The New York State Board of Regents has officially named MaryEllen Elia as the first woman education commissioner for the state.
Elia’s first move was to speak up for New York’s teachers, who have repeatedly criticized the state’s efforts to implement tougher evaluations for teachers in addition to harder tests for students.
“Everything that happens for students happens in a classroom because of great teachers,” Elia said after her selection. “And I think the biggest thing we can all do is work to improve and support teachers to get better every day.”
Before being appointed as education commissioner in New York, Elia was in charge of the Hillsborough County School District in Florida, which includes Tampa. The district is the eighth-largest in the country.
Last December Elia was named Florida Superintendent of the Year and since then was one of four finalists for national superintendent of the year. However, Elia was removed from office in a vote by the district board after mounting criticism and debate concerning the decision throughout the district. Her contract was bought out by the board for $1.1 million, writes Joseph Spector for WGRZ.
Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch spoke out in favor of Elia, reinforcing her strong record. She added that Elia had been head of schools for the district for 10 years, where most superintendents in high-profile school posts usually only last a few years.
“You can read about someone and interpret the record, but actions speak louder than words,” Tisch said. “I think the board is very gratified to have this commissioner at this point in time with this record.”
Elia is taking over the role at a controversial time in New York. New evaluations for teachers and principals are set to be introduced by the Board of Regents by June 30, with schools being asked to implement them no later than November 15.
However, the state legislature is considering a delay due to increasing criticism over using standardized testing to grade students and teachers.
Elia said she feels that one of the main problems currently facing education policy is a lack of communication between schools and the government. She went on to say that one of her main goals would be to place more focus on collaboration between the two.
She added that the focus needs to be on helping teachers rather than firing poorly-rated ones, and that the new evaluation system should make that possible.
“We have not valued our teachers like they need to be valued,” she said. “That doesn’t meant that we don’t have accountability and that doesn’t mean we don’t say that someone needs to improve. Right now, we have to change that rhetoric.”
Elia will begin her new position on July 6 and will earn a salary of $250,000 per year.