New New York City schools chancellor prepares to meet students

LOWER MANHATTAN, New York (WABC) -- Richard Carranza is the new chancellor of New York City schools, the biggest public system in the country, and he's just finished his first week on the job.

The 29th person to hold the position is fast accumulating quite a to-do list, and keep in mind, this is a man who spoke only Spanish until he himself became a public school student.

He's already had his pastrami sandwich at Katz's with the mayor and already spoken to some teachers. Now, he'll meet the students when they return to class Monday after spring break.

"Job number one is to get to know the system," he said. "Nobody likes a know-it-all. I'm not coming to New York City with all the solutions. Nobody has all the solutions. What I am is a big subscriber in engaging people and asking the right questions...the 1.1 million students in our classrooms are the future of New York City and the future of America. It's the future television personality, the future chancellor, a future plumber, future phlebotomist."

Graduation rates in the schools are up from just 50 percent 18 years ago to more than 75 percent now, but there's still a long way to go. There are some thorny issues, like segregation, as New York has some of the most ethnically segregated schools in the country.

"That means making sure we have great schools in every single borough, every neighborhood," he said. "So families feel like they truly have a choice and the choice is not across town."

Another controversy is the short hours, with kids out at 3 p.m. and hours of idle time afterwards.

"I am a big supporter of extending school days," he said. "I think you have an opportunity for many enrichment programs, and that is part of a community schooling approach."

Carranza understands what schools can do. He is the son of immigrants from Mexico, grew up in Arizona and spoke no English until he went to school. His mom was a hairdresser, his dad a sheet metal worker.

"They only spoke Spanish until we went to school, because they trusted the schools to teach us English," he said. "Think about the trust they had in the public schools. That is why I'm such an unabashed of the things that I thank my father very much for is that he taught me how to play the guitar at a very young age, and I worked my way through college playing in a Mariachi group."

Carranza said he might be persuaded to play Mariachi music publicly, maybe for schools fundraiser.

Another problem he has to deal with is that 10 percent of city school students are homeless.

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