The Empire State Supervisors and Administrators Association (ESSAA) held its monthly Stakeholder Meeting on Monday, November 2, 2020, via videoconference with Interim Commissioner of Education, Betty Rosa; Deputy Commissioner for P12 Instructional Support, Kim Wilkins; Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs, Emily DeSantis; Deputy Commissioner, John D’Agati; NYSED Assistant Counsel, Julia Patane; and Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Student Support Services, Kathleen DeCataldo.
ESSAA was represented at the meeting by ESSAA President, Carol Conklin-Spillane; ESSAA Executive Director, Mike Starvaggi; ESSAA Vice President, Dr. Shireen Fasciglione; ESSAA Vice President, Tony Baxter; ESSAA Vice President, Greg Avellino; ESSAA member, John Zampaglione; and Regents/NYSED Liaison, Paul Scampini.
Specific Topics discussed during the meeting included:
Department of Health Data Dashboard
Deputy Commissioner Kim Wilkins began the meeting by providing an update on issues associated with the Department of Health Data Dashboard. The Deputy Commissioner stated that demographic issues such as students and/or employees who reside in different counties than the school they attend or work in, have led to inconsistent and inaccurate data being reported on the Dashboard. Deputy Commissioner Wilkins shared that NYSED is working with the DOH on making revisions to the current plan to correct the problems.
NYSED Assistant Counsel Julia Patane stated that NYSED has entered into an agreement with DOH to share limited student/staff data to improve the accuracy of reporting. Currently, Assistant Commissioner Kathleen DeCataldo is serving as the NYSED Liaison to the DOH as work continues to resolve the problems.
Instructional Experiences
Deputy Commissioner Wilkins provided an update on information NYSED is receiving with regards to remote learning across the state. The Deputy Commissioner emphasized that an area of concern is the need for schools to incorporate as much synchronous virtual instruction as possible to maximize student/teacher interaction. She further stated that NYSED is working to increase professional development opportunities and will again be launching a website to showcase best practices that are being utilized across the state.
ESSAA members are encouraged to submit examples of best practices. Mrs. Conklin-Spillane encouraged the use of BOCES Regional Information Centers to assist with gathering and sharing information while the Deputy Commissioner mentioned that NYSUT will also be participating.
Digital Access Survey
Deputy Commissioner Wilkins encouraged us to remind all ESSAA members of the importance of completing and submitting the Digital Access Survey. Deadline for submission is  December 1, 2020.                         
NYSED Initiatives
Deputy Commissioner Wilkins outlined several NYSED initiatives that are underway focusing on the issue of Digital Equity.
1.        NYSED is partnering with the New York State Library to host a series of webinars to establish an understanding of the challenges associated with digital access and develop a shared plan improving digital equity.  http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/digitalequity
2.        The Board of Regents is discussing the allocation of funding in their proposed 2021-22 budget to enhance digital fluency for parents so they can better assist their children with remote instruction.
3.        NYSED is planning to host a Digital Equity Summit in January, 2021 which will include a very diverse group of stakeholders including educators, community members, and representatives from the corporate sector.
NYS Office of Children and Family Services Webinar
Assistant Commissioner DeCataldo presented a summary of the collaborative work the NYSED Office of Student Support Services is doing with the NYS Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) to address situations of educational neglect where children are not participating in school instruction.
The Office of Student Support Services is partnering with OCFS to host a webinar on Navigating K-12 Educational Challenges During the COVID 19 Pandemic. The webinar will be held on Thursday, November 5th from 3:30 to 5:30 and will address absenteeism, mandated reporting and educational neglect, and assessing needs of families. The intended audience includes school leaders, guidance counselors, student support staff, mandated reporters, and attendance staff.
Interested participants can register for the webinar via email to Ed.Neglect@ocfs.ny.gov. A link to the meeting will be forwarded to you once the email is received. The webinar will also be recorded and posted on the Office of Child and Family Services website to view in the future.
ReThink K-12 Education Grant Update
Deputy Commissioner John D’Agati provided an update of how funding from the federal ReThink Education Grant is being utilized. The Deputy Commissioner stated that the funds will be used to develop on demand online professional development opportunities which focus on five core competencies:
1.        Engaging English Language Learners
2.        Special Education
3.        Social Emotional Learning
4.        Cultural Responsiveness
5.        Engaging Families in Learning
Mrs. Conklin-Spillane asked about the process that will be followed for teacher participation and whether course completion would be required. The Deputy Commissioner responded that the professional development will be available in an on-demand format and he anticipates that participants would be eligible for CTLE Credits upon successful completion the different competency areas.
Recruiting Educational Leadership Candidates
Mrs. Conklin Spillane thanked Commissioner Rosa for her recent acknowledgement of October as National Principals Month.
