April 2015 Issue
March 20, 2015

Lawmakers shake up Regents, send a strong message

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Lawmakers shake up Regents, send a strong message

With kudos to the seven members elected to the Board of Regents, NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said the four new members can begin building trust with parents and educators by listening carefully and working collaboratively in the best interests of all students.

"We are hopeful the new Regents board will listen to and trust the voic­es of teachers and ensure that any 'reforms' are backed by research and have buy-in from stakeholders," Magee said.

NYSUT congratulated the four newly appointed Regents — Catherine Fisher Collins from Buffalo; Judith Johnson from Mount Vernon; Judith Chin from Queens; and Beverly Ouderkirk from Clifton-Fine in the North Country, plus the three re-elected Regents, Kathleen Cashin from New York City; Roger Tilles of Long Island; and Lester Young of New York City.

After deliberating more than five hours to fill seven of the board's 17 seats, the Legislature ousted Chancellor Emeritus Robert Bennett of Buffalo and Regent James Dawson, each of whom served two decades on the state education policy-making board.

"They are sending a message," Tilles told Newsday after the vote. "I think the board hears it."

Tilles, an activist Regent who will begin his third five-year term, said, "The three of us who were re-elected" believe the board needs more transparency and less of a "top-down" approach. "There needs to be more willingness to hear everyone out."

"Do I see these replacements as a reaction to what people are hearing in their home district? Absolutely," Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch told reporters. She expressed confidence in the newly appointed members, all of whom have extensive backgrounds in education.

In lengthy legislative debate March 10, several lawmakers made it clear they want the Regents to slow down reform efforts and listen to educators and parents. Many cited the Regents' rushed implementation of Common Core, excessive standardized testing and punitive teacher evaluation systems. Others noted the Regents board will select a new education commissioner.

The nominees were selected from nearly 50 applicants who were interviewed by lawmakers on the Assembly Education and Higher Education committees. Aside from considering the five incumbents seeking re-election, the Legislature had two open seats — one held by Harry Phillips, who represented the lower Hudson Valley, and Geraldine Chapey of Queens, who stepped down last year.

Legislators in the lower Hudson Valley took the selection process so seriously they conducted regional hearings with candidates before recommending Johnson.

NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, who works closely with the board and State Education Department, said the Regents leadership must advocate strenuously for the resources all students need; better teaching and learning conditions; and what's right for students.

"We look forward to working collaboratively and constructively with the Regents on the many issues facing public education," Fortino said. "For example, standardized tests should be used to diagnose student learning and help inform teachers' instruction, not as a 'gotcha' weapon that narrows the curriculum and stifles creativity in the classroom."

Since Chin is filling a vacancy, she was the only new member at the Regents' March meeting. Others will begin April 1. However, even at the March meeting, there was a sense of a fresh approach.

The Regents discussed exploring new routes for students to meet high school graduation requirements "beyond a single test score" on certain Regents exams.

In addition, the Regents higher education committee asked SED to explore further safety net options for students having trouble meeting the rushed-through new requirements for teacher certification. (See related story.)