Richard Carranza, introduced to the community as the new superintendent of the Houston ISD Thursday night made several indelible impressions: he's not very tall, he speaks equally well in both Spanish and English and the man can really sing. We know the last part because he did just that in the tail end of a press conference, accompanied by high school mariachi players.
Thursday, after a 21-day waiting period, trustees of the Houston ISD made it official, unanimously hiring Carranza, a bilingual public school superintendent from San Francisco as their next superintendent just in time for the start of school next Monday. He'll still be shuttling back and forth between here and San Francisco for a while, but he pledged to spend the first day of school here and said after Labor Day he'll be here full time.
Describing himself as "the son of a hair dresser and a sheet metal worker," Carranza said he and his brother entered elementary school not speaking English because his parents wanted them to retain their heritage "and they trusted the public schools would teach us English." He said the only way he was able to get to where he is today is because of the public education system.
On July 26, board members had named Carranza their sole finalist to replace former Houston ISD
superintendent Terry Grier. They'll be paying Carranza $345,000 a year on a three-year contract with a provision to extend that. He and the board will still have to work out any performance pay, which won't start till the 2017-18 school year.
Trustees took turns extolling Carranza's virtues — mainly his ability to work with diverse student populations — and all was mostly first day honeymoon verbiage til it was trustee Jolanda Jones's turn to talk. Saying that she was confident that Carranza will address the achievement gap for African Americans, she went on to express her concerns about the percentage of African-American students in HISD who've been subject to suspensions and expulsions at a rate much higher than their percentage of the student population as a whole.
Jones has been an outspoken critic of Carranza's predecessor Grier and didn't miss the opportunity to bring the last superintendent up again. Grier, she said, had been allowed to bring in "cronies" from outside the district and she seemed to indicate that anyone Carranza brings in from outside HISD will be vetted by the school board before that person could be hired. "I'm pleased that you're going to put the people you want to hire before us and we can have discussions about that," she said.
Swinging easily back and forth between questions from the Spanish- and English-language media, Carranza talked about "supporting our teachers in the classroom" and how to ensure equity of opportunity for all students. He said he and the board, who've started referring to each other as a "board of 10" were united in their No. 1 goal: student success. He readily conceded that the district he's coming from is much smaller than Houston, but didn't seem at all fazed by the chance to operate on a larger scale.
"I'm incredibly honored to be in Houston. I want to be in Houston. And I'm proud to be a Houstonian," he said. "I'm a teacher. I was a decade in the classroom. I know what it's like to do a lesson plan and have it go south the first two minutes you walk into the classroom. I know what that's like. School district work is very much like that lesson plan. You have to be prepared; you have to anticipate. "
Sitting in the audience, former school board member Juliet Stipeche, now the Education Liaison for Mayor Sylvester Turner, was singled out by School Board President Manuel Gonzalez . Carranza spoke about how he hopes to build a network between the school district and the city.
"It's how we think about creating pathways. How we think about creating systems and structures to ensure that students don't fall through the cracks. How do we work with our city and our city officials and our elected officials to create a web of services that's intertwined, that's collective, that's a collective impact so that when a student comes to school and that student is homeless we don't expect the teacher or the principal to find that student housing but we have a city agency that can probably connect them to services," Carranza said.
In San Francisco, Carranza was recognized for his efforts to emphasize bilingual education and was a proven money raiser from private donors — something that should come in handy with the money woes the district is facing. In fact, when asked what he thought was the most serious issue facing the district, Carranza said "the recapture," which is the $162 million the state wants the district to return to it after declaring HISD a property rich district despite its high percentage of students on free- and reduced-price lunches.
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Named to the superintendency of the San Francisco Unified School District in 2012, Carranza was up for consideration for the top job in the Los Angeles school district but withdrew his name from consideration in January. At that time, he said he was really happy in the work he was doing in San Francisco.
Before coming to San Francisco, Carranza was a regional superintendent and principal in Las Vegas, and a high school principal in Tucson. Prior to that, he taught bilingual social studies and music. A graduate of the University of Arizona with a bachelor's degree in Secondary Education. He earned a master's in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University.