Mrs. Conklin-Spillane also stressed that, while she appreciates NYSED’s efforts to provide flexibility to student teachers to complete internships during the COVID-19 crisis, it is very important to address the need to also recruit qualified educational leaders. Expressing concern that there does not seem to be an awareness of the newly implemented Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSELS), Mrs. Conklin-Spillane stated there is a need for increased emphasis on both the new standards and the promotion of the crucial role school leaders play in improving student achievement in our schools.
Mr. Scampini asked about the status of the pilot Principal Support Pilot which evolved out of the work done with the Principal Preparation Project.  The two year pilot is using a competency-based approach to support approximately 45 principals and potential school leaders in low performing schools.
Deputy Commissioner D’Agati responded that the first cohort will be finishing the program in the near future. He stated that NYSED will be publishing a summary of the project and will be following up with the employers that hire the participants to assist with evaluating the effectiveness of the competency-based model.
Interim Commissioner Rosa referenced a recent discussion she participated in regarding the need for creating supportive networks of principals to assist with integrating the new standards and the associated leadership challenges. Deputy Commissioner D’Agati added that he recognizes the importance of working on this area. He went on to say that NYSED was on track to continue efforts toward implementing the PSEL standards but was sidetracked due to the COVID-19 situation.
Student Teachers
Deputy Commissioner D’Agati asked that, due to a shortage of cooperating teachers, we encourage ESSAA members to support the sponsoring of student teachers during this school year. He also mentioned his willingness to work with schools on providing as much flexibility as possible to allow schools work through potential obstacles.
Mrs. Conklin-Spillane mentioned some situations she is aware of where students, who are now home and not on their college campus, have not been able to obtain a college-based professor to supervise the internship.
Deputy Commissioner D’Agati acknowledged that this has been an issue. He stated that he is working with colleges and universities to provide more flexibility for colleges to work collaboratively with this issue and also provide opportunities for remote supervision.
Observations From the Field – Emerging Needs
Dr. Fasciglione and Mr. Baxter shared examples of recent experiences and emerging needs
they are observing in their roles as an elementary principal and high school assistant principal respectively.
Dr. Fasciglione shared that approximately 20% of the students enrolled at her suburban elementary school in Niskayuna are receiving all instruction virtually. She feels that while the in-person instruction in her building has been going very well, several challenges are surfacing with the remote group. Dr. Fasciglione indicated while many families have made a good transition to supporting their child’s virtual learning, several families are experiencing challenges with their ability to provide adequate instructional support. Several teachers have also reported experiencing issues associated with parents inappropriately supporting their child’s instruction. Dr. Fasciglione feels that guidance from NYSED would be very helpful to assist teachers and principals in addressing these concerns.
Interim Commissioner Rosa responded that virtual learning is forcing all of us to implement new protocols. She added that NYSED guidelines will continue to evolve as educators gain more and more experience with remote learning and parental expectations could eventually be developed.
Mr. Baxter, who is the assistant principal at Sleepy Hollow High School in Tarrytown, talked about the hybrid instructional model they are currently working with where approximately one-third of the total student body is present in the school building each day. He shared that his staff made a true commitment to professional development over the summer and made great gains with the overall effectiveness of the virtual instruction, especially with the use of Google Breakout Rooms.
Mr. Baxter said that teachers have expressed frustration with a lack of students’ willingness to leave computer cameras on during instruction. He also has observed that the mask requirement, while they are in the building, may be contributing to an overall lack of student verbal conversation.
Commissioner Rosa commented that she has received a great deal of positive feedback from the field on the use of Google Breakout Rooms to increase student participation in virtual instruction.
Guidelines for Dealing with Potential Unrest Associated With Election Results
Mrs. Conklin-Spillane put forth a suggestion that NYSED send out guidelines to schools which may have to deal with any social unrest in the days after the election.
ESSAA & CAS Members:
If you have any feedback on the foregoing issues or would like to suggest a topic to be addressed with the Commissioner at an upcoming meeting, please e-mail us at info@essaa.org. New topics will be submitted to our Stakeholder Committee for consideration.
In addition, please note:
The Office of Student Support Services is partnering with OCFS to host a webinar on Navigating K-12 Educational Challenges During the COVID 19 Pandemic. The webinar will be held on Thursday, November 5th from 3:30 to 5:30 and will address absenteeism, mandated reporting and educational neglect, and assessing needs of families. The intended audience includes school leaders, guidance counselors, student support staff, mandated reporters, and attendance staff.
Interested participants can register for the webinar via email to Ed.Neglect@ocfs.ny.gov. A link to the meeting will be forwarded to you once the email is received. The webinar will also be recorded and posted on the Office of Child and Family Services website to view in the future.