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State picks Elliott to help elevate city schools

The state has appointed the former chief academic officer of the Los Angeles schools to serve as Buffalo's "distinguished educator."

Judy L. Elliott, a native Western New Yorker, will begin her part-time position in the Buffalo Public Schools on Aug. 1. Her primary responsibility will be to help the city's persistently lowest-achieving schools implement their improvement plans, according to state Education Department officials.

Nearly one-fourth of Buffalo's schools are currently identified as among the worst 5 percent in the nation. An equal number will be added to the watch list in the coming year, meaning that nearly half of the city's schools will be considered in such dire straits that they could qualify for federal improvement grants, local and state officials have said.

"There are going to be more schools identified in Buffalo which will trigger more money, but the turnaround initiatives will have to keep going," Regent Robert M. Bennett said. "It's a daunting task for the distinguished educator, the superintendent, the board and the community. It's essential that we make it successful."

Elliott will also serve as an ex officio, nonvoting member of the School Board.

In September, Bennett announced the state's plans to appoint a distinguished educator, and Elliott's name has circulated for months as Albany's choice. But State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said he wanted to wait to appoint her until the teacher-evaluation impasse was resolved and federal funds were restored to several low-performing schools.

Elliott's salary will be paid by the district, and the state will "find a way to reimburse" it, Bennett said.

Elliott, a 1978 graduate of Kenmore East High School, received her bachelor's degree at Buffalo State College, where she was an All-America diver. While she was working on her doctorate in educational psychology at the University at Buffalo, she taught students with disabilities at the then-Amsdell Junior High in the Frontier School District in Hamburg.

She currently serves on the Buffalo State College Foundation board.

"Dr. Elliott has strong roots in the community," King said. "She knows what Buffalo students need to graduate college- and career-ready. With the restoration of [school-improvement grant] funding and the appointment of Dr. Elliott, Buffalo schools have a great opportunity to turn the page on a new, brighter future for students."

She served as chief academic officer in Los Angeles until August 2011, when the School Board bought out her contract, which ran through this June. She received $231,164 for the remainder of her contract, plus unused vacation time.

Elliott was brought in under one superintendent, then pushed out under a new administration. She was credited with introducing a policy that restricted teachers from counting homework as more than 10 percent of a student's grade -- a policy the new superintendent did not support.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Elliott played a key role in the district's adoption of a new reading program and and that she pushed for "rapid and more tailored intervention for struggling students."

Prior to her work in Los Angeles, she served as chief of teaching and learning in the Portland, Ore., public schools; assistant superintendent for the Long Beach Unified School District in California; and senior researcher at the National Center on Education Outcomes at the University of Minnesota.