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The CEOs of Reynolds, Portland and New York City schools discuss ways to boost learning for all

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Guadalupe Guerrero, the superintendent of Portland Public Schools, Danna Diaz, newly arrived superintendent of Reynolds School District and Richard Carranza, chancellor of New York City Department of Education,  discuss their experiences and views on education. Three Latino school superintendents discussed how to close the chronic achievement gap among students and bemoaned how the current political environment is making that work more challenging.

"The trauma people feel right now is real," Richard Carranza, chancellor of New York City Department of Education, told a forum Wednesday, July 18, at Portland's Franklin High School.

The superintendents were: Danna Diaz, head of the Reynolds School District in East Multnomah County for only three weeks; Guadalupe Guerrero, the superintendent of Portland Public Schools; and New York's Carranza, who heads the largest school district in the nation with 1.1 million students.

"Students exhibit trauma just getting to school," Carranza said.

Three superintendents, all bilingual in Spanish, described challenges they themselves faced going to public schools. Diaz discussed her background as a high school drop out, and as a teen mom.

Guerrero said, "I never saw a teacher of any kind of complexion" while she was in school.

The trio have worked together as members of the same cohort in the leadership academy of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents and shared an easy camaraderie.

All head very diverse districts.

For example, about half of Reynolds students are English Language learners and more than 50 languages are spoken in the district. About 40 percent of Reynolds students are Hispanic and about 10 percent are black.

There was not much in the way of specific suggestions or strategies offered in the hour-long program, which was presented by United Way of the Columbia-Willamette.

Guerrero said a "coherent theory of action" must be set up across the district to make certain students of color are getting the education they need "so you don't have a boutique reform" strategy with different plans and strategies in different schools.

The public education system set up by the founding fathers "is set up to give us the returns we have gotten," Carranza said, adding "perhaps it is the system, structure and politics that are not meeting the needs of the children of color."

Diaz agreed that "the organizational model was not created for us."

Carranza suggested in educating children "sometimes we have to ask, 'why do you do it that way?'"

Diaz said she sees herself in the customer service business and the students and families as her customers.

"What am I going to do to provide them with excellent customer service?" she said.

Carranza answered one question put to the panel in Spanish, bringing home the point that being an English Language Learner in school is no walk in the park.

Guerrero emphasized "the incredible urgency we feel in this work."

But he also added that as serious as everyone is in closing the achievement and opportunity gap, "learning has got to be joyful."

Diaz amplified that by adding, "I always practice love. One thing that is very important is that we do what we do with love."

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