Ever wonder what it takes to be a “senior deputy chancellor” in New York’s public schools?
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we spoke with DOE Senior Deputy Chancellor Marisol C. Rosales about her journey in New York as an immigrant, a Latina, and a longtime educator.
As senior deputy chancellor, Marisol helps to bridge the gap between policy makers and City families, working closely with the DOE’s First Deputy Chancellor and other senior DOE cabinet members to align educational priorities across all parts of the DOE. Prior to this role, Marisol served as Manhattan’s executive superintendent, where she oversaw 273 schools in Districts 1–6 that served a combined 125,000 students.
An Immigrant Story
“I spent the first 16 years of my life in Chile. I lived a privileged life and received a rich global education at English and French schools along with a school run by nuns from Ecuador. Our lives changed in 1986 when I moved to New York after being subjected to years of military dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet.
I had already graduated from high school in Chile with honors and was proud of my culture and heritage. But people made a lot of assumptions about me because I spoke emergent English. Only a few took the time to learn that I wasn’t just a brown girl who barely spoke English, but a girl who was passionate about math and science, civics and politics, sports, and so many other things.
My father was a respected businessman in Chile; he managed several large corporations. My mother own two convenience stores. In New York City, he became a taxi driver, and my mom became a cleaning lady in Manhattan, in the same borough where I later became the executive superintendent.”
A Journey Through Education
“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, probably because both of my parents believed in education. Also, because education really is the way to create opportunities and access for all children. I am grateful I had mentors who shared my Hispanic heritage and supported me along the way. During my 28 years in education, I have worked as a teacher, athletic director, assistant principal, principal, superintendent, executive superintendent, and now, senior deputy chancellor.
I am currently the only Latina in the Chancellor’s cabinet and the first to serve in this position. Latinx families and advocates tell me they’re thrilled to see a brown woman in this role and how important it is to see themselves represented at all levels of New York City’s public school system. Whether I’m visiting schools or being interviewed, I always let the community know that I’m a Latina, I’m one of them. I feel like I represent the brilliance, beauty, and strength our immigrant and minority students and families bring to our communities.”
“We all know that COVID-19 heightened the inequities and social-racial injustices in our school system and City. Black and brown communities were the hardest hit in terms of the impacts of the disease, losing family members, student learning loss, and access to nutritious meals. As the Manhattan executive superintendent at the time, I mobilized my entire team to ensure that every student had a working device and access to their schools and digital platforms. I also made sure that our attendance team was on top of students, encouraging them to log in for classes. Everything I do continues to be in service of our most vulnerable students.
Families want to know, in their own language, that our schools are safe. This is, by far, their number one concern. A lot of my work has been reassuring them that we follow strict public health protocols for absolutely everything, and we’re in constant communication with local health officials and with our families. Hispanic families love the fact that they can hear this from me in their own language. And they appreciate that I’m speaking not only as a Latina, but as a parent and educator.”
A Personal Calling
“I have several core believes that underpin all that I do. First, you never make assumptions about the children and families you serve because you don’t know their stories. You always support every one of them. And you take the time to learn what makes students brilliant and special, what they bring to the table, and how they contribute to this society.
The work we do with families is the best part of my job. I’m working with parent leaders to redefine ways to reach out to families who don’t have the access, let alone the time, to have a voice in their child’s education. The best way to create policy is when you co-construct it with families.”
How Identity Shapes Community
“I identify as a Latina, and I love all cultures and heritages. I believe that our public schools need to be diverse and integrated. As a child, I learned about world history, languages, art, and science. My best experiences as a teacher were in classrooms with students from different parts of the world, where students shared perspectives from different cultures and languages. It’s critical that we create spaces where students from different cultures can talk about politics, their own backgrounds, and the lived experiences that make them the unique, brilliant people that they are.”
On behalf of the NYC Department of Education, we thank Marisol for taking the time to speak with us about her life and career journey!
For more inspiring stories in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, check out our prior coverage right here on The Morning Bell, including our Hidden Voices feature on Dr. Antonia Pantoja and our handy age-appropriate booklist for children in grades K–12!