Good morning, everyone.
Thank you, Steven Rubenstein, and ABNY, for all you do for New York City.
Thank you to our elected officials, business and labor leaders, advocates, and community leaders, who share my passion for education.
And a shout-out to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who brought me to this vibrant, aspirational City, New York City, to lead the nation’s largest public school system.
I am deeply honored to serve the City’s 1.1 million students.
We are here today because we know that the future economic viability of our City is sitting in our classrooms right now. The future artists, bankers, lawyers, engineers, journalists, teachers, and mayors, are in our classrooms. Today’s students trust that they are gaining the skills they need to become the citizens and leaders of tomorrow.
To honor that trust, we must create a school system that is equitable and excellent, that enables all students to achieve their potential.
To do that, we are going to have to rewrite history. The story that we rewrite today—the story we rewrite together—is one that doesn't accept the status quo. The story we rewrite with our students is of a future that is not bound by history, by zip code, by demographics. It is a story of lifting all our students and schools. It is about achieving Equity and Excellence for All.
This is personal for me.
Like many of you in this room, I’m a product of a public education. My grandparents came to the United States from Mexico and settled in Tucson, Arizona. My parents were hard-working Americans: my dad, a sheet-metal worker, my mom, a hairdresser. They were humble people, but proud of their heritage. My twin brother, Reuben, and I grew up speaking Spanish at home. Like some of you, we learned English in public school.
Now, my parents never attended college. But these non-college-educated adults knew that for their boys, the path forward included an education. Not education for the sake of being educated, but education because it gives you opportunity, because it’s a passport to the world.
I remember one experience that captures my parents’ dreams for their children. It was parents’ weekend, the beginning of freshman semester at the University of Arizona. As my brother and I walked my parents through the campus, my father surprised us, calling out, “that’s the social studies building, that’s the economics building, that’s the administration building.”
And I looked at my brother, he looked at me, and we said “Dad, how in the world do you know all of these buildings?
And he replied, “Mijo, I worked on that building. I installed the ductwork in that building. But never did I expect to one day be here as the father of students at this university.”
That’s the American Dream.
I know that across New York City, thousands of parents have the same dream that Simon and Dolores Carranza had for their boys.
I have devoted my life to public education because a strong public education is the greatest gift I ever received. My public education is the reason I chose to start my teaching career nearly 30 years ago at Pueblo High School in Tucson—the same high school that put me on the path to college and the kind of success my parents never could have imagined. A strong public education is the reason a child who didn’t speak English until he entered kindergarten could rise to become this City’s Schools Chancellor.
I know—just as Mayor de Blasio knows, just as educators in San Francisco and Houston, and the other cities where I have worked know—that public education is an investment in our City’s, and our nation’s, future.
A public school education can change lives.
How do we deliver on the promise of public education for all our students? That’s a tall order.
Naturally, when I first arrived in New York, I sought answers from the people who knew our school system the best: our students, parents, educators, staff members, elected officials, business leaders, and community partners throughout the City.
During my first months on the job, I spoke to thousands of people and really got under the hood of this large, complex school system. I heard about our strengths—and our challenges. As I listened and learned, I realized that while we didn’t have all the solutions, we were all part of the solution.
I felt optimistic because I realized that: New Yorkers always dream big, and do big things. New Yorkers know that education is the cornerstone of our democracy.
The last four years under this administration have given us a strong foundation on which to build. Graduation rates are at historic highs, dropout rates at record lows, and our students are performing stronger than ever in English language arts and math.
We are on track to meet our goals of an 80 percent graduation rate and two-thirds college readiness rate by 2026.
At the same time, we know that opportunity gaps persist. We must accelerate our work to reverse historic inequities, empower communities, and intervene throughout a child’s journey through our system to keep them on a path to graduation, college, and meaningful employment. We have to deepen our Equity and Excellence for All agenda—make it even stronger, and more systemic.
I believe the way a leader takes on big challenges is by visualizing and articulating a goal—and by taking actions to get there. With the clear goal of achieving equity and excellence for all our students and their families, I’ve laid out four priorities for the coming year.
