NY's New Education Commissioner: Communication Is Key

May 28, 2015

Newly appointed State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia says her first order of business is to listen to parents, teachers and administrators around New York.

Credit Karen DeWitt

Beginning July 6, Elia will lead a state education system that has overseen several years of contested reforms around teacher performance, learning standards and student testing. With students opting out of Common Core tests in record numbers this year, the appointment comes at a critical time in the state.

Elia, a former western New York teacher who went on to lead a massive district in Tampa, was introduced by the Board of Regents on Tuesday. She plans to hit the ground running.    “I always feel like communication is a key to any kind of an implementation and any kind of a change. We’ve had a lot of changes, we continue to have changes, both here in New York but clearly in Florida and I think it’s important for us to communicate with all of those people that have a stake in what’s happening in education. So yes, my plan would be to be out in the state, listening to various groups and getting feedback  and making sure that there’s response when that feedback is brought back to the department.”

David Albert, director communications at the New York State School Boards Association, says the board is encouraged by the academic gains Elia sparked in Florida's Hillsborough County school system during her tenure as a teacher and administrator.  "New York's public schools need a leader who can reconcile opposing views among stakeholders over controversial issues, navigate the political complexities of the legislative process, and work with the Board of Regents to forge cogent policies that will make New York's education system student-focused."

Wendy Liberatore, Statewide Communications Coordinator with the Alliance For Quality Education, hopes Elia's hands-on work in the Florida school district will equip her to support the diverse needs of New York’s 2.7 million students. "One thing is clear, for any commissioner to succeed in New York state they will need to listen to parents and treat them as partners in public education. No skill will be more important for Commissioner Elia than the ability to work with parents. Collaboration with parents is vital to improving struggling schools, promoting educational equity, addressing the over emphasis on high-stakes testing, and increasing charter school accountability."

And chiming in on behalf of charters, James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center: "The charter sector is looking forward to building a strong working relationship with incoming Commissioner Elia. I'm confident that she will treat all public schools equally as a matter of policy and ensure that the voices of lower income parents demanding more and better public school options are heard loud and clear."

Elia's appointment came after a nearly five-month search by the Board of Regents to replace former Commissioner John King, who left the department at the end of 2014 to take a job with the U.S. Department of Education.