NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza suddenly announced Friday that he will step down, the latest top commissioner to flee the lame duck de Blasio administration in the middle of the pandemic.
The torch is being passed to a homegrown product of New York City schools – who becomes the city’s first African-American woman chancellor.READ MORE: Bloomfield High School Senior David Odekunle, Who Grew Up In Nigeria, Receives Acceptance Letters From 7 Ivy Leagues Schools: 'It's Like A Once-In-A-Lifetime Feeling'
As CBS2’s political reporter Marcia Kramer reports, when Mayor Bill de Blasio went to the reopening of a Bronx middle school Thursday, he had a secret: Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza was calling it quits, and a woman wearing a blue blazer who was with him, Meisha Ross Porter, was his replacement.
“He’s turning the page, going on to a new chapter in his life,” de Blasio said Friday.
I came to New York City 3 years ago with a mission – to help the DOE reach its full potential, and to serve and lift up all of our @NYCschools children. And we have created so much important change together with all that I have. In March, I will be stepping down as Chancellor.
— Chancellor Richard A. Carranza (@DOEChancellor) February 26, 2021
Carranza joins former Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia in quitting just months before de Blasio’s term is up, as the pandemic-wracked school system has struggled with remote learning and reopening classes.
For his part, Carranza struggled with self control when explaining the toll the pandemic has taken on him as one of the reasons he is stepping down.
“I’m leaving because I need to take care of me,” he said.
He fought back tears, explaining why it’s time for him to go.
“A New Yorker who has lost 11 family and close childhood friends to the pandemic, and a New Yorker who, quite frankly, needs to take time to grieve,” Carranza said.
But that reportedly wasn’t the only factor. Sources told CBS2 the chancellor and mayor clashed repeatedly over the pace of desegregation and the need to eliminate the gifted and talented program, G&T.
Carranza didn’t deny it.
“Policy is never made in a perfect four corner box,” he said.
Watch Marcia Kramer’s report —
White students make up about 75% of the G&T program in a school system where 70% of the students are Black and Hispanic.
“The chancellor was much more forward thinking than the mayor, despite his public statements,” a highly placed source tells CBS2.
Teachers Union President Michael Mulgrew hinted at the rift, saying in a statement: “Richard Carranza was a real partner in our efforts to open school safely. Too often he had to fight behind the scenes to keep the needs of students, staff and their families ahead of politics. We wish him well. He will be missed. We have successfully partnered with Meisha Ross Porter on projects in the past, including the Bronx Plan and expanding community schools. We look forward to working with her in the future.”
“I hope going forward that City Hall will introduce less political interference,” State Sen. John Liu said.
Liu, chairman of the city’s education committee, says the mayor has micromanaged the Department of Education.
“Senator, you are a veteran of the political wars of New York. What advice do you give to the new chancellor?” CBS2’s Dick Brennan asked.
“Don’t let City Hall interfere too much, and most of all, focus, focus on reopening schools fulltime come September,” Liu said.
Many parents say they want schools opened and kept open, but most of all, they want a fair playing field in what is one of the most segregated school districts in the nation.
“Some people can get the tutoring paid for to take the exams, and some of us don’t get that opportunity, but hopefully it’s going to get better,” parent Olivia Ofori said.
De Blasio was clearly on the defensive about the G&T program.
“We need to show the city the people of the city something better,” de Blasio said.
Incoming Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter is a product of New York City schools. She is a 20-year vet who has lead at every level of the school system, and who recently served as Bronx executive superintendent in charge of 361 schools, and over 235,000 students.READ MORE: Bronx High School Students Partner With DOT To Improve Local Street Safety
“I’m ready to get to work,” she said.
She also promised to fix the G&T program.
“Over the next 10 months I want to really, really, really dig into G&T. I think that’s top of mind and a top priority as it relates to integration,” Porter said.
The new chancellor faces a number of new challenges, including re-opening all city schools in September.
“I came to New York City three years ago with a mission to help the Department of Education reach its full potential and, of course, to serve and to lift up all, not just some, but all of our public school children,” Carranza said. “And while the work is never done, we have created a lot of important change together. New York City public schools are the strongest schools I’ve ever seen.”
Before coming to New York, Carranza was a former superintendent of the San Francisco and Houston school systems. For the last year, during the pandemic, he had been a driving force in getting New York City schools open. Just Thursday, students in New York City’s middle schools returned to in-person learning.
“We opened nearly all of our schools ahead of every other school system in America,” Carranza said. “And just yesterday, we reopened middle schools, and may I say so, flawlessly.”
“We’re always going to remember what you’ve done here,” de Blasio said. “And there are better days ahead.”
Porter came up through the school system, elevated from principal to to superintendent by former Chancellor Carmen Farina and then to executive superintendent by Carranza.
“I am so honored, so honored to serve in this role,” Porter said.
The new chancellor grew up in Jamaica, Queens, moving to the Bronx. She says she has dedicated her life to the classroom.
“And what I learned first from my favorite teacher, my mommy, is the importance that one teacher makes in the life of every young person,” she said.
Porter says she will focus on mental health and trauma in schools due to the pandemic, and continue to work to open schools safely, starting next with high schools.
“Absolutely nothing replaces the interaction between a teacher and a student in the classroom,” she said.
WATCH: Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza Announces He’s Stepping Down
Carranza offered this advice to Porter.
“Do you. Be you. Lead with the heart that you’ve led in every one of the assignments that you’ve had in New York City,” Carranza said.
De Blasio said that under Carranza, the New York City school system achieved “the highest graduation rate in the history of New York City.”
“This is the school system today, where academic achievement keeps moving forward. But not just in some places. All across our school system. This is a New York City today, where we’re closing what has been called previously the ‘achievement gap.’ We’re bringing more equality. We’re helping uplift students of color and helping them move forward like never before,” he continued. “That was our challenge before COVID. We now face a deeper challenge with a COVID achievement gap.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about the tireless dedication we have to every student, every step of the way,” Porter said.
Porter said she felt New York City is ready to open high schools in September.
Porter said her job will be to “remove the barriers to direct resources where they are needed most and communicate clearly around our shared goals and commitments, at every school in every neighborhood.”
“It’s my duty and responsibility that I’ve carried with me my whole life to lean forward and lean in and see every student and create opportunities for them in every moment that I possibly can,” Porter said.
“To all the little girls out there, I’m saving a seat for you,” she added. “Mr. Mayor, let’s go. Let’s do this. I’m ready.”
Porter may not have a long tenure. A new mayor takes over next year and usually picks their own chancellor.
Carranza will leave in two weeks and says he has no other job.MORE NEWS: Advocates Sign Letter To Mayor De Blasio Demanding More Preschool Seats For Special Needs Students
CBS2’s John Dias, Marcia Kramer and Dick Brennan contributed to this report.