A Message from the NYS Commissioner
Welcome back to another school year! I hope you were able to rest up, relax, and enjoy some time with family and friends over the summer.
As school district leaders, you have undoubtedly been busy preparing for the frenzied excitement that comes with the start of school - making sure your principals have prepared their buildings and technology so they are ready to go, planning and implementing professional development opportunities for your teachers and administrators, reaching out to parents to encourage their engagement throughout the year, planning for open houses and back-to-school nights, and so much more.
Like you, the Board of Regents, the State Education Department, and I have also been getting ready for the start of classes. We are focused intently on several closely related issues: educating the whole child, ensuring greater equity throughout the education system, and supporting you in the work you and your staff do every day to educate and inspire your students.
I would like to take this opportunity to review some of the recent changes we have made that will be reflected in New York's classrooms this year. As well, I hope you will take a moment to watch a short back to school video message that I posted online.
Educating the Whole Child
According to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, an education that focuses on the whole child is one in which: each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle; learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults; is actively engaged in learning and is connected to school and the broader community; has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults; is challenged academically; and graduates high school prepared for success in the future.
When we educate the whole child, we help that student succeed in all aspects of life - from academics to interpersonal relationships to making smart and healthy life choices.
We are working to provide our schools with the tools you'll need to give all students an education that meets the whole child tenets. It is a multi-pronged strategy that involves mental health instruction, social emotional learning, and the creation of school environments that are safe and welcoming to all.
New York recently became the first state in the nation to require age appropriate mental health instruction for students, and this summer we sent a guidance document to all schools to help you develop curriculum and tailor instruction based on your local needs.
In August, we released important new guidance and resources to implement Social Emotional Learning benchmarks, policies, and programs. Using these new social emotional learning benchmarks and frameworks, schools can implement practices to help students reduce emotional distress, increase their commitment to school, bolster academic achievement, and decrease disruptive behavior. By supporting students both on a social emotional level and an academic level, we provide them with interpersonal skills and a sense of well-being that will help them succeed academically and in life.
Last year, 30 school districts participated in our program to promote healthy school climates and adopted a school climate framework that contains strategies like embedding social emotional learning into academics and implementing restorative practices and trauma-sensitive practices. This year, we will gather feedback on these programs, develop action plans to address areas of need, and establish technical assistance centers with the hope that dozens more schools we participate in our school climate initiative.
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
In January, the U.S. Department of Education approved our ESSA plan, which means New York will continue to receive approximately $1.6 billion annually in federal education funding. I am grateful to everyone who provided input as we worked to develop New York's plan.
This year, we will begin to implement ESSA in our schools, and anticipate the Regents will adopt permanent regulations this fall. We will continue to provide training sessions and materials throughout the year, and I encourage you to visit our ESSA public webpage for regular updates on these resources and training opportunities.
Fundamentally, New York's ESSA plan is about creating a set of interlocking strategies that promote and foster educational equity for all. Like our efforts to educate the whole child, the State's ESSA plan seeks to support teachers as they work to lift up all children.
Our plan includes strategies to help all schools create an environment that is welcoming to everyone - and ensures all children have access to a well-rounded, culturally responsive education that supports their social emotional development.
The plan does this by incentivizing districts to provide more access to rigorous high school coursework to all students, and to work with those students who need more than four years to graduate. It expands the State's accountability measures beyond ELA and math scores, to also include science, social studies, acquisition of English language skills by non-native speakers, and chronic absenteeism. And it provides students with more pathways to demonstrate they can meet the State's learning standards; addresses disparities in the way teachers are assigned to schools; and requires reports on district spending to ensure that spending is always done efficiently and equitably.
Standards, Assessments, and Educator Evaluations
You will recall that last year the Board of Regents adopted new learning standards in English language arts and mathematics. These standards are rigorous, challenge New York's students to do more, and prepare them for life in the 21st century.
This past summer, we held regional conferences that brought together nearly 3,000 educators who received in-depth professional development on the standards. We will continue to provide you with useful guidance and professional development, so your teachers can bring the standards to life in their classrooms.
Two years ago, we placed a hold on the use of student performance on State tests in evaluating teachers and principals. That moratorium continues through the coming school year, and we may ask the Board of Regents to extend it if necessary.
The hold was intended to give us time to explore potential changes to the current evaluation system as we transition to the new learning standards. In February, we sent a survey to the field seeking input on the best way to create a useful evaluation system. More than 20,000 educators responded with thoughtful input and I can't thank you enough for your participation.
We will continue to engage educators, parents, and the public as we move to develop the new evaluation system. This work will not be done overnight, and it won't be done in isolation. We will take the time to listen and to get it right.
Wishing You All the Best for a Great Year
I'd like to thank you, once again, for everything you do to educate New York's children. It's not hyperbole to say that education, more than any other field, determines our future. The Regents and I are committed to providing you with the resources you need to support your principals and teachers and the students in your care.
I hope you will continue to provide the Department with feedback on the work we're doing; that input is invaluable as we seek to continuously improve the education we provide to our students.
The Regents and I are proud of the work we are doing to help New York's schools create positive learning environments in which everyone is welcomed and supported. And I can't wait to see these changes come to life in your classrooms. I wish you all a happy, productive, and successful school year.