State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills gave a pep talk to school board members from around the state Saturday in Buffalo, telling them that parents and students need their leadership during these uncertain times.
And despite fears generated by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the fiscal fallout they could create in schools throughout New York, schools need to continue on with the mission of raising academic standards, Mills said.
"Don't think for a minute that we will put aside the work that every child will get a solid education," Mills said. "We look to you to complete the work that has begun."
Mills' comments came at a luncheon at the Hyatt Regency downtown during this weekend's State School Boards Association annual convention, attended by about 3,000 school board members from across the state.
While Mills provided school board members with some encouragement in light of recent events, he also asked them for support in continuing the state's plan of phasing in Regents requirements for graduation.
Not coincidentally, the standards were a main topic among school board delegates during the association's business meeting at the Buffalo Convention Center.
Delegates passed resolutions Saturday calling on the commissioner to alter the state testing system used under the challenging new academic standards. Delegates, for example, argued that the state needs to reduce the number of tests and use a variety of methods to evaluate student performance.
"There's a lot of people who feel the testing system we have now is not adequate for the curriculum and state standards," said Timothy G. Kremer, executive director of the School Boards Association.
Mills acknowledged that efforts to institute tough academic standards may need adjustments along the way, but said schools must maintain the course they started a few years ago and not look back.
"It's not going to be easy to go forward," Mills said. "But it's easier to go forward than to go back. We've come that far."
Mills also referred briefly to the fiscal crisis facing some schools.
With the state's finances spinning into the red following the terrorist attacks, Gov. George E. Pataki warned cities and schools with their own financial troubles not to count on any increases in state aid this year.
Buffalo school officials Friday asked the state and federal governments for an additional $28 million. Without the additional funds, school officials plan to lay off more than 300 employees and eliminate sports, extracurricular activities and extra help for struggling students.
In fact, school board delegates -- concerned about dwindling funding sources -- passed another resolution Saturday seeking a moratorium on charter schools, which receive money from school districts that have children attending charter schools.
Mills told school board members to make sure politicians are keeping education at the top of their agenda, and said he will do his job as an an advocate for the proper funding in schools.
"We know the financial realities have changed," Mills said. "But that hasn't changed what children need."