SAANYS Remains Active in Engaging Federal Lawmakers

SAANYS has seized every available opportunity to influence the development of federal regulations and state procedures underpinning the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Meeting with the New York Federal Delegation in Washington DC

In June, SAANYS participated in the National Leaders Conference organized by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) in Washington DC. The conference culminated with lobby teams from the various states meeting with members of their respective federal delegations.

The team from New York was comprised of:

• Karl Thielking – SAANYS Past President, SAANYS NASSP representative, and Principal of Pittsford Mendon High School

• John McKenna – SAANYS President and Principal of Fletcher Elementary School

• Paul Fanuele – SAANYS President Elect and Executive Principal of Arlington High School

• James Viola – SAANYS Director of Government Relations

As is often the case at such conferences, SAANYS had the most ambitious schedule of appointments with their federal representatives from New York State. Meetings were completed with representatives and staff from the following offices:

• Senator Charles Schumer
• Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
• Congressman Chris Collins – District 27
• Congressman Chris Gibson – District 19
• Congressman Brian Higgins – District 26
• Congressman Sean Maloney  — District 18
• Congresswoman Louise Slaughter – District 25
• Congresswoman Elise Stefanik  — District 21

In light of the many statutory and regulatory requirements that remain in place following the Race to the Top program and additional program requirements that have been established in New York State, team members urged maximum allocations for each of the Title programs.

New York’s Title II allocation was then scheduled for a $9 million reduction; and the State Education Department was allocated only $1 million of the $45 million it requested from the state legislature for professional development. Quality professional development is needed throughout the state to successfully phase-in the new state standards and state assessments now under development. Otherwise, there is a risk of repeating the mistakes made during the roll-out of Race to the Top (RTTT) reforms. In regard to RTTT, the Gates Foundation CEO said, “…our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards.”

For Title III, there is a great and growing need for support to meet the needs of English learners and immigrant students. There are over 213,000 English language learners in New York State, and many school districts across the state are experiencing large increases of ELL students and unaccompanied minors – many of whom are Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) and require extensive and intensive educational services. In addition, the Board of Regents adopted changes to Part 154 of State regulations for the enhanced provision of services to ELL students, without any additional funding.   

In order to make more funds available for student services, the team strongly advised against enactment of the Respect—The Best Job in the World program proposed by Education Secretary John King. If enacted, this competitive grant program would allocate $1 billion to increase the salaries of “effective teachers” to move up the salary scale at an accelerated pace. The team felt that such a program could create derision in school districts:

• Which teachers are effective and which are not?

• The annual professional performance review system is an invalid and unreliable “mess” in New York State, and is virtually useless for making fair determinations.

• After the grant period this program would constitute an unfunded mandate for participating school districts.

With the passage of ESSA, Commissioner Elia expressed strong interest in New York State applying to be one of seven states to be granted Section 1204, Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority. However, in June, the commissioner informed SAANYS that SED would not submit an application because the program includes no additional funding for implementation. The SAANYS team strongly recommended that reasonable funding support be allocated for this program, and  impressed upon federal representatives the need for better, more innovative assessment approaches  in order to win back the public confidence and support necessary to drive down the state assessment opt-out rate which was 220,000 in 2015 (and has further increased to approximately 230,000 in 2016).   

Finally, for purposes of school accountability and the calculation of high school graduation, the SAANYS team urged reconsideration of what constitutes successful completion in two ways.

First, it was recommended that a High School Equivalency Diploma be “counted” as a form of successful school completion, whereas the USDOE currently designates students who receive HSE diplomas as dropouts. The new GED ® test and tests like it, such as CTB McGraw-Hill’s Tests Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) – adopted by New York State – are rigorous and consistent with common core standards. Students who remain in school and successfully complete this test battery should be regarded as successful school completers for purposes of graduation rate calculations and school accountability – they certainly are not dropouts.

Second, in New York State, students earn Regents, local, or high school equivalency diplomas based on rigorous criteria, which do not include a time criterion – and there is no compelling reason to establish a four-year criterion now. At a time when we are increasing academic rigor and strongly emphasizing college and career readiness, we should not be seeking the most expedient route to school completion, but the route that is planned, sequenced and timed to make the best strategic use of no-cost public education services to promote success in post-secondary education opportunities. Therefore, states should be allowed to include every student who remains in school and graduates with a high school diploma as a “graduate” and successful school completer for purposes of school accountability.    

Addressing Draft Federal Regulations

On May 31, the U.S. Department of Education issued draft regulations to implement programs the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was enacted in December 2015. On July 22, SAANYS submitted comments and recommendations that have been broadly disseminated to all members of New York State’s congressional delegation, and to others.

