Chancellor Carranza Takes Flight and Porter Takes Off

Mar 1, 2021 by

“The King is dead. Long live the king!”

That’s what they used to say centuries ago.  It was meant as an affirmation of the eternal continuation of a cherished institution.  “The Chancellor has resigned. Welcome aboard, Caretaker!” doesn’t have the same ring.

The pandemic would have been a jinx for any chancellor, but it was time for Chancellor Richard Carranza to move on anyway.  He is an easy act to follow but his legacy will be tough to shake off.   He was not a great leader but neither was he a rogue.  

The character-defining genius of Roosevelt and Churchill might never have emerged when tested by cataclysmic events had they been reduced to being executive pawns, as Carranza has been to the grandmasters of Cuomo, DeBlasio and Fauci.   

 He has taken much of the rap for the pandemic-related paralysis of the school system, which seems logical, since he was nominally the boss.

He had his hands full even when crucial decisions were out of his hands, such as reopening schools. But even prior to the murderous virus, Carranza was neither an inspiring leader nor an impressive problem solver.  

Critics familiar with his prior record in Houston and San Francisco predicted that confidence in him would prove a lost cause. He wasn’t much of a tonic for many of the same ailments that affect most large urban school systems.

But to his credit, Carranza never followed the notorious playbook of his Bloomberg-era predecessors. That’s high praise.  He didn’t view teachers or the United Federation of Teachers as mortal foes, as did chancellors Klein and Walcott,  who never rose to the level  of being half-bad.  

Instead, Carranza  valued the education profession and the union that speaks for them.

Even when he was an adversary, he was not an all-out antagonist. Let’s not minimize the value of that. Carranza’s flaws were legion but not vile. Sometimes mediocrity is superior to formidability.

By circumventing regular hiring and promotional practices, he engorged the puffed up DOE bureaucracy with ludicrously overcompensated cronies.  The finger is pointed at him also for floundering the roll- out of remote learning and not ensuring that students had the technological means to access it.

He is even blamed for  sinking academic and disciplinary standards and using fudged data to conjure the illusion of higher graduation rates and lower suspension rates that bore no semblance to reality.   

Private school supporters censure him for his zealous advocacy of public dollars for public schools and  proclaim that Carranza’s disparagement of standardized tests, though research-based, is nonetheless proof that he is apathetic to ignorance and its enabler.

The most disturbing accusation leveled at Carranza is that is he severely exacerbated tensions, disunity, segregation and alienation along racial lines. His mandated “implicit bias training”, honorably designed to bridge differences and further healing and understanding, in some quarters had the paradoxical opposite effect.  

It backfired.

But that was not necessarily Carranza’s fault.  The presentation tended to be rigid and polemical and inflamed rather than alleviated intolerance, according to some critics. He may have been a bit overbearing, but his intention was not indecent.  

The lessons themselves were not only excusable, but morally necessary. If Carranza’s heart was in the right place, we ought not drive a stake through it.

I doubt that Carranza is leaving because of a schism with the mayor or primarily to deal with the loss of eleven family and close childhood friends, though no doubt he is genuinely shaken.  He certainly doesn’t need to “save face.”

Surveying the prospective return to normalcy in September, he said that “the light is at the end of the tunnel.”  Hopefully if that tunnel is winding, the light will know how to follow the bends.

In a few days, Bronx Executive Superintendent Meisha Porter will be the chancellor.  She’ll likely be replaced in January when a new mayor is elected.  

To celebrate her appointment to the executive superintendency, four hundred people each forked over $111 to attend an ostentatious bash that has been likened to a Hollywood A-list party.  Nothing wrong with that, since the allegation that the invitations were like offers that couldn’t be refused has apparently not been proved. 

Questionable taste is not a violation.

Her detractors have subjectively claimed that Ms. Porter polarized some educators by treating them unequally on the basis of race, gender, religion and age and that she practiced favoritism, retaliation, and made some people  uncomfortable by her use of the word “solidarity”.

Time will tell.  

Let’s not automatically grant credibility to the charge, but instead trust that her vision will not be clouded by the cataract of ideology. Perception is only a potential fact under assumption of a certifiable truth. Faith in the good-will of others often proves a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I predict that if she sticks close to our shared core values she’ll be fine.

Among her achievements, Meisha Porter brings something unique to the chancellorship: plumbing skills. According to Chalkbeat, plumbing was her major at Queens Vocational High School. That’s a tribute not only to her but also to our technical education programs. 

There’s plenty of plumbing to be done in the leak-prone hideaways at Tweed.

As a condition to accepting the chancellorship a few years ago,  Richard Carranza demanded a pay increase that was more than $100,000 above that received by his predecessor, Carmen Farina.   It would be a terrific gesture with immense symbolic appeal and importance, were Meisha Porter to donate the difference to an educational  charity.

On the first day of every school year, I used to tell my middle school students, many of whom had been considered “difficult”, that I would not familiarize myself with their “cumulative permanent record” until later in the term, because I didn’t want their past problems, real or falsely attributed, to subconsciously influence my expectations of them.

This is a new beginning for Meisha Porter, our school communities and all New Yorkers. Now please be seated in the first seat of the front row at the Department of Education, Chancellor Porter, and good luck!

Ron Isaac

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.