Friday, February 26, 2021

Hail and Farewell from the Chancellor

Dear Colleagues,
I hope you and your families are keeping safe and healthy, not that it would have anything to do with me or my actions. I’m writing today with some important news.
After three years leading the DOE, I will be stepping down as Chancellor at the end of March. Why wait until the new person comes in and get fired?
I am full of mixed emotions to leave the DOE family, because this is one heck of a gig. I mean, it beats working for sure. I am in awe of the huge salary. The work we have done together has given me a free house for years, and it truly sucks that I’ll soon be back to paying rent.  But hey, I’ve picked up a million bucks over the last three years, and expensed every cent that went out, so I’ll be cool.
When I started at the DOE in April of 2018, it was with a mission and a purpose: to help our system reach its full potential, so it could lift up as many children as possible in the way that only public education can.  Of course, once Blaz decided the schools had to stay open even after Broadway closed, I let them stay on in COVID-infested schools, along with you guys, while I sat in my office and played with the free paper clips.
Throughout my career, my guiding light has been the belief that public education is the most powerful equalizer for our young people. Public education anchors communities, and I left the buildings filthy enough that they felt like anchors to one and all. Public education makes it possible for a child who is poor, or who lives in temporary housing, or—in my own case—who doesn’t speak English when they enter the public school system, to catch COVID, and bring it home to his or her family. Truly, it is public education that expresses equity for all, except for those who, like me, can afford to send our kids to private schools that aren’t crumbling and neglected. My time here in New York City has only strengthened this belief, as I have seen it play out time and again in schools all across this amazing city.
So together, we got to work. Well, you did, anyway. And while our work is never “done”—there is always more to do to accomplish our dual missions of equity and excellence—we created a lot of change. We paid valuable lip service to ending the SHSAT, and while we’ve made no progress whatsoever on that front, people are still talking about that meeting in Queens I walked out of when it got too hot.
Together, we supported our students’ continued academic achievement. Our seniors kept breaking their own records as graduation rates and college enrollment kept rising higher, and the dropout rate kept getting lower. They keep passing those meaningless, vapid, Regents exams and leaving school with the valuable skill of passing meaningless, vapid Regents exams.
We made true progress in dismantling the structures and policies that are the products of decades of entrenched racism in the city and country. I myself tweeted just the other day that parents should opt out of standardized tests. Sure, Blaz dragged me into his office and barked at me for four hours, but hey, once I knew he was gonna give me the boot, I decided to resign and hope against hope that some other city would pay me to do my thing. Hey, if John King can become US Secretary of Education, anything is possible. 

We finally brought the mental health and social-emotional needs of our children into the spotlight and made it a major priority. Those of you who work directly with our students know that a child needs to feel welcomed, comfortable, and safe in their classroom and school community—especially now, when so many of our students are neither in classrooms nor school communities. And the ones who are, well, they’re socially distanced and wearing masks, and let me tell you, man, I’m glad it’s not me who’s gonna have to deal with those issues in years to come. 

And, of course, during the COVID-19 pandemic—a time none of us could have ever imagined—together we scrambled to appear we knew what to do at a time when none of us did. I myself made a handful of visits to antiseptic looking buildings that look little like the schools in which you work, and pretended your schools would look that way when you came back. 

This meant tireless hours preparing and teaching remotely; not for me of course, creating safe learning environments for children of essential workers; distributing 500,000 devices for remote learning; serving 80 million free meals; and our half-assed opening plan, the one that made three out of four New Yorkers say, “No way, Jose,” even though no one in charge actually holds that name.  

Throughout, I have been proud to prioritize what’s best for kids over what’s politically popular. I have never been afraid of hard conversations, except at that meeting in Queens where I turned and ran like a chicken facing Colonel Sanders. 

All of you, and all the children we serve, need and deserve both continuity and courageous leadership from your next Chancellor. I hope you get it, because you haven’t gotten it from me, Dennis Walcott, Cathie Black, Joel Klein, or anyone else I can remember. Good luck to my successor. This job is basically impossible if you do it right, which is why no one remembers anyone who has.  
More than anything, I am proud to have served with you, and so proud of the strides we have made. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I don’t know what’s next for me, but  you better believe I will pad my resume so that no one can figure what, if anything, actually happened during my three years here.

It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve as your Chancellor. I am grateful to each and every one of you who does the work so I don’t have to.
In unity,

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