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Carranza, charming and idealistic, was hired with the explicit agenda to make the schools more integrated and to fix the racial achievement gap. His supporters hailed him as an “equity warrior.” He grew up speaking Spanish in a working-class Mexican American household in Tucson and understood that schools could reproduce inequality as easily as they could provide opportunity. He still recalls what he saw as the racist reaction to his giving mariachi-music lessons as an extracurricular in his first teaching job in Arizona. It was a seminal moment. “I realized that if you want to make change, you have to have the authority to change,” he says. “And as a classroom teacher, I didn’t have authority, so then I got my administrative credential.” As New York’s chancellor, he would be making those changes on a mass scale in a seemingly progressive city.
Three years later, Carranza resigned, ground down by the city’s relentless politicking and the pandemic. His New York years were marked by losses of all kinds. He lost a lot of weight, a transformation one observer told me “scans as self-flagellation.” His marriage broke up. Most devastatingly, he lost 11 friends and relatives to COVID. By this past winter, he seemed so exhausted and emotionally frayed that allies and adversaries alike became concerned.
Carranza had in some ways weathered a nigh-impossible political moment, its emotional stakes turned way up by the pandemic. School integration, Josh Wallack, one of his deputy chancellors, pointed out, is a relatively new litmus test for politicians. Its implications make many white parents uncomfortable on a number of levels. “The loud voice of social justice is creating a lot of feelings of guilt for people,” said Camille Casaretti, the president of the Community Education Council in Brooklyn’s rapidly gentrifying District 15. For many parents, that guilt is in competition with their love for and investment in their child’s success, which means appeals to the greater good can fall on deaf ears.