Chancellor Carranza and his Team need allies: How about the Teachers’ Union?

NEW YORK – Chancellor Richard A. Carranza today announced the appointment of Hydra Mendoza as Deputy Chancellor for Community Empowerment, Partnerships, and Communications. Mendoza joins the DOE after serving as Deputy Chief of Staff for Education and Equity to the Mayor of San Francisco, where she was responsible for: community empowerment and engagement, public affairs, maintaining strong relationships between the city and key stakeholders, developing public-private partnerships, and advising the mayor and city elected officials on education policy matters.

In this newly created role, Mendoza will oversee the divisions of Family and Community Empowerment, communications, external affairs, intergovernmental affairs, and translation and interpretation services, and lead the DOE’s work to empower families and communities, while increasing awareness of and support for key policy issues.  

Richard Carranza, the New York City schools leader announced the hiring of a former colleague  from San Francisco, Carranza led SF for four years prior to an eighteen month stint in Houston. It’s commonplace for new school leaders to bring in staff with whom they have worked, and to be honest, can trust. It’s also commonplace to be the broom, sweeping out current staff for new staff, and in the process, unintended consequences, sweep out institutional memory as well as the key folks who make the system work; it’s a delicate balance.

San Francisco has 136 schools and 55,000 students, New York City 1850 schools and 1.1 million students; rather a steep learning curve.

Relationships matter, culture matters.

As a union rep I knew that if I wanted to check out a problem with a paraprofessional payroll I spoke to Kelly, and if she saw me coming holding a cup of her favorite coffee she’d smile, “What do I have to fix?”

If a principal selection was in progress and one of candidates had a bad reputation I knew which elected to call and express my displeasure. The union probably endorsed him/her, contributed to their campaign and I probably assisted a constituent resolve some school issue.

Dr. C was the superintendent of a large region, a couple of hundred schools in one of the poorest areas of the city. Queenie was one of her staff members, I believe her title was community liaison; she knew everyone, from the ministers to the hustlers, and she was the buffer to the community; she accompanied Dr. C on community and school visits. If Queenie recommended someone for a job they got an interview, maybe, if qualified, a job, and, if they needed a high school diploma, and didn’t have one, Dr. C set them up in a GED program. A white superintendent in an all-black district was well-liked and admired; there was a strong collaborative district culture.

Thomas Jefferson High School was closing and Dr C was meeting with the mostly black current staff in the process of being pushed out, to seek other jobs or into the ATR pool and the four new school staffs, mostly white and young: it was going to be a tense meeting. Dr. C walked out onto the stage, the audience quieted, and pointed to a teacher, “Will the young woman wearing the Boy’s and Girl’s High School (Jefferson’s arch rival) jacket stand up, thank you, we don’t wear Boy’s and Girl’s High School jackets in Thomas Jefferson High School.” There was a moment of silence, and the audience broke out in applause and cheers, the teacher blurted, “It’s my boy friend’s jacket,” Someone shouted, “Your ex-boyfriend.”

The meeting went very well.

Burt was a teacher in my district who moved up the ladder and had the ability to get things done. He eventually became the assistant to the chancellor for …. Humm … .what would be an appropriate title, for navigating bureaucracy and politics. Burt has an enormous Rolodex, and his calls were answered. In a city of over eight million how do you get an electrical problem fixed in a school, get a phone installed, get an item to move into the city budget, a bill to move in Albany, Burt was that anonymous person that oils the wheels of the leviathan bureaucracy.

Carranza is surrounding himself with people he trusts and respects, the problem: can outsiders motivate, collaborate and move the school system? In other words, can they get things done.

We’re a month away from the opening of schools, I’ve read a lot about @equity @diversity, words that may trend on twitter, I’ve checked out the new management structure, I’ve yet to read anything about instruction, you know, that teaching/learning “thing.”

Why hasn’t the chancellor set forth an educational vision, at least a discussion of education?   How about curriculum?

There is no New York City curriculum, chancellors have talked about constructing one for years (decades?); however, only talk. New York State does have online curriculum modules, (EngageNY.gov) in some schools a script in others ignored, in others principals choose while in some schools/teachers actually construct curriculum.

The Common Core State Standards “created” an opt out movement, twenty percent of New York State parents have chosen to opt out of state tests and tests are widely viewed as onerous and meaningless. We’re still waiting for the results of the spring tests. The chancellor appears to still be wedded to the tests, and, the tests still determine school closings. Maybe the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) metrics, measuring growth in addition to proficiency will be fairer the new administration has been silent, too busy getting their management ducks in a row?

However, there is a growing group of influential educators, and, a few states, who realize that curriculum, aka, content, drives learning. Robert Pondisico, “The Widening of Content-Rich Curricula” makes the case for new, teacher-friendly, common sense reforms,

The idea advanced here—that content-rich, standards-aligned, and high-quality curricula may be the last, best, and truest arrow left in education reform’s quiver

* Use incentives, not mandates, to maintain local autonomy,

 * leverage teacher expertise and teacher leaders in the work, and,

 * use the procurement process to expand use of the highest-quality curriculum,

Take a few minutes and read the Pondisico article, maybe there is hope, I hope Carranza has read it.

I’ve read daily news articles about entrance criteria for specialized high schools and gifted and talents programs; issues that impact a few percent of the 1.1 millions students in the system. The announcement of the selection of the Executive Superintendents will be made and I wonder how the new bureaucracy will impact the 70,000 classroom teachers and the 1.1 million kids; hopefully not checking off more boxes on accountability metrics forms.

The diversity issue, the entrance requirements for specialized high schools and gifted programs is complex, advocates lined up on both sides of the issue; it’s an issue that will not fade away and no matter the outcomes there will be many, many unhappy advocates.

Our new chancellor needs allies and aside from his patron, the mayor, he needs the teachers union.

If you ask Mayor Bloomberg to identify his biggest mistake, and he was honest; he would say his decision not to fire his chancellor Joel Klein earlier and not to work with the union. As the union-mayor antagonism grew Bloomberg’s favorability ratings crashed, polls showed the public trusting teachers more than the mayor to make education decisions.

The Union-the City-the Department of Education are in the midst of contract negotiations, with a soft deadline of the beginning of school. The contract doesn’t expire until mid-February; however, the longer it takes to negotiate the  contract the better the odds that union-chancellor honeymoon has ended, and, the chances of a close collaboration fade.

Carranza needs the union and the union is a willing partner. Will the chancellor feel comfortable sharing power and authority with the union? Does the chancellor understand that local autonomy and teacher expertise are the keys to his success?

I worry that the chancellor and his staff will order pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise at Katz’s Deli.

One response to “Chancellor Carranza and his Team need allies: How about the Teachers’ Union?

  1. when you alienate and make enemies out of people who once were friends, you had better have lined up your allies before casting the others out, with a stupid and divisive school reform initiative , solely to increase representation of etnics who are not fairly represented. The cause to be sure is a noble one, the method is a treacherous one. But look who hired the man. The problem is readily solved by establishing Bx HS of Science, Bklyn Tech, and Stuyvesant HS “Satellite” schools. All diplomas will be sans the word satellite. The city has plenty of building properties in every boro. Let them renovate, and equip them and create these Satellite schools, and integrate them properly, not at the expense of any ethnic students. Do this and everyone will be the Chancellor’s ally, in spite of his leftist approaches to fixing problems. Didn’t we have a Miami guy once before? How did that work out?

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