The testing of MaryEllen Elia continues, a year into her tenure Bridges have been built, but a gulf of mistrust remains
ALBANY — In her first year on the job, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has traveled more than 35,000 miles back and forth across the state. She’s helped implement changes to state tests, took action on Rockland County’s troubled East Ramapo school district and is overseeing reviews of learning standards and teacher evaluations.
Though her efforts appear to have gone some way toward addressing highly politicized and caustic education environment in New York State, winning the trust of parents and other stakeholders may require more time.
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“Our folks, the parents and the educators, are not in a place where they’re very trusting, that’s a huge hill for her to climb,” New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee told POLITICO New York.
Magee reserved comment when asked if Elia has fully gained that trust. She's waiting until after the state’s reviews of the standards, tests and evaluations are complete and whether or not she believes stakeholder input was taken into consideration.
“At the end of the day what’s delivered will have to translate to the classroom to the rank and file members because otherwise it’s another scheme,” said Magee, who represents the state’s largest teachers union.
And others still question where her agenda fits into the mix.
“Who is MaryEllen Elia as an educational leader? We still don’t know the answer,” said David Bloomfield, an education leadership professor at Brooklyn College and at the City University of New York Graduate Center. “I think she’s trying not to make waves and unfortunately, perhaps learning the lesson that any step could be a step backwards, [that] results in paralysis.”
Bloomfield said that Elia's task has not been easy.
“She came into a firestorm in a highly polarized situation," he said, crediting Elia with a "more collaborative approach in the Legislature, as well as with parents and teachers who have felt pressured by the accountability advocates,” he said. “It’s been quite the change.”
Elia, 67, a longtime educator who started her career in New York State, took over the role of state education commissioner on July 6 of last year, coming from Florida, where she had served as superintendent of Hillsborough County schools.
Her predecessor, John King Jr., left to take a role with the federal education department, andnow serves as U.S. secretary of education.
King was a polarizing figure, having championed the 2012 implementation of the Common Core learning standards, as well as the state tests aligned to the standards and teacher evaluations based partially on students’ results on those tests. The changes were made as the state, struggling to recover from the 2008 recession, competed for federal grant dollars and put in place initiatives under the No Child