For me, the first priority we have as a school system is to accelerate learning and instruction.
This is our bread and butter: rigorous classroom instruction. How do I, as Chancellor, affect instruction in the classroom? How do we provide a clear, coherent, and high-quality instructional approach across our schools?
I started the work this summer by rolling out a new leadership and support structure. The focus had to be on bridging the divide between the central DOE and our schools. It had to be on making my staff—and the entire central DOE— work better for our kids, our schools, and our communities.
The new structure creates clear lines of accountability from each classroom directly to me. It brings resources closer to schools—where they need to be. It aligns support and supervision—so that the support that schools get align to what’s expected of them, and so schools don’t get conflicting directions from different offices.
Our realignment also solved a problem in our academic offices. Prior to my arrival last April, we had great, hard-working people focused on issues relating to English language learners. Great, hard-working people in special education. Great, hard-working people supporting English and Social Studies and science education. But rarely did they have the opportunity to work with one another.
Let me tell you why that matters—because when children show up at our schools they are whole. They aren’t simply English language learners, or special education students. They are whole, and so too must our systems that support them.
Under the leadership of our new chief academic officer, we will unify and streamline instructional supports to our schools. We will provide robust professional development and curricular resources for our 79,000 teachers.
We will ensure that every student knows how to write well, think like a scientist, understand history, and even learn computer science. A New York City public school diploma must mean that our graduates are critical thinkers, are articulate and passionate on issues they care about, and can work in teams and collaborate to achieve big things.
If you think all children can’t learn at high levels, I’d like to tell you about something I retweeted during my first few months here in New York.
It was a tweet with a quote from a six-year-old student that said, “My teacher thought I was smarter than I was. So I was.”
Let me repeat that: “So I was.”
That’s a powerful reminder that our students will deliver what WE EXPECT of them. So, we must make this a system of high expectations for all students.
Our second priority is to partner with communities.
We won’t achieve equity and excellence until we really empower parents and communities.
Helping parents engage isn’t really enough. You see, it’s easy to engage parents. If a student doesn’t get into the afterschool program that they wanted to get into, I guarantee you the parent will be engaged. If a student doesn’t get into a specialty program, the parent will be engaged. Engagement is a very low bar.
But when you empower parents to be advocates for their children? That changes everything.
So, do parents know what they should be talking to teachers about at parent-teacher conference night? Do parents know what their child should know at the end of this school year or at the end of this semester? Or at the end of the unit? Do parents know how to access information to make good decisions for their children?
Knowledge is power.
There is already some good work underway that we will expand on:
No longer are we making families come to us, we’re bringing resources and services to them. We’re doing it in their native languages, so they can make the best decisions for their children.
Let me share an example.
Last month, I attended our first-ever Spanish-language specialized high school information fair in the Bronx.
Now, I’m not a big fan of the specialized high school admissions process based on a single test—but no matter how the system operates, we need to make sure all of our families are empowered with information to navigate it.
So here’s what we did:
We identified top-performing middle-school students whose home language was Spanish. We called their homes and invited them and their parents to an information session. At the information session, we talked to them about what the specialized high schools are, about the Specialized High School Admissions Test, how you can get tutoring for the test, the timeline for preparing for and taking the test.
The session was conducted entirely in Spanish.
I heard from so many of those Spanish-speaking parents who said, “I’ve never had this kind of information.”
Community empowerment was also a focus of our restructure this summer. During my listening tour, families repeatedly asked me questions like, “Who do I go to for a problem at my child’s school?” “How do I get my child’s test scores?”
So, we’re helping parents and families navigate our complex system. If you’re not getting the answers you need, now there’s a geographically based executive superintendent for you to go to. It’s that simple. The buck stops there.
We will provide the infrastructure and systems for our parents to be empowered and active, particularly in historically underserved communities.
Our third priority is to develop our people.
Our 145,000 employees are our most important asset. We will build every individual and every team across the system to reach its fullest potential.
