ESSAA President Bill Evans and executive members Carol Conklin-Spillane, Richard Kimble, Mike McDermott, Ryan Schoenfeld, Mike Starvaggi, Skip Voorneveld, Dave Wagner and Half Hollow Hills Co-President Andy Greene, participated in the first ESSAA stakeholders meeting with Ms. MaryEllen Elia, new Commissioner of the New York State Education Department on Tuesday, July 7, 2015.  This was Ms. Elia’s second day of work as the new commissioner.

ESSAA representatives began by giving an overview of our organization, the number of members we represent across New York State and the job classifications of members.  It was stressed that our membership consists of school leaders currently serving in New York State public education.

Commissioner Elia reviewed her teaching and administrative experience in Buffalo’s Sweet Home Central School District prior to moving to Florida where she was a teacher and held administrative positions. In 2005 she was named Superintendent of Schools in Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa and is the eighth largest school district in the country.

During the meeting, Commissioner Elia stressed that she “knows the importance of principals” and that “administrators make a huge difference in schools”.  “If you don’t have great administrators in any district, large or small, you won’t be successful”.

She indicated that she is very supportive of supplying training for the educational leaders that teachers need. She looks forward to working collaboratively with school leaders and teachers, including stakeholder members on SED committees, and “moving forward as a team”.

Commissioner Elia anticipates that under her leadership there will be a review of the standards and the evaluation process.  She intends to talk through evaluation process issues  and the assessments to make sure they are the best that are out there.  She encouraged us to be productive and proactive if problems come up. She wants feedback, and if clarification is required, she needs to know that.

In response to an ESSAA concern about recent numbers of students opting out of tests, Ms. Elia said that it doesn’t benefit anyone not to have students tested.  She believes that “all educators need to understand the importance of testing and we need to work together to have the public understand its value”.  ESSAA responded that testing needs to be used to guide programs and instruction as well as the evaluation process.

It was the general consensus of the members present that this first meeting was productive, and that the general tone was significantly better than those with the previous commissioner.  It appears stakeholder input will be encouraged and valued.