- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - A former Florida school superintendent praised for her collaborative style was appointed New York education commissioner on Tuesday and said her first order of business would be to listen to parents, teachers and administrators around the state.

The Board of Regents unanimously approved the selection of MaryEllen Elia at a salary of $250,000 a year, a sum that also covers her role as president of the University of the State of New York, which comprises the state’s education system, libraries, museums and archives.

Elia, a native New Yorker, most recently led the Hillsborough County school district, which includes Tampa, Florida. She succeeds John King Jr., who stepped down at the end of 2014 for a post in President Barack Obama’s administration.

Beginning July 6, Elia will lead a state education system that has overseen several years of contested and ongoing reforms around teacher performance, learning standards and student testing.

The search committee was impressed by Elia’s approach to finding common ground on challenging issues, said the chairman, Regents Vice Chancellor Anthony Bottar.

New York State United Teachers, which has been at odds with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo over policy, said Elia would be “a welcome voice in the discussion about how to improve New York’s already strong public education system.”

Following the Regents’ vote, Elia said she supports higher standards and student testing but only if policy changes are fully communicated to teachers and parents.

“I’m very supportive of raising standards for students,” she said. “… I’m in favor of having tests that are fair, reliable and valid.”

She said much of the uproar around the country regarding Common Core standards can be traced back to rushed implementation.

“Sometimes in haste we haven’t taken the time for people to understand,” she said.

Elia entered public education in 1970 as a social studies teacher in the Sweet Home Central School District in western New York and taught for 19 years before moving into administrative positions.

She was superintendent in Hillsborough county for nearly 10 years, until being dismissed by a new school board majority. In a congratulatory statement, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised Elia’s record.

“The hallmark of her leadership there was inclusiveness - listening to and involving the union, business leaders, community organizations and philanthropy in decision-making, and forming partnerships that supported better outcomes for kids,” Duncan said. “Her commitment to supporting educators, raising academic standards and focusing on student success helped move Hillsborough forward and made her a national leader in education in America.”

Elia was the 2015 Florida superintendent of the year and was one of four finalists for National Superintendent of the Year.

___

Thompson reported from Buffalo.

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