Carranza talks equity at UWS town hall


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Schools chancellor discusses diversity, charter schools during visit to P.S. 163


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  • Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza fielded questions on technology in the classroom, dual-language education and other topics during a Sept. 26 town hall meeting at P.S. 163 on the Upper West Side. Photo: Michael Garofalo




  • A Sept. 26 town hall meeting with Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza attracted a large crowd of students, parents and teachers to the auditorium at P.S. 163 on West 97th Street. Photo: Michael Garofalo




BY MICHAEL GAROFALO

“Equity” has been Richard Carranza’s calling card since he took office as city schools chancellor in the spring.

Carranza used the word at least a dozen times over the course of an hour during a Sept. 26 town hall meeting with students, parents and teachers at P.S. 163 on West 97th Street. He spoke of equity for students in access to resources; equity in school enrollment and admissions; equity of facilities; equity for students with disabilities. He named “ensuring equity — not yesterday, not tomorrow, right now” as one of his four areas of focus for the school year. (The other three: accelerating learning and teaching, engaging and empowering communities, developing people.)

The word has salience in District 3, which includes the Upper West Side and parts of Harlem, where schools have historically been starkly divided along racial and economic lines. In June, the city Department of Education adopted a plan to increase diversity in District 3 middle schools through an overhaul of the admissions screening process. Carranza drew both criticism and praise early in his tenure for tweeting video of a tense public meeting on the plan bluntly headlined “WATCH: Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools.”

Carranza has not since shied away from addressing fraught issues of perceived inequity in the school system head-on, from the lack of diversity in the city’s elite specialized high schools to racial disparities in the demographic makeup of the city’s gifted programs. At the town hall, Carranza pledged to be “open and transparent” not only about the opportunities facing city schools, but also about “the challenges that vex us.”

“Some folks appreciate the directness, some folks don’t,” Carranza said. “That’s just what it’s gonna be, because I think we don’t have time to waste when it comes to really impacting what happens in our schools.”

Carranza addressed the middle school diversity plan, charter schools and a number of other topics during a question-and-answer period with an engaged and enthusiastic audience, which filled the P.S. 163 auditorium. Below are a selection of his responses.

Diversity

In response to a questions about the resources that the DOE Education will provide to District 3 to support the implementation of its middle school diversity plan, Carranza said that DOE is reviewing community input. He noted that in Brooklyn’s District 15, which recently adopted a similar diversity plan, the DOE granted $500,000 to fund specific requests for support.

Carranza praised District 3 as “trendsetters” in pushing for diversity measures, but cautioned against promoting a pernicious narrative around funding such efforts.

“We need to be very careful in terms of the enlightened conversations that we’ve had around diversity, integration and why that’s important to us in the city,” Carranza said. “We all just need to be very, very careful in terms of how we talk about the work, so that it doesn’t become, ‘We need money to implement diversity because kids that are diverse cost us more money because they need more things.’ I know that’s not what you’re saying. I know that’s not what District 15 was saying. But I will tell you that there are segments of our community that aren’t as enlightened in terms of the conversations you’ve had, that would absolutely use that as a reason why we shouldn’t pursue an equity agenda in terms of integration.”

Carranza also addressed the issue of geographic priority for high school admissions in neighboring District 2, which encompasses much of the Upper East Side, Midtown and lower Manhattan. Unlike in District 3, high schools in District 2 give preference in the admissions process to students who live within the district. Carranza described the policy as a relic of the racial politics of decades past. “It was an attempt to keep middle-class families and, quite frankly, more well-to-do families from fleeing from the school system and going to private schools,” he said.

“We are in New York City in 2018 — no longer the New York City of 1970, 1980 or even 1990 — and we’re a very different place now,” Carranza continued.

“I have a hard time believing ... that New Yorkers would cling to a system that says we’re going to put in barriers for students in District 3 to go to schools in District 2 just because we’re afraid that some of our neighbors are gonna not want to be in schools because their child may go to school with a black or brown child,” he said.

Technology in schools

“Technology, from my perspective, will never replace a well-trained, caring teacher in the classroom,” Carranza said. “It just can’t. That doesn’t mean technology can’t help teachers do what they do even better.”

Carranza related an anecdote about a teacher assigning students to create a short video with iPads to illustrate their understanding of a physics lesson as an example of technology being used to enhance — but not replace — teaching. Carranza added that the city has worked to expand computer science and science, technology, engineering, arts and math (commonly referred to as STEAM) programs

Dual-language programs

Carranza drew extended applause from the crowd and cries of “Thank you!” and “¡Gracias!” after he took on what he called “the elephant question in the room” and announced that the dual-language education program at P.S. 87 on West 78th Street “is not going away.”

“We are steadfastly committed not only to increasing the number of dual language programs that we have, but making sure that they’re high quality,” he said. Carranza also stressed the importance of continuing language studies when students get to middle school.

Charter schools

Carranza described a visit he recently paid to a public school “that has done everything we asked them to do in order to become an improving school,” but lacked one piece of crucial infrastructure: air conditioning. The school, Carranza said, “doesn’t have a chance, because right around the corner, there’s a brand spanking new charter school.”

Carranza said that he was not positioning himself as an enemy of charter schools. “What I’m saying is that we have to take care of our own house first,” he said. “Because how dare we not have air conditioning in our schools?”

“We’re getting out-hustled in our community,” he said.

“When we talk about equity, it’s not just equity of resources,” Carranza continued. “It’s equity of facilities, it’s equity of structures, it’s equity of systems, it’s equity for the community to be able to have a fighting chance.”

“We are in the process of identifying all of our schools that have these kinds of equity needs that are getting absolutely picked off and preyed upon in charter placements, and whatever they have we’re going to have it better,” he said. “We’re going to give our schools a fighting chance to show what they can do.”

Carranza vowed to fight for increased funding from the state government. “Our kids are owed billions of dollars,” he said.





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