The letter states that SAANYS applauded the clear intent of ESSA to change the federal-state relationship by returning more decision-making to the states. With respect to the accountability system, it is the association’s overall observation that “…many of the proposed regulations exceed statutory authority, and sometimes fly in the face of congressional intent. Just as importantly, many of the provisions are rushed, over-simplistic and are more focused on punishment than the provision of assistance. These same characteristics are applicable to New York State’s recent flawed roll-out of Race to the Top reforms – all of which are now in the process of being reviewed and revised by the State Education Department. Therefore, to advance the federal-state relationship intended in ESSA, it is our overriding recommendation that federal regulations be written in a manner that closely parallels the ESSA statutory language and framework.”

The SAANYS letter states positions and extends alternative recommendations in regard to eight proposed requirements:

1. That accountability determinations be made using prior year school results, including summer school graduates, and those determinations be provided to school districts prior to the start of the school year.

2. That only a four-year graduation rate, and not any extended year graduation rates, be used to determine which schools have graduation rates below 67 percent and must be identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement.

3. That all schools be assigned to at least one of three summative levels (e.g., Red, Green, Yellow) and publically reported as such.

4. That if more than five percent of an accountability group (e.g., students with disabilities) on an accountability measure do not participate in a state assessment these students will be considered non-proficient.

5. That all school that fail to meet the participation rate requirement must implement an improvement plan.

6. That for schools that fail to meet the participation rate requirement, the state would be required to place the school in the lowest category on an accountability indicator or on the summative indicator, identify the school for Targeted Improvement, or implement another equally rigorous action.

7. That if a school district wishes to use a nationally recognized high school examination in lieu of a state assessment, all students in the school district must take the examination.

8. That teacher salaries will be included in supplement, not supplant and comparability determinations.

Hosting a Constituent Meeting for Congressman Tonko and School Administrators

On August 23, SAANYS hosted the 5th annual meeting of Congressman Paul Tonko and his colleagues Emily Duhovny, Legislative Assistant, and Diana Bennett, Field Representative, with school administrators from schools located in the 20th Congressional District. School administrators discussed a broad array of educational issues based on the circumstances of their respective school districts. Principally in connection with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), topics included early childhood educational services, services for English language learners and immigrant students, and the need for quality professional development. However, the topics that received the greatest attention were provisions contained in draft federal regulations related to consequences for not achieving 95 percent student participation in state assessments and the inappropriateness of making school accountability determinations based upon a four-year graduation rate.

In addition to SAANYS Executive Director, Kevin Casey, and Director of Government Relations, James Viola; the following school administrators attended the Constituent Meeting:

• Albany City SD – Thomas Giglio, Director of ENL and Refugee Services

• Amsterdam City SD – Vicky Ramos, Superintendent of Schools

• Amsterdam City SD – Patrick Corrigan, Vice Principal of Amsterdam High School

• Ballston Spa CSD – Joseph Dragone, Superintendent of Schools

• Berne-Knox-Westerlo CSD – Leslie Smith, Principal of Berne-Knox-Westerlo Elementary School

• Burnt Hills – Ballston Lake – Christopher Abdoo, Assistant Superintendent for Support Services

• Cohoes City SD – Bryan Wood, Principal of Cohoes High School

• East Greenbush CSD – Lawrence Edson, Assistant Superintendent for School Business Finance

• Guilderland CSD – Christopher Sanita, Principal of Pine Bush Elementary School

• North Colonie CSD – Brian Spofford, Principal of Shaker Jr. High School,

• Saratoga Springs CSD – Brett Miller, Principal of Saratoga Springs High School

• Schalmont CSD – Joby Gifford, Principal of Jefferson Elementary School

• Schalmont CSD – Brian Sherman, Interim Principal of Schalmont Middle School

• Schenectady City SD – Diane Wilkinson, Lead Principal of Schenectady High School

• Shenendehowa CS –Jill Gould, Principal of Skano Elementary School

• Shenendehowa CS – Greg Pace, Principal of Tesago Elementary School

• South Colonie CSD – Greg Bearup, Supervisor of P-8 Science and Math and P-6 Technology

Active Participation in the State Education Department’s ESSA Think Tank

Finally, SAANYS has been active in engaging State Education Leadership in their work to develop a new ESSA compliant State Plan. Such engagement, continues to be ongoing and includes monthly meetings with Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and members of her administrative team.  It also includes regular involvement in the department’s ESSA Think Tank that is headed by Assistant Commissioner Ira Schwartz – involving frequent telephone conference calls as well as face-to-face meetings.

The State Education Department has set the goal to submit its ESSA State Plan by March 6, 2017. However, State Education Agencies may also submit their plans during a second window, in July 5, 2017.

For more information regarding the federal engagement initiatives summarized in this article, contact James Viola, director of government relations, by e-mailing