The New York Board of Regents found its woman last week.
MaryEllen Elia was appointed the new state education commissioner after serving as a superintendent in Hillsborough County, Fla., for 10 years. Elia, who began her education career as a social studies teacher in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1970, is credited with raising the standards, developing an evaluation system and raising student achievement in Hillsborough County, the eighth largest school district in America. She had a $2.9 billion budget to accomplish her goals.
“MaryEllen Elia has a remarkable record of working collaboratively with teachers, parents and school leaders to get things done,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch in a statement. “During her time in Hillsborough, she led a successful introduction of the Common Core standards, increased graduation options for students who had fallen behind and helped to develop one of the country’s most innovative teacher evaluation systems.
“And all of this was accomplished with school leaders and teachers as partners,” continued Tisch. “Hillsborough County Public Schools is an example of how all sides can find common ground and together can achieve real reform.”
Elia’s appointment ends a five-month search to replace former Commissioner John King, who left the position after taking a job with the U.S. Department of Education at the end of 2014. Elia will officially take over July 6.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement that he’s looking forward to working with the new commissioner.
“Our folks down in Florida who have worked with her have said she was extremely open to making sure teachers felt respected and that their voice was always part of any debates,” said Mulgrew. “We hope to have a great relationship with her as we move forward.”
However, Elia brings her share of controversy to the fold due to how she exited her previous position. While being named Florida’s superintendent of the year in 2015 and a finalist for national superintendent of the year, she was fired by the school board after accusations of micromanagement and employee intimidation. The district bought out her contract for $1.1 million.
Elia is undeterred by criticism and looks forward to the opportunity to come back home.
“I began my career as a teacher and still consider myself a teacher at heart. Good teachers are also good listeners,” said Elia. “My first item of business as commissioner will be listening to parents, teachers, principals, school board members and superintendents from across New York. I believe whole-community involvement is essential to make our schools and school system even stronger.”