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May 26, 2015
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JP O'Hare

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MaryEllen Elia Appointed New Commissioner of the State Education Department

Western New York Native with 45 Years of Experience as an Educator is
First Woman to Hold the Permanent Post

The New York State Board of Regents today voted to appoint MaryEllen Elia as the next Commissioner of Education and President of the University of the State of New York (USNY).  Ms. Elia served as superintendent in Hillsborough County, Florida since 2005, where she is credited with successfully raising standards, partnering with teachers to develop a comprehensive evaluation system, and raising student achievement.  Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, is the nation’s eighth largest school district with 206,000 students, 30,000 employees, and a $2.9 billion budget.  A native New Yorker, Ms. Elia began her career in education in 1970 as a social studies teacher in Buffalo’s Sweet Home Central School District and taught for 19 years before moving on to administrative positions.  Ms. Elia’s appointment comes after a nearly five-month search by the Board of Regents to replace former Commissioner John King, who left the Department at the end of 2014 to take a job with the U.S. Department of Education.  Ms. Elia will start her new position on July 6.

“MaryEllen Elia has a remarkable record of working collaboratively with teachers, parents, and school leaders to get things done,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch.  “During her time in Hillsborough, she led a successful introduction of the Common Core standards, increased graduation options for students who had fallen behind, and helped to develop one of the country’s most innovative teacher evaluation systems.  And all of this was accomplished with school leaders and teachers as partners.  Hillsborough County Public Schools is an example of how all sides can find common ground and together can achieve real reform.” 

“The search committee was very impressed by MaryEllen’s approach to finding common ground on challenging issues—an approach that helped make Hillsborough County public schools a national model for reform,” said Regents Vice Chancellor Anthony S. Bottar, who chaired the search committee.  “MaryEllen shares our belief that all students must be held to a high bar to ensure they graduate ready to succeed in life after high school.  Under her leadership, the Hillsborough County schools community widely embraced the Common Core Learning Standards.  It’s good news for all New Yorkers, especially our students, that Ms. Elia has agreed to come home.”

“I want to thank the Board of Regents for giving me the opportunity to return to New York to do what I love to do—work on the behalf of children,” said Ms. Elia.  “I began my career as a teacher and still consider myself a teacher at heart.  Good teachers are also good listeners.  My first item of business as Commissioner will be listening to parents, teachers, principals, school board members, and superintendents from across New York.  I believe whole-community involvement is essential to make our schools and school system even stronger.”

Ms. Elia was appointed Superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools in 2005.  During her 10-year tenure, Hillsborough County public schools were recognized within Florida and nationally for developing a multiple measure evaluation system for teachers called Empowering Effective Teachers.  Both U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten have praised the system for the extensive supports it provides for teachers and its pay structure that incentivizes teachers to take on more challenging positions.

Under Ms. Elia’s leadership, Hillsborough County public schools have also received national recognition for gains in student achievement. The district’s fourth and eighth grade students earned higher reading scores than all other 22 urban districts that participated in the 2103 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), which is administered by National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and is widely considered to the “gold standard” in assessment; Hillsborough students tied for second place in math.  The Washington Post included all 27 of the district’s traditional public high schools on its list of America’s Most Challenging High Schools in 2012 and 2013.  Additionally, Hillsborough County Public Schools has more than doubled the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses, with an even greater increase among minority students.

Ms. Elia’s colleagues in Florida and across the county have praised her for her work in Hillsborough County.  She is the 2015 Florida Superintendent of the Year and was one of four finalists for the 2015 National Superintendent of the Year award.

Ms. Elia was born, raised, and attended school in Western New York.  After graduating high school from Stella Niagara in Lewiston, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Daemen College in Buffalo, a Master of Education from the University at Buffalo, and a Master of Professional Studies from SUNY Buffalo.  In 1970, Ms. Elia became a social studies teacher in the Sweet Home Central School District.  For the next 16 years, she taught a number of history, government, and economics courses to students in grades nine through 12.  When her family moved to Florida in 1986, she became a reading teacher in the Hillsborough County school district.  Between 1989 and 2005, Ms. Elia held various administrative positions in the district, including General Director of Secondary Education and Chief Facilities Officer.

In her new role, Ms. Elia will serve as Commissioner of Education and President of the University of the State of New York (USNY).  USNY comprises more than 7,000 public and independent elementary and secondary schools; 270 public, independent and proprietary colleges and universities; 7,000 libraries; 900 museums; 25 public broadcasting facilities; 3,000 historical repositories; 436 proprietary schools; 52 professions encompassing more than 850,000 licensees plus 240,000 certified educators; and services for children and adults with disabilities.

The Board of Regents formed a search seven-member committee in January to find a replacement for former Commissioner King.  The Committee worked closely with a search firm during the process. Since Dr. King’s departure, Executive Deputy Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin has served as the acting commissioner.  Ms. Elia will earn $250,000 annually.



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