March 2016 Issue
March 29, 2016

Regents' new leadership gives reasons for optimism, but much work lies ahead

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Regents Vice Chancellor T. Andrew Brown, Chancellor Betty Rosa, both newly elected, and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia respond to questions from the media.
Caption: From left: Regents Vice Chancellor T. Andrew Brown, Chancellor Betty Rosa, both newly elected, and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia respond to questions from the media. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Signaling a new era for the state's education policy board, the Board of Regents elected former Bronx schools superintendent Betty Rosa as the new chancellor and T. Andrew Brown, a Rochester attorney, as vice chancellor.

Rosa, an activist Regent who has served since 2008, takes over for Merryl Tisch, who stepped down after two decades on the board.

NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said union leaders are hopeful the new leadership will help build a more collaborative and positive working relationship with all the Regents.

"There is a lot of hard work ahead," Magee said. "Yet we are optimistic that students, parents and educators will have a more meaningful voice in fixing New York standards; reducing the burden of standardized testing; and creating a fair and objective evaluation system. New York's public schools will be better off when the Regents completely achieve these goals, and we urge them to press 'fast forward' on the process."

NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, the union's liaison with the State Education Department, noted Rosa attended public schools and graduated from CUNY's City College before earning advanced degrees from CUNY and a doctorate from Harvard University. She said Rosa's work as a bilingual paraprofessional, teacher, special education administrator and superintendent — and her ongoing role as a mentor for doctoral students in education — provide her with an ideal set of skills and experiences to identify with New York's diverse students and school districts.

"Chancellor Rosa is passionate about the power of public education," Fortino said. "Her intellect, breadth of real-world experience, lifelong commitment to students and teachers, and her care in using proven research in decision-making make her an excellent choice to lead the Regents as their chancellor."

In addition, Fortino said, Rosa's deep knowledge about teacher education — and what schools of education can do to better prepare aspiring educators for careers in teaching — will help strengthen the profession.

Fortino said Vice Chancellor Brown, an attorney, has served ably on a number of Regents committees and impressed NYSUT members with his work on the Regents' Workgroup to Improve Outcomes for Boys and Young Men of Color.

In nominating Brown, Regent Lester Young of Manhattan said Brown has a unique ability to build and mold consensus that "will help us and take us to the next level."

In her remarks after the 15–0 vote (two Regents abstained), Rosa made it clear she's focused on leading the board into a new era. "We need to reconceptualize the work that we've been doing — particularly around equity and justice," she said. "Our work must reflect changes in society. We as a board must move from what was the so-called 'reform'... I say welcome the transformers. We are agents of transformation."

An outspoken critic of the state's overemphasis on standardized testing, Rosa told reporters the law gives parents the right to opt their children out of state assessments. "If I was a parent, and I was not on the Board of Regents, I would opt out at this time," she said, adding she also supports parents who want their children to take the tests. "Parents should be informed and make their own decision," she said. "The law gives them these choices."

When asked if she wants the number of opt outs in the state to be reduced, Rosa said, "I want us to get to a place where we come to the table and examine the current tests and move forward in a way that parents have a sense of trust ... We have to rebuild a sense of confidence."

She noted the Regents will continue to work on revamping the standards, testing and the teacher evaluation system. She was one of three Regents who voted against tying test scores to teacher evaluation in 2010; last year she was one of six who voted against the new regulations governing teacher evaluation. She vowed to urgently seek a federal waiver to exempt English language learners and students with disabilities from unfair testing.

She voiced support for finding different ways to assess students, using performance-based tools that inform teachers and give parents an accurate picture of their child's progress.

A standardized test is just a snapshot in time, she said, looking around at the photographers snapping hundreds of photos of her in rapid succession.

Out of all these photos, she said, "There may be a picture that makes me look terrible and I say, 'Oh my God, that's me?'

"Children have those Kodak moments as well," she said.