Schools chief walks back blunt tweet


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With a late-night post, new chancellor enters diversity fray on Upper West Side


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  • “I don't think he at all intends to vilify anyone,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio (right) after NYC Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza tweeted a story headlined, “WATCH: Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools”. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office




A plan to increase diversity in Upper West Side public schools became the center of citywide attention after New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza issued — and later backed away from — a tweet of an article that characterized the dynamics at play in stark racial terms.

“WATCH: Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools,” Carranza tweeted in the early-morning hours of April 27, linking to a piece under the same headline on the site Raw Story.

The article included NY1 video of a recent meeting at P.S. 199 regarding a proposal to adjust the middle school admissions process in order to increase diversity in Community School District 3, which is among the most racially segregated in the entire city.

Carranza, who took office April 2, addressed the tweet days later during a visit to a Queens school. “I retweeted, and that language was automatically generated, and if that has caused any kind of anger, I apologize for that,” Carranza said, according to the New York Post. “That is not the intent.”

“Let's stop talking about a tweet and start talking about the issue — and the issue is segregated schools,” he added.

Carranza, who was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio after previously heading public school systems in Houston and San Francisco, promised to bring a “sense of urgency” to the issue in New York City schools, which are among the country's most segregated.

The plan under consideration in District 3 would impact admissions for students entering sixth grade in fall 2019, and would prioritize up to 25 percent of seats for students assessed at lower proficiency levels on state fourth-grade English and math exams.

Some parents criticized the proposal on the grounds that it would result in students with higher test scores not receiving offers to their preferred schools. “You're talking about telling an 11-year-old, 'You worked your butt off and you didn't get that, what you needed and wanted,'” one parent is seen and heard saying in the NY1 video. “You're telling them 'You're going to go to a school that is not going to educate you in the same way that you've been educated. Life sucks!'”

State test scores exhibit disparities along racial, ethnic, and economic lines both in District 3 and citywide. In last year's fourth grade math exam results in District 3, for example, 12 percent of white students scored at Level 1 (“well below proficient” for their grade, the lowest assessment on the four-level scale) or Level 2 (“partially proficient”), as compared with 66.1 percent of black students and 56.4 percent of Hispanic students. Additionally, 63.6 percent of economically disadvantaged students scored at Level 1 or Level 2, as compared with 28.6 percent of students who were not economically disadvantaged.

Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side in the City Council and has made diversification of public schools a key priority, issued a message of support for Carranza on Twitter in response to a user who questioned, “Is this the sort of headline the new chancellor should be tweeting out at 1am his first month on the job?”

“He's providing the leadership that @bradlander and @RitchieTorres and I have been calling for,” Rosenthal tweeted, tagging two Council colleagues. “Welcome @DOEChancellor to @NYCSchools I am eager to partner with you.”

Rosenthal elaborated in a telephone interview with the West Side Spirit. “What I appreciated about the chancellor's tweet is that he's reflecting a longer view, a larger picture perspective, which is rectifying segregation in our schools,” she said. “I think what he's doing is saying, look, I hear your fear, I hear your passion, but there are also these larger markers we want to achieve. That's what I think he was tweeting about and that's what I want to achieve. I understand how emotional this is for parents when they're talking about their own children.”

“I would never reduce this topic to that headline,” Rosenthal continued. “It's not a sound-bite. It's the difference between one person's perspective where it's so important to them and a big picture perspective of setting policy and taking the long view.”

In an interview with WNYC's Brian Lehrer, de Blasio expressed support for Carranza. “I think the Chancellor is speaking bluntly as someone who understands from personal experience that there's a lot we have to overcome in this society to create fairness for people of color,” de Blasio said.

“They want to make sure their children have access to a school they really value,” de Blasio said of public school parents. “That is normal. That's appropriate. At the same time, we have to address the diversification issue and a lot of those same parents would say, 'oh, I want to see greater diversity in schools.' We've got to square those two concerns.”

Questioned about the potentially polarizing headline tweeted by Carranza, de Blasio said, “I don't think he at all intends to vilify anyone.” The mayor added, “I might phrase it differently but the most important point here is he's speaking, I think, from a place of integrity about the fact that if we're serious about diversification we're all going to have to work creatively and we're all going to have to address the quality of the schools and diversity of schools simultaneously in a way that people can really buy into.”


“I think what he's doing is saying, look, I hear your fear, I hear your passion, but there are also these larger markers we want to achieve. That's what I think he was tweeting about and that's what I want to achieve.” — City Council Member Helen Rosenthal on NYC Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza





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