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Chancellor: It’s about ‘social justice’

New York Teacher

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Richard Carranza at a podium
Miller Photography
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza focuses on educational equity in his first official address to a union assembly.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza gave a rousing defense of public education and the unstoppable drive toward equity in his speech at the UFT’s Spring Education Conference.

“We are teaching children and impacting souls, not widgets,” said Carranza, who was warmly received in his first official address to a union assembly. “It’s not a matter of pedagogy. It’s a matter of social justice.”

The chancellor, who early in his career had been a teacher in Tucson, Arizona, said his phone had been ringing “off the hook” in recent days, as Arizona teachers walked out to demand greater state funding of public schools.

“We have to stand up and change the narrative, until society recognizes that public education is an investment in the future,” Carranza said.

Carranza also showed his sense of humor in an allusion to the viral video of a lawyer yelling at and threatening to call immigration enforcement on two Spanish-speaking workers in a deli. “As someone who was an English language learner as a child,” he said, “I want to say something that could get me in trouble in a sandwich shop: ‘Gracias.’”

In recent weeks, Carranza has taken equal parts criticism and praise for calling out the segregation in New York City public schools. In his remarks at the conference, the chancellor showed this early baptism by fire had not cowed him.

“We have less than four years,” he said, referring to the time left in the de Blasio administration. “I never set out to be chancellor, but to make a difference in students’ lives. At the national level there is a deafening silence about equity.”

Carranza made clear that his focus is on supporting, not blaming teachers.

“We need to build the capacity of teachers to teach students,” he said. “Accountability will come. Give teachers the tools and the resources they need.”

Riffing on the hashtag created by teachers in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting on Feb. 14, he said, “Let’s arm teachers with support, professional development, and emotional and social learning.”

Carranza concluded his remarks with the story of a boy in turmoil after his mom’s death and his teacher, who was initially slow in figuring out the roots of the boy’s disaffection with school. By believing in and embracing the child, the teacher ultimately put him on the pathway to success.

Summing up the story’s meaning, he told the assembled educators, “What you do is a matter of social justice and changing lives.”

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