images of parents with their children
September 13, 2019
Dear Parents,

Welcome back to school! I hope the transition into the new school year has been smooth for you and your children.

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting two schools in the Capital Region on the first day of school. At Menands School, I enjoyed greeting students as they got off the bus, visiting students and educators in the classroom, and observing students trying out their lockers for the first time. I then visited Heatly School at Green Island UFSD where two wonderful students served as my tour guides. They took me to a second grade classroom, to the cafeteria to learn about a program that provides free meals for all kids, and to meet Guss, the school's therapy dog!

It's an exciting time of year, and I enjoyed meeting the students, teachers, and administrators on their first day back to school. A new school year always brings an opportunity for a fresh start, along with a renewed commitment to our collective values and priorities. The Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department (NYSED) remain as devoted as ever to our top priority: advancing equity and excellence in our educational system through the implementation of our New York State ESSA plan.

That's why I'm pleased the new school year is underway so our work can continue as we build upon the progress that we've already made. As this school year begins, we recommit ourselves to working collaboratively -- in our schools, districts, communities, and across the state -- to improve public education in New York. We still have work to do to make our schools even stronger.

A large part of this work is making sure that our schools are welcoming places for all students. To that end, NYSED and Attorney General Letitia James recently issued two guidance letters to school officials outlining the state's priority of providing safe, fair, and supportive learning environments for all students throughout the state. The first letter clarifies the role of school resource officers (SROs) in safeguarding the rights of all students, including undocumented students, to receive a public education without fear of intervention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. The second letter clarifies the obligation of all school districts to administer their student discipline policies and practices in a way that ensures every student has access to a safe and supportive learning environment, free from harassment, bias, and discrimination.

To help ensure that students across the state receive every aspect of support that they need, we have made valuable guidance and resources available to help school districts implement policies and programs that promote Social Emotional Learning (SEL). These tools facilitate systemic whole school implementation and include district-developed resources aligning SEL competencies, academic standards, classroom activities, and teaching practices. Systemic whole school implementation of SEL encourages safe, supportive school communities in which all young people are valued.

The SEL resources work hand-in-hand with academic tools to provide a stronger foundation for learning. We need to make sure that instruction promotes learning for all students, and New York State is working to foster equity and student success through the implementation of the Next Generation Learning Standards. To help you prepare as your child's school transitions to the Next Generation Learning Standards, NYSED collaborated with multiple partners, including parents, to develop a parent resource that facilitates and promotes parental involvement and engagement.

There's still more work to do. We will continue to implement strategies to achieve true equity in all classrooms across New York State. For more details about the work ahead, please take a moment to watch my back to school video message.

Before closing, I want to congratulate Rachel Murat, the 2020 New York State Teacher of the Year. Ms. Murat is a high school social studies and technology integration teacher at Maine-Endwell High School in Endwell, NY. Throughout her 24-year teaching tenure, she has gone beyond her teaching duties to engage students and staff outside the classroom, helping to meet the needs of local community members. Congratulations, Ms. Murat!

Thank you for reading and for your continued involvement in your children's education. When parents are engaged, our schools are stronger. Best wishes for a positive and productive school year.


Beth Berlin
Interim Commissioner