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Betty Rosa likely to become New York’s Regents chancellor

A longtime educator who has questioned the state’s rollout of teacher evaluations and other reform efforts is poised to head the board that sets policies for New York’s public schools.

Betty A. Rosa, a former Bronx superintendent who started her career as a teacher and reading coordinator, is expected to be elected as the next chancellor when the Board of Regents meets later this month.

That could have ramifications for Buffalo, where the school district has long been under the scrutiny of state education officials.

It also could have ramifications for State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who has been closely aligned with departing Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch on controversial education reform efforts.

And it could have ramifications for teachers and students who have been struggling to adapt to a rapid series of changes in the classroom in the last six years that have brought new state assessments and changed the way teachers are reviewed.

“The potential for change is pretty significant,” said Frontier Superintendent Bret C. Apthorpe. “I think we’re all waiting to see what that change will look like, because clearly everyone has initiative fatigue.”

Rosa’s expected appointment will likely mark a continued changed in tone on the Board of Regents from one that was quickly rolling out controversial education reforms just a few years ago to one whose members have been working to address concerns about teacher evaluations, state tests and learning standards. While Rosa has supported parents and teachers who led a movement for children to opt out of standardized tests last year, Tisch was a consistent voice in favor of the state’s efforts to implement a series of reforms.

“There’s been a very large public backlash against the Regents and some of the policies that they put in place concerning high-stakes testing and this whole premise of testing and punishing districts,” said Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo. “In the last two years, eight of 17 members of the Board of Regents have been replaced.”

Three of those new members – Luis O. Reyes, Nan Eileen Mead and Elizabeth Smith Hakanson – were formally approved by the State Legislature on Tuesday. The appointments of three new Regents with backgrounds in education drew praise from the New York State United Teachers union.

“Finally, we’re going to have some educators making decisions on education,” said Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation. “Now, there’s a change.”

Tisch announced in October that she would not seek a new appointment after her term ends. She will step down in April after 20 years on the board, including seven as chancellor.

Rosa brings with her the support of a network of parents and teachers, known as the New York Allies for Public Education, who helped organize a wide boycott of state assessments for third- through eighth-graders last year. Rosa was one of seven Regents who signed a position paper last year calling for a slower rollout of changes to the state’s teacher-evaluation system that ties student performance on state tests to teachers’ careers.

As a superintendent, Rosa oversaw a South Bronx school district with more than 25,000 students and 30 schools, according to the biography provided by the Board of Regents. She later served as senior superintendent to the Bronx.

“She, of course, will bring her own style of leadership,” said Regent James R. Tallon Jr., who has worked with Rosa since she was first elected to the Board of Regents in 2008. “She is an experienced educator. She has a great deal of experience in serving youngsters who have difficulty prospering in the current system, whether English language learners, students with disabilities, incarcerated youth. She’ll bring her own experience to the job.”

The Board of Regents is scheduled to meet March 21-22 and will vote on a new chancellor then. The Wall Street Journal first reported Rosa’s expected appointment Friday. Tallon said Rosa was the only Regent to formally advance her name for consideration.

The new chancellor will take the helm of the Board of Regents at a time when it is dealing with controversial issues on several fronts, including reviewing the state’s use of the Common Core Learning Standards, student assessments, teacher evaluations and school funding.

“This is detailed work in all of these areas – the standards, testing, accountability, financing,” Tallon said. “It’s detailed work, and that’s what the Regents – all of the members of the Regents – will be undertaking under her leadership.”

Robert M. Bennett, a former chancellor who represented Western New York as a Regent until last year, said Rosa was not shy about bringing her own experiences as a former principal and superintendent to the board.

While a volunteer job, the state education chancellor serves as a voice for public education in New York. The chancellor sets the agenda, makes appointments to the board’s committees and works closely with the state education commissioner.

“You have the direct supervisory role of the commissioner,” Bennett noted. “The commissioner would tell you that they’ve got 17 bosses, but, in fact, the commissioner and the chancellor are supposed to be partners.”

While the Board of Regents sets education policies, it must work within the framework of laws put forth by the Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The controversial changes to the teacher-evaluation system, for example, were set in law last year, as was a new receivership law that allows for the takeover of chronically underperforming schools.

But it is the Board of Regents, not lawmakers, that hires the education commissioner. Rosa was among members of the Board of Regents who last year unanimously voted to appoint Elia, a former Florida superintendent, as commissioner.

Since then, Elia has navigated varying opinions on the board over how New York should proceed with revising controversial initiatives, including the teacher evaluations and new state assessments aligned to Common Core.

“This is going to have an impact on the commissioner of education,” Rumore said. “Remember that the Board of Regents that hired her is no longer the same board.”