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March 24, 2019

Second shakeup at NYC schools office that serves kids learning English

January 13, 2019
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza is making big changes for students leaning English in city schools. (Jefferson Siegel / New York Daily News)

Chancellor Richard Carranza’s shakeup of services for more than 150,000 kids who are learning English in the public schools is running into trouble, concerned staffers charge.

Carranza, the bilingual grandson of Mexican immigrants, is overhauling the former Office of English Language Learners after attempts to fix the long-struggling division by ex-Chancellor Carmen Fariña had mixed results.

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Carranza rebranded the division as the Office of Multilingual Learners in November to add a positive spin and now he’s making more than two dozen high-level staffers in charge of policy reapply for their jobs.

He also appeared to seek the removal the former head of the division, Milady Baez, with a public farewell in a widely circulated email.

But Baez remains on payroll, and draws a $169,735 salary in a Queens field support office.

To replace her, Carranza tapped Mirza Sanchez Medina, a well-regraded principal.

Meanwhile, Carranza made the unpopular decision to hire two staffers from his former districts in San Francisco and Houston for senior roles in the office without posting one of the jobs at all and posting the other for just over two weeks.

The transformation is meant to help immigrant kids learning English as a second language. Their graduation rates have plummeted since Mayor de Blasio took office.

But insiders say the shakeup is looking more like an expensive boondoggle that may not help kids at all.

“There’s a lot of anxiety and low morale,” said one staffer who asked to remain anonymous.

“None of the positions have been filled and people are significantly more up in arms because they’re getting no information on whether they have their jobs or not,” the staffer added. “Everything is up in the air.”

Carranza’s current overhaul of the $40 million program is its second major shakeup since de Blasio took office in 2014.

Education Department officials said the changes will not affect the overall budget, and staffers moved out of the division in the shakeup will receive posts elsewhere in the school system.

Carranza, who took the city’s top schools job in March, has made helping kids learning English a priority. One of his first major policy announcements was the unveiling of 50 new bilingual programs for public schools in August.

Roughly half of the students learning English in city schools are immigrants. They do less well academically than students who are native speakers.

In 2014, then-Chancellor Fariña moved services for those children out of the Education Department’s division for kids with disabilities, and brought Baez out of retirement to helm the effort.

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But graduation rates for English-as-a-second-language students tanked in 2017, prompting state education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to remark on the “disturbing” situation. City Education Department officials blamed the dropping numbers on reporting changes.

Education Department spokeswoman Danielle Filson said that the current shakeup of the new Office of Multilingual Learners is a component of Carranza’s larger overhaul of the school system’s central bureaucracy — and it will benefit students.

“Every decision we’re making is about better serving our multilingual students,” Filson said. “We’re putting the right structure and leaders in place, and the new Division of Multilingual Learners will work more closely and effectively with schools and other DOE divisions.”

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