MaryEllen Elia, Commissioner of Education & President of the University of the State of New York
MaryEllen Elia is the New York State Commissioner of Education and President of the University of the State of New York (USNY). In this role, she oversees the work of more than 700 school districts with 3.2 million students; 7,000 libraries; 900 museums; and 52 professions encompassing more than 850,000 licensees. A native New Yorker, Commissioner Elia has 45 years of experience as an educator. Prior to her appointment in New York, she served as superintendent of schools in Hillsborough County, Florida, for 10 years. In Hillsborough, which includes Tampa and is the nation’s eighth largest school district, she successfully implemented higher learning standards, partnered with teachers to develop a comprehensive evaluation system, and earned national recognition for gains in student achievement. Ms. Elia was honored for this work in Florida and on a national stage. She is the 2015 Florida Superintendent of the Year, a recipient of the 2015 AASA Women in School Leadership Award from the School Superintendents Association, and was one of four finalists for the 2015 National Superintendent of the Year award.
Commissioner Elia was born, raised, and attended school in Western New York. After graduating high school in Lewiston, NY, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Daeman College in Buffalo, a Master of Education from the University of Buffalo, and a Master of Professional Studies from SUNY Buffalo. In 1970, she began her career in education as a social studies teacher in Buffalo’s Sweet Home Central School District and taught for 19 years before moving on to administrative positions.
In her first year serving as New York’s Education Commissioner, Ms. Elia logged more than 35,000 miles in her car traveling across the entire State. In those travels, she visited more than 30 counties, dozens of school districts, and well over 100 different schools in an effort to learn how New York’s schools can be improved and how the State can help drive and support those improvements. She spoke with parents, students, teachers, and school and district leaders to hear what they had to say about the State’s learning standards, curriculum, assessments, and teacher and principal evaluations. As a result of the input received from those conversations, Commissioner Elia, together with the Board of Regents, took a number of significant actions in her first year, including the following:
- Engaged a new test vendor; the contract calls for even greater teacher involvement in developing test questions;
- Reduced the number of questions on every grade 3-8 assessment;
- Allowed students who are productively working to complete their exams;
- Released more test questions than ever before and earlier than ever before;
- Conducted a survey (AIMHighNY) that allowed users to give feedback on each of the standards. The survey received thousands of comments and recommendations, with the largest percentage of the feedback coming from classroom teachers. More than 10,500 respondents provided feedback on one or more of the State’s current learning standards. In total, survey participants submitted 246,771 pieces of feedback;
- Created ELA/Math AIMHighNY Standards Review Committee; committee includes 138 NYS parents and teachers;
- Decoupled the state assessments from teacher evaluations and placed a four-year moratorium on the use of student test scores for evaluation purposes;
- Gave flexibility to districts by allowing them to seek hardship waivers from the independent evaluator requirement of the evaluation law;
- Provided new, alternative pathways to graduation;
- Changed rules so that certain students with disabilities can now earn a Local Diploma without passing every Regents exam;
- Worked with the Legislature and Governor to successfully advocate for a significant investment in State Aid and to eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA);
- Worked with the Legislature and Governor to approve legislation that continues the appointment of monitors in East Ramapo, provides new oversight authority for the monitors and the Department over the school district’s budget, and provides $3 million in state funds to restore and expand educational programming for the public schools within the district;
- Successfully advocated with Regents’ support for $20 million in state funding for programs to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color, making NY the first state to accept President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” challenge;
- Worked with the Legislature to secure $1 million in additional funds for professional development for teachers;
- Supported legislation to provide school districts and BOCES with resources to conduct periodic lead testing of their water supply as well as ensuring Building Aid will cover the costs of testing and for the installation of filters or other remedial measures;
- Partnered with SUNY, through the TeachNY campaign, to increase the size and quality of the state’s teaching pool;
- Approved regulations to allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to apply for teacher certification and professional licenses;
- Approved the National External Diploma Program (NEDP) as a third pathway to the New York State High School Equivalency Diploma; and
- Worked with the Legislature, Governor and the library community to successfully advocate for increases in library aid and aid for library construction.