ALBANY — New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia will step down at the end of next month.
Elia made the surprise announcement during Monday’s Board of Regents meeting in Albany, writing in a resignation letter to the board that it’s been her pleasure and honor to serve teachers and students throughout the state over the last four years as the leader of the New York State Education Department.
“Going forward, I hope to translate the experiences I’ve gained from one of the largest, most complex education systems in the country into lessons to help improve classrooms, schools, and districts for students in every state,” she wrote.
Elia, 70, confirmed to reporters at the meeting she plans to work for a national firm involved with education, but declined to name the company. Her resignation is effective Aug. 31.
Local school officials in the Olean area expressed surprise and disappointment about Elia’s resignation, applauding her efforts over the last four years.
Allegany-Limestone Central School District Superintendent Tony Giannicchi said Elia had the state moving in a positive direction, adding her best attribute was listening and making informed decisions.
“Even if you did not agree with her, you had to respect her decision making,” he said. “Her leaving is a big loss for the state.”
Olean City School District Superintendent Rick Moore, calling Elia’s resignation “disappointing news,” credited her for creating a “calming period in New York state education” following the “chaos” of high-stakes testing.
Elia is a Western New York native and former teacher for the Sweet Home Central School District in the Buffalo area. She was serving as a superintendent in Florida when appointed commissioner by the Board of Regents in 2015.
Elia’s tenure saw the retooling of the controversial Common Core standards and the rollback of tying students’ standardized test scores to teacher evaluations.
The state Legislature passed a law this past session to eliminate the requirement that at least half of a public school teacher’s rating be based on state tests. Now, school districts must negotiate with their teacher unions to choose which exams will be used in judging educators’ performances.
Moore said Elia allowed districts to determine what was best for their students and act accordingly, understanding “each district is unique and one size did not fit all districts.”
“Hopefully her replacement will continue to allow local communities and their schools to determine what is best for their students,” he said.
OCSD Board of Education President Frank Steffen Jr. said there has to be some concern about whether the next commissioner means policy change, but added, “Hopefully we’ll be able to work with the new commissioner whoever that will be.”
New York State United Teachers, which represents more than 600,000 teachers across the state, said it looks forward to engaging with the Board of Regents as the search for the next commissioner begins.
“Selecting a new commissioner with a deep background in public school classrooms will go a long way toward achieving these critical goals,” NYSUT said a statement Monday.