ALBANY – The State Board of Regents is preparing to appoint a well-regarded Florida schools leader with Lewiston roots to become New York’s next education commissioner.
MaryEllen Elia, 66, would become the first woman and first with Buffalo Niagara roots to ever take the post.
Elia is being recommended by the board’s search committee, but the full body must approve the appointment. The 17 Regents were given notice over the holiday weekend to report to Albany on Tuesday for a special meeting to interview Elia and then vote on her appointment.
They will go into an executive session at noon to discuss her appointment.
She's a reformer, of course - she pushed for and successfully implementated a merit pay system in her district, for example.
Also she got a hundred million from the Gates Foundation to put in place a system to fire 5% of teachers.
But there's more:
Toward the end of her tenure, however, she faced criticism from school board members and some segments of the community, who said she cultivated a workplace of fear and did not pay enough attention to issues that affect minority children, including the disproportionate number of black students receiving suspensions.
Parents of special needs students launched a social media campaign against her, dubbing her “EVILia.”
One school board member criticized the accidental deaths of three students, saying that alone was grounds for her dismissal. In two of those cases, the students died after school staffers did not immediately call 911 when the children experienced medical problems. The third drowned in a nearby pond after walking away from gym class.
The board voted to terminate her contract, giving her a buyout package that amounted to about $1 million.
Here's more on how some parents of children with special needs felt about her:
Parents of children with special needs overwhelmingly spoke about how the school district was not serving their children. Many talked about how ESE, or the Exceptional Student Education program for children with special needs had failed. Several of those parents looked Elia directly in the eye and went so far as to point and yell into the microphone as they let their emotions about the schools be heard (LINK)
The one percenters loved her down in Florida but many parents and employees?
Not so much.
We'll learn more as the day goes on, but a preliminary look at MaryEllen Elia and her track record as Hillsborough superintendent suggests the Board of Regents will be making a huge mistake if they hire her.
She elicited strong feelings of either support or disdain from people in the Hillsborough district, but I think anybody who was tagged EVILia in a social media campaign by parents of special needs children is going to be a disaster as NYSED commissioner.
What message is the Board of Regents sending to New York parents and teachers by looking to hire somebody as divisive as MaryEllen Elia?