The Empire State Supervisors and Administrators (ESSAA) had its monthly Stakeholder Meeting on Thursday, December 7th, 2017 with Commissioner of Education – Mary Ellen Elia, and Senior Deputy Commissioner – Jhone Ebert.

Present at the meeting representing ESSAA were: ESSAA President – Carol Conklin Spillane, ESSAA Vice President-Ryan Schoenfeld, ESSAA Vice President-John Rickert, ESSAA Vice President – Shireen Fasciglione, and ESSAA Regents Liaison-Paul Scampini.

The topics discussed included:

1.      Principal Preparation Project 

Mrs. Fasciglione began the meeting by mentioning to Commissioner Elia that a group of ESSAA members had a very positive experience when they recently met with Dr. Ken Turner, who is overseeing the Principal Preparation Project.

The Commissioner went on to say that as part of the project recommendations, the new Educational Leadership Standards will be formally adopted at the upcoming December Board of Regents meeting.  NYSED is currently working with higher education institutions to ensure that the new standards are implemented into principal preparation program curricula and internship experiences.  She also mentioned the possibility of offering microcredentials to candidates for completing course work or demonstrating proficiency in specific areas of emphasis.

2.      Accountability for Principals

Mrs. Conklin-Spillane asked Commissioner Elia about any progress with the updating of accountability measures for principals, specifically the 95% participation rate in state testing that is required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The Commissioner responded that the participation rate will be part of the ESSA School Accountability Index but will NOT be used in calculating a principal’s APPR score.  She encouraged us to continue working toward increasing participation with our school communities. The Commissioner asked us to continue to educate parents on the positive changes that have been implemented this year and ensure school staff members have a clear understanding of the revisions.

3.      Middle Level Students Taking Regents Exams

Mrs. Conklin Spillane commended the Commissioner’s recent efforts to eliminate the need for double testing middle level students who take Regents courses.   There are, however, still concerns with how the scores are reported.  Currently, districts can opt to include the scores with their high school cohorts, or include them in their middle level data, which creates inconsistency. Commissioner Elia stated that the department is aware of this issue and is looking to develop a more equitable process.

She also mentioned that she knows of 26 districts that have 100% of their middle level students enrolled in advanced mathematics coursework.  The Commissioner indicated this is not a direction that the Department is moving toward as she feels that not all middle level students are academically ready to be successful with Regents Level Algebra. 

4.      Recent Board of Regents Policy Changes

Mr. Rickert thanked Commissioner Elia for supporting several positive policy changes that have been approved in recent months including;

1.  The expansion of multiple graduation pathways

2.  Allowing GED candidates to apply successfully completed Regents exams toward diploma credits

3.  Expanding the subject areas where candidates can apply for transitional certificates

4.  Reduction of Grade 3-8 testing days 

5.  School Quality Index/Social Emotional Health 

Board of Regents members have conducted several discussions in recent months around the concept of supporting the social emotional health of students and the use of surveys to measure school climate. NYSED is currently expanding a pilot program for administering the school climate surveys to 50 districts this year with plans to administer surveys in all districts across the state in 2018-19.  As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSAA) plan, survey results will be used to calculate a School Quality Index which will be posted on school/district ESSAA dashboards.

Mrs. Conklin-Spillane expressed concern that the increasing mandates in the area of school quality, mental health, bullying, ELLs, and AIS support, are putting a strain on principals as the numbers of student support personnel (counselors, social workers, psychologists) in schools continues to decrease.

Commissioner Elia responded that NYSED recognizes the need to increase student support staff in all schools to better support school quality and student social emotional health.  Last year they made recommendations for staff/student ratios but nothing is mandated. She indicated that she will continue to encourage districts to look for ways they can fund more student support positions.

6.      Website  Accessibility Guidelines

Mrs. Conklin-Spillane expressed concern to Commissioner Elia that there is lack of clarity with regards to the regulations pertaining to handicap accessible websites. The Commissioner stressed that these are federal regulations that have been in place for a long time.  She also recognized that this is an ongoing struggle for NYSED and districts to continually meet the requirements.  NYSED is currently under corrective action to upgrade their own website as are many districts across the state.  They are finding that it is very difficult to go in and make adjustments to existing sites and the Commissioner recommended we ensure newly developed materials meet the accessibility guidelines when they are initially integrated into school and district websites.

7.      Excelsior Scholarships

Mr. Rickert expressed concern that there is still a lack of clarity with both school personnel and families on the logistics and guidelines associated with the Excelsior Scholarships, especially the application process.

Commissioner Elia responded that NYSED is in the process of working with the Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) to organize workshops for both district and school level personnel in January and February to assist schools with this issue.

8.      NYS Education Board Coalition (ECB)

Mrs. Conklin Spillane asked Commissioner Elia about the composition of the newly formed New York State Coalition Board (ECB) and the focus of their work. Commissioner Elia responded that the group is comprised of representatives from several stakeholder groups including: NYSUT, the Big Five, NYS School Boards Association, PTA, NYS Council of Superintendents, School Business Officials and SAANYS.  They are working collectively to primarily advocate for more school funding. We were encouraged by the Commissioner to inquire about having ESSAA representation in this group and Mrs. Fasciglione will be contacting the ECB chairperson.