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Ex-School Boss Elia Lands Job as NY Education Commissioner

Former Hillsborough County School Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has been appointed New York education commissioner.

The New York Board of Regents voted unanimously Tuesday to hire Elia as Commissioner of Education and President of the University of the State of New York (USNY) at a salary of $250,000 a year.

Elia, a native New Yorker, led the Hillsborough County school district for about ten years before the school board voted 4-3 to terminate her contract without cause this past January. The move came with some controversy, as she had been named Florida's Superintendent of the Year just a month earlier.

Elia succeeds John King Jr., who stepped down at the end of 2014 for a post in President Barack Obama's administration.

Elia will take over a state education system that has undergone several years of often contested reforms. Some of them remain under debate, including performance measures for teachers and standardized testing based on the Common Core learning standards.

The New York State United Teachers union expressed support for Elia because of her past experience as a teacher in New York and a superintendent in public education.

“The search committee was very impressed by MaryEllen’s approach to finding common ground on challenging issues—an approach that helped make Hillsborough County public schools a national model for reform,” said Regents Vice Chancellor Anthony S. Bottar, who chaired the search committee. “MaryEllen shares our belief that all students must be held to a high bar to ensure they graduate ready to succeed in life after high school.  Under her leadership, the Hillsborough County schools community widely embraced the Common Core Learning Standards.  It’s good news for all New Yorkers, especially our students, that Ms. Elia has agreed to come home.”

“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.  “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.  Hillsborough County Public Schools is an example of how all sides can find common ground and together can achieve real reform.”

“I want to thank the Board of Regents for giving me the opportunity to return to New York to do what I love to do—work on the behalf of children,” Elia said. “I began my career as a teacher and still consider myself a teacher at heart.  Good teachers are also good listeners.  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.”

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.