If we expect our students to achieve excellence, then we must support our educators and leaders, and all of our staff members.
Finally, if we are to accomplish everything that I’ve laid out so far, we must have a fourth priority—to advance equity now.
We cannot have excellence, we cannot improve outcomes, without tackling inequities in all forms throughout the system.
This means investing in historically underserved communities—with resources, time, attention, and direction. Let me give you an example of what this looks like:
On the first day of school this year, I had the pleasure of visiting two Advanced Placement classes at a high school in Soundview in the Bronx.
The students were fantastic. They were tackling the challenging topic of gun violence in our communities and schools.
In AP U.S. History, students were using a “discussion protocol” to talk about the 2nd Amendment— tying that into a much larger conversation about whether or not America has lived up to its ideals as a nation.
In AP Psychology, students were actively citing evidence from their summer reading to connect policing in their communities to questions of bias, perception, and how our brains think and react.
As part of the Mayor’s and my Equity and Excellence for All agenda, we’re investing in AP courses like these at over 250 schools, about 80 of which had none before.
Imagine that: students at 80 schools across the City who were getting the message that they’re not ready for rigorous, college-prep work. The message that we were sending was that we don’t think they can cut it in courses that might get them college credit. Eighty schools that are, overwhelmingly, in places like Soundview, the South Bronx, and Central Brooklyn.
That’s not an accident. And we’re not going to fix it by accident either.
And so, as we invest in and expand programs like AP for All, and deepen our Equity and Excellence for All agenda, we need to be intentional. We need to unpack disparities and ask ourselves: Where are we perpetuating inequities? What actions can we take to address them?
We are going to apply an equity lens to everything we do—where we put programs, and how we fund them. We have already expanded our anti-bias training—then expedited it—so it will reach every educator in two years. We have prioritized our 3-K for All and Universal Literacy initiatives to reach the highest-needs communities the fastest.
And yes, when we talk about equity we are going to acknowledge the elephant in the room: segregation.
I have been doing that since day one.
I will remind you that integrating schools is about expanding opportunity, not shrinking it. It doesn’t lower academic achievement for anybody, it improves it for all. The research is clear—integration is good for every single child.
We need to confront this problem head on. We have already started to integrate schools in some of our most segregated school districts. We are working to create more opportunities for students in specialized schools.
We are taking a hard look at some of our enrollment practices from 3-K through twelfth grade—why do we have the systems that we do, and are they in the best interest of our kids? Are they in the best interest of our City—of its future economic viability that rests on our public schools?
The work of integrating schools and adding more opportunity across all of our schools—with AP courses and 3-K programs and literacy coaches—go together. We must have high-quality schools in every neighborhood, and learning experiences that students and families are excited about.
On the opening day of school last week, I looked at all the bright, young faces and I could see how eager these students were to learn and grow. To become responsible, accomplished adults.
And I realized that educating the next generation of leaders is not the job of one Chancellor, or any one person. It is the job of millions.
When we get this right, we intervene in the life of students like Marco, a young man from the Bronx I met who is living in temporary housing.
In the old system, Marco could move from under-served school to under-served school. In the old system, he wouldn’t be viewed as elite, or special. In the old system, he might well become a statistic. A drop out.
But when we get this right, Marco’s teachers from 3-K all the way through graduation, see him for the brilliance between his ears, not just the struggles his family overcomes each day.
You see, Marco, like 1.1 million other children across the City is more than a label. Marco is a future doctor, a future lawyer, a future leader. If we’re lucky, Marco is a future teacher.
This is a vision that we can make real for Marco and for every child in all five boroughs.
We need all of you: your ideas, your time, your commitment.
Together, we can create a school system that reflects the best of this diverse, inspiring, innovative City.
If any City can achieve true equity and excellence, it is the City that shines bright as an example for the world, the City with Lady Liberty welcoming people from all over the world with a message that personally resonates for me:
You see equity and excellence isn’t something new. It’s the very fiber of New York City. A City built by immigrants. A City of languages. A City of courage. A City of vision. A City of hope.