Four years ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio asked me to unretire at age 70 to join his leadership team and become Schools Chancellor.
At every step in my professional and personal life, when asked to take on a new challenge, I’ve always referred back to the poem “To Be of Use.”
The poem begins, “The people I love the best jump into work head first.”
For those of us who have a deep commitment to our work – and this is particularly the case for educators – saying no is almost impossible. When faced with a need and work that is meaningful, no matter the difficulty or the sacrifice, we say yes. Together, we produce transformative results.
And so, with great excitement and enthusiasm, I said “yes” to Mayor de Blasio. I did so because of my faith in the promise of public education to level the playing field, transform lives, and give every child opportunities regardless of their zip code. I took the job with a firm belief in excellence for every student, in the dignity and joyfulness of the teaching profession, and in the importance of trusting relationships where collaboration is the driving force. These are the beliefs that I have built over five decades as a New York City educator, and they have been at the heart of the work we have done together for the past four years.
Today, I want to share with you my plans to retire (again) in the coming months. As I begin to prepare to step down as Chancellor, I want to reflect on our accomplishments and thank the incredible New York City educators, parents, and students who have made the work more engaging, meaningful, and joyful.
I think of each of you with gratitude as I read this line in “To Be Of Use”: “I want to be with people who submerge in the task.”
Submerging in the task with all of you has been an enormous gift.
- First and foremost, to our 1.1 million schoolchildren, who deserve hope in your lives, success in and out of the classroom, and a meaningful future. You are the reason we strive every day to be of use;
- To our superintendents and your teams, who rise to the occasion to support principals and cultivate success. You never hesitate when called upon, and your leadership provides direction for our shared work;
- To our principals and your teams, who understand that a good night’s sleep only comes when there is a strong teacher in every classroom and that collaboration brings about positive results. Your days are long, your sacrifice immense, and your reward indescribable;
- To our teachers, who know that public education changes lives. You work tirelessly for every student and family, and infuse the excitement of learning in every classroom and school;
- To our families, who are our children’s first teachers. Only by continuing to work together can we help ensure our children reach their full potential. I have total admiration for the sacrifices you make – as newly arrived immigrants, single parents, families juggling multiple jobs, or even adults trying to communicate with students at the most difficult age group, teenagers. With your partnership, we have redoubled our family engagement – and listening to your concerns is what constantly makes us better;
- To our custodians and facilities experts, who make each building welcoming, joyful and safe. Your commitment is deeply valued, and your dedication makes a difference for our students, our staff, and our families;
- To the administrative support teams, who make the impossible seem easy. Your work to make every school day smooth and ensure every question is answered and every need met sets an example of service for us all;
- To the co-located campuses, and everyone in our school system working to break down silos. You are proving that collaboration works better than competition, and that by working together we can achieve more than any one of us could accomplish alone; and
- To our teams across the DOE, who work every day to make a difference. Sometimes you impact thousands of lives, sometimes hundreds, and some days, just one. But each day, you make a difference in the life of a child, and in that, you are changing the course of history.
Thank you all for the hard work you’ve done, and that you’ll continue to do. You jump into work, you submerge in the task.
It has been the greatest honor to serve as your Chancellor, and I look forward to our shared work ahead.