It is Western New York’s unlikely good fortune that the state’s new education commissioner, recently arrived from Florida, began her career in Erie County. MaryEllen Elia’s first job as a teacher was in the Sweet Home School District, and that has given her a special connection to this area.
It’s not just psychological. Elia has made several trips here since she took on her new responsibilities two months ago, the most recent occurring just this week. In them she has reached out to parents and teachers, made clear that she is committed to high educational standards and put the Buffalo School Board on notice that she will act to improve education in the district if the board doesn’t.
In all of that, and more, Elia has made a strong start. And while she seems to have the same commitment to high standards as her predecessor, John B. King Jr., she is making an effort to smooth the waters that were roiled in his efforts to implement the Common Core standards.
It’s a wise move on her part. The Board of Regents could have done a better job of rolling out the Common Core in New York, but it was going to be controversial under any circumstances. And after being linked to teacher evaluations, the standards became almost too hot to touch.
The change in leadership allows for a cooling-off period, which Elia is implementing by traveling the state and listening to the concerns of parents and teachers. There are no guarantees, but the effort at least creates the possibility of broader acceptance of Common Core’s higher standards of education.
There is more for her to do, of course, and another important task also awaits in Western New York. The Buffalo School District is the state poster child for dysfunction, and Elia has been declarative in her determination to improve the performance of the district’s students.
It was also smart of her to meet with members of the Buffalo Teachers Federation and its president, Philip Rumore. But a conflict is coming. A new law allows Elia to put underperforming schools into a receivership program that could alter contracts. Rumore said he will “likely” challenge that law in court. This is shocking only to people who are also surprised that sunrise will likely continue to occur in the morning.
Glad to have you here, commissioner.