Responding to NYSUT's advocacy, State Education Commissioner John King has named 23 teachers to a new Teacher Advisory Council. The council, which held its first meeting in November, will meet again in February to discuss ongoing education issues, particularly the impact of Regents reform items like the shift to Common Core standards, assessments and evaluations.
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira thanked the commissioner for responding to the union's call for practitioners' critical input and establishing the advisory council as a way to bring the voices of classroom teachers directly into the conversation.
"Our members will provide realtime feedback on what's working and what needs work," Neira said.
"It is imperative that as SED and the Regents move forward with their action agenda, they make the necessary policy corrections that will benefit students and schools."
The council consists of teachers recommended by NYSUT and other groups, plus National Board Certified Teachers and the three most recent New York State Teachers of the Year.
Those named represent a cross section of subject areas, grade levels and regions of the state.
"There is a substantial disconnect between parents and teachers who are worried about their kids and the people who are at the State Education Department," said Michael Lillis, a physics teacher and president of the Lakeland Federation of Teachers in Westchester County.
Lillis said it's an important time for teachers to be heard. With schools expected to be phasing in the Common Core curriculum, new state assessments and a new teacher evaluation model all at the same time and at such a rapid pace, "you're really ratcheting up a lot of anxiety," he said.
Teachers shared concerns about districts having to make so many changes — without adequate resources.
While King said the efforts had been in the works for three years, Lillis noted SED was still posting common core materials in December and January. Laura Bellinger, a high school business teacher and vice president of Fonda-Fultonville TA, said several council members voiced deep budgetary concerns. "We're facing midyear cuts and our school district may dissolve completely. (The commissioner) wanted to talk about why it's important to move quickly on all these reforms, but some of our schools might not even be around."
Cambridge Faculty Association member Colleen McDonald said she hopes the council will discuss the best training for teachers and ways to better assess whether students are learning.
"It's taken a long time to get this kind of advisory group and we're hopeful Commissioner King will make the most of this opportunity," said Neira.