NYS Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia Resigns – Stuns Board of Regents!

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Dear Commons Community,

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia surprised attendees at yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Regents with news that she’ll resign from her post by the end of August.  Her resignation takes effect Aug. 31.  As reported by various news media:

“I have an opportunity right now. I’m very excited about that opportunity. It plays to the things that I have most experience in and the work that I want to continue doing and it’s beyond New York State,” said Elia

Elia, who was appointed in 2015, said her next role would involve national education policy.

“I hope to translate the experiences I’ve gained from one of the largest, most complex education systems in the country into lessons to help improve classrooms, schools, and districts for students in every state,” Elia wrote in her resignation letter, also submitted Monday.

Elia worked to cool the controversy over the state’s teacher evaluation program and ease the department’s rollout of the troubled Common Core learning standards — all while attempting to reduce the number of opt-outs to the state’s standardized tests. She replaced John King, who left to take a federal post and ended up being promoted to U.S. Secretary of Education in the waning months of the Obama administration.

“For a period of time, we were in a stalemate,” she told reporters in a press conference Monday afternoon. “By calming the waters and by understanding the importance of teachers’ voices in virtually everything we do — that is one of the things that I’m most proud of.”

Elia conducted a listening tour, traveled around the state seeking feedback from school communities and educator, and later worked with the Legislature to reform the controversial law. She occasionally clashed with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over the level of state spending — including this year, when Elia told lawmakers in a hearing that the governor’s budget proposal was “substantially lower” than the Regents’ proposal.

New York’s education commissioner is selected by the Board of Regents, whose members are in turn selected by the Legislature, voting as a single body. Because of their numerical strength, this gives most of the influence over the leadership of state education policy to Assembly Democrats.

The state Council of School Superintendents thanked Elia for her leadership during the period of transition.

“She took over at a time when our schools were engulfed by controversies over testing, standards, and teacher evaluations,” the group said in a statement. “Her willingness to engage with the field in charting course adjustments was what we needed at the time.”

The powerful New York State United Teachers union wished her well and said it looked forward “to engaging with the Board of Regents as the search for the next commissioner begins and ensuring that the voices of hundreds of thousands of educators across New York State are heard throughout the process.”

During the past four years, Elia has also launched initiatives targeting vulnerable student populations, such as homeless youth, immigrants and English-language learners. She took the lead on implementation of the state’s $1.6 billion plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

While Elia’s announcement came as a shock to some member of the Board of Regents, the commissioner said she was first approached by a national education firm eight months ago. She declined to identify it, but said her new employer was “absolutely not” a lobbying entity.

While Elia denied that her decision stemmed from tension with the Regents, she said it seemed like a good time to transition to new leadership as the board members launched a host of new initiatives.

Elia, a western New York native, returned to the Empire State after running the 200,000-student Hillsborough County, Tampa, Fla., school system.”

We wish Ms. Elia well in her new venture!  Her leaving is a loss for New York State!


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