In the summer of 2018, writers had the opportunity to interview newly appointed New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. Since assuming his role in March 2018, he has been outspoken about his commitment to end school segregation. During our conversation, he cited eliminating the single test admissions process for specialized high schools and funneling money into poorer neighborhoods, among other ways to integrate schools. Here’s more of our interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
YCteen: New York City has one of the most segregated school systems in the country and has for decades. How can you succeed when so many before you have failed?
RC: I’m starting to identify which schools that are historically black and Latino are underfunded so we can shift some of our budget there. In some communities, my conversation is going to be, “We’re going to cut your budget this year by $200,000 because we need to use those resources in communities that don’t have them.” I know this will be difficult because no matter how many resources you have, who wants to have their resources cut? For the first time, each school’s budget is going to be on our website so the disparity will be apparent.
YCteen: I’m a junior at Stuyvesant High School. Why are you critical of the specialized high school admissions test (SHSAT) being used as the sole criterion for admitting kids to New York City’s specialized high schools?
RC: At issue is the disproportionate admission rates. Out of 1.1 million students in New York City’s schools, 70% are students of color. Yet they comprise an infinitesimal fraction of students in some of these elite schools. There are a lot of reasons for that, including unequal preparation for these tests in poorer middle schools. Or some kids are great at taking tests and others horrible. Some parents pay for prep courses so their kids can pass, and that only increases the inequality divide for those who don’t have those resources.
In fact, there are no studies showing that the SHSAT is reliable for identifying the smartest, brightest students.
Rather than an admissions test, the proposal that the mayor and I have put forward is reserving spots in each specialized high school for students who are in the top 3% across the city’s public middle schools. (This would increase to 7% over three years.) We’d take into account your English grade, your math grade, your science grade, and your social studies grade.
YCteen: How can we foster a safe place for students to coexist without so much tension and hatred? In my school there are a lot of fights, and it’s not often a positive place for students.
RC: My experience has been that a lot of the tension comes from not understanding each other, or not having the opportunity to interact with each other. One plan to address this is introducing implicit bias training for teachers, so they can recognize their biases. Then they can adjust how they might react to some students.
We’re pursuing the development of ethnic studies courses, where kids get to study their own ethnicities and cultures as well as others. I think it’s important for kids to know where they came from, and then they see they have a lot in common with others.
We also need creative outlets for students, particularly extracurricular activities besides sports. Your writing program is a good example of this. If there is a wide array of activities kids can do besides just go to school, we can create opportunities for better relationships, and a lot of that tension goes away.
YCteen: Much of your agenda promotes inclusiveness. What do you propose to help LGBTQ students? Especially for those who may not be able to express themselves freely to their families, school can be the only place where they have the chance to be open about their identities.
RC: I think it’s important to have an LGBTQ history class. It’s part of the civil rights movement, and should be a topic all students study. Once the issue is recognized as worthy of being studied, it legitimizes LGBTQ people.
It’s also important to have clubs like Gay-Straight Alliance. They need to be celebrated and embraced across the school district. As a leader, I need to be open and out there about saying that we support all students at our schools. One way I show this is by having a rainbow flag on the back of my ID card. It says to students, “Hey, I’ve got your back.”
YCteen: I’m Mexican, yet most of my teachers have been white. When you were younger you said you wanted to have more teachers that looked like you. How can you make the teaching staff more diverse?
RC: There are actually five teacher academies in high schools across the five boroughs. These are high school juniors and sophomores who already know they want to be teachers. Those classes are diverse. I want to nurture them so they come back. I’m going to visit every academy and give each student a contract. It will basically say, you’re hired as a teacher in NYC. Trade this in for a teaching credential, which means once you get your degree, you’re guaranteed a job. Now how many of you would like to get that in high school? Guaranteed a J-O-B in the N-Y-C. That’s my slogan.
YCteen: I’m in foster care and have found that many guidance counselors are untrained in helping children who have mental health issues. But sometimes those guidance counselors are all those students have; they can’t afford therapy.
RC: I do think it’s important that we have people that can help students whether they’re in foster care or temporary housing—that’s part of the equity we’re talking about. And whatever the issue is, the counselor should be able to connect the student and the family to the appropriate services that exist. We are now partnering with Thrive, the New York City First Lady’s initiative around mental health. Millions of dollars have been raised specifically for counselors and, in many cases, crisis counseling. We also have something called the community schools initiative which is a series of partnerships and community-based organizations.
These are not easy issues, but that’s why I’m so excited to be talking with you. The really tough questions come from students. Your voice is really important.