making friends

As opt-out debates continue, state’s top education officials work to stay united

PHOTO: Monica Disare
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia visited the School of Diplomacy in the Bronx in 2015.

New York state’s top two education leaders are on the same page. They promise.

One day after Regents Chancellor-elect Betty Rosa made waves by saying she would opt her own child out of state tests, the state’s education commissioner told regional superintendents that the two had had a “productive conversation” about assessments in an email outlining their “shared view” on state tests.

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia’s message indicates her desire to reassure educators that the state’s top education officials are united in their quest to revamp state assessments, which one in five eligible students opted out of last year. Meanwhile, Rosa said in a radio interview that she is on board with how Elia has publicized new changes to those tests.

“It’s not a surprise to anybody that the commissioner and the department would want to refocus people’s attention,” said Jay Worona, the deputy executive director for the state’s School Boards Association.

Worona thinks the two women are more unified on test policy than the headlines from Monday’s press conference have lead people to believe. But Elia has said it is “unethical” for educators to encourage the testing boycott — though Rosa seemed to endorse the impulse earlier this week.

Elia has also been on a campaign to inspire test-taking. She often emphasizes changes the department has made to the tests in the last year, including giving students unlimited time to complete the exams and shortening them altogether.

Rosa refused to say she wanted to see the number of opt-outs decrease, but complimented Elia’s work during a radio interview this week.

“I think that this commissioner, in a short period of time, has done an incredible job,” Rosa said to WCNY’s Susan Arbetter.

The Board of Regents oversees the state education department, which means Rosa and Elia will have to work closely to overhaul the state’s learning standards and assessments. In her email, Elia said she and Rosa agree they must continue to ensure that assessments accurately measure student learning and make sure the tests are not too long or too stressful.

It also reflects a note of compromise. Elia gives a nod to parents’ right to have their children boycott the tests, but in the same breath outlines the changes that the state education department has already made.

“The decision of whether a student should take the State assessments is ultimately for that student’s parent or parents to make. But in making that decision, we want to be certain that everyone has all of the information they need to make an informed decision,” the email reads.

The email was sent to BOCES district superintendents, who sometimes act as liaisons between the state education department and school districts. Many of those officials shared the information with other superintendents and principals, state officials said.

It remains to be seen whether opt-out organizers, who have endorsed and celebrated Rosa, will continue to support her if she remains satisfied with the commissioner’s positions. They have already dismissed Elia’s testing changes as meaningless tweaks.

But so far, neither their disdain for Elia nor their confidence in Rosa has diminished.

“Under Dr. Rosa’s leadership, Commissioner Elia has an excellent opportunity to regain the trust of both parents and educators,” Bianca Tanis, an elementary school special education teacher and co-founder of the New York State Allies for Public Education, wrote in an email.

Rosa will also have to work with the city’s schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, who said earlier this year she is “not a fan” of opt-out. Education department officials said that Fariña has been in touch with both Elia and Rosa since Rosa’s election, and that the city schools chancellor looks forward to working with them in the future.

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.