of the lowest performing schools in the state as an assistant superintendent. In his new position as chief academic officer, Burt is responsible for creating goals for schools, training and recruiting teachers and principals, and overseeing academic strategy to meet state academic requirements. The chief academic officer reports directly to the superintendent.

During his first stint in Memphis, he was principal at Ford Road Elementary School under the district’s Innovation Zone, which has boosted test scores in underachieving schools.

“Throughout his tenure as a transformational school leader, Dr. Burt has shown tenacity in removing educational barriers for all children and a deep understanding of teaching and learning,” Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said in a statement Tuesday.

His hire completes a long search to replace Heidi Ramirez, who resigned in February 2017. Since then, the position’s responsibilities have been shared between Burt, Angela Whitelaw, interim chief of schools, and Joris Ray, assistant superintendent for academic operations.


Read our Q&A with Antonio Burt from when he first returned to Shelby County Schools


Since returning to Memphis last summer, Burt reorganized school leadership teams to coach teachers in subjects such as reading, math, science. He has also overseen the addition of two schools to the district’s Innovation Zone.

Burt previously worked for the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit organization that helps to recruit, train, and place effective teachers in high-need districts, and was briefly employed by the state-run Achievement School District, according to his LinkedIn page. He later was the director of school transformation at Florida’s Pinellas County Schools.

Chalkbeat reached out to Burt for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.

apology

Criticism mounts for Adams 14 school board for asking police to escort critic out of meeting

File photo of the Adams 14 school board, including Connie Quintana, right, the board's current president. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Two organizations are demanding the Adams 14 school board apologize for removing a vocal critic from a public meeting, after he insisted on calling out school officials by name in criticism officials characterized as “not constructive.”

Jorge Garcia, the head of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education, has been a frequent critic of the district and Superintendent Javier Abrego ever since the district stopped the expansion of biliteracy programming. At the last meeting, top district officials interrupted Garcia and ordered police to escort him out.

Tuesday the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado sent the school board a letter, signed by their attorney, asking for an apology to Garcia, “for violating his First Amendment rights,” and attacking the board’s unwritten policy against criticizing district officials and staff by name. It asked for a response by Oct. 1.

“The board’s silencing of Mr. Garcia represents viewpoint discrimination that the First Amendment forbids,” the ACLU’s letter states. “Mr. Garcia has every right to mention Superintendent Abrego by name when providing public criticism of a public official who is the highest-ranking executive officer of the Adams 14 School District.”

Tuesday afternoon, officials from the school district did not return a request for comment.

Earlier, the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education, where Garcia is executive director, also issued a statement, asking for an apology from the school board. In its statement, the association wrote that Garcia offered to resign “in order to spare the organization any possible retaliatory litigation targeting him,” but the association’s board unanimously rejected the offer and instead supported Garcia’s attempts to speak to the board.

“CABE is the foremost advocate for educational equity for emergent bilinguals in the state​,” the association wrote. “Jorge’s initial actions at the Adams 14 board meeting were perfectly consistent with this role.”

The board has its next regular meeting Tuesday evening.

Read the full letters below: