images of parents with their children
Dear Parents,
Welcome back to school! I hope the start of the school year has been both smooth and joyous for you and your children.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of visiting the Albany International Center here in the Capital City. The program serves about 175 refugee and immigrant students in middle and high school who are in the early stages of learning English and will benefit from targeted instruction and support in all subjects.
The educators, services, and teaching at the school were most impressive - as were the students. For me, the visit was a reminder of the great value immigrants add to our state and country. The young people I met at the Albany International Center came to school ready to study and eager to be a part of American life. They also came to school ready to share their unique experiences, talents, and creativity.
This kind of sharing is what makes New York the wonderfully diverse state it is today and our country a place many others aspire to become. I hope our lawmakers at all levels of government keep this in mind in the coming months. All of our students - at Albany International Center and at every other school in New York and across the country - deserve a chance to pursue the American dream without fear or worry.
The political threat to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) isn't the only challenge facing our country today. There's also the destruction in the wake of Hurricane Harvey - and now likely from Irma too - and the events that happened in Charlottesville last month. Given the connectedness of the modern world, the heartbreaking images of flooding in Houston and news clips of the unrest in Charlottesville are nearly unavoidable. Even though these things took place many miles from New York, they still have a profound effect on us and our children.

On one hand, recent events have uncovered an unfortunate reality about our country - it's clear we have a long way to go to get to a place of true inclusiveness, understanding, and respect. But, on the other, more positive hand, these events have also helped to remind us about the kindness of neighbors and the resilience of the human spirit. They show us that in spite of these latest tests to our nation's character, there are reasons to remain hopeful about the future.
Most importantly for me, the events underscore the indispensable role of schools. Schools are places of respite for children who have lost their homes and much more; they are communities that provide comfort and security in times of need; and they are institutions where lessons go far beyond academics. In classrooms, children learn to be considerate and compassionate individuals who embrace diversity and differences with open minds and hearts.
In this context, our work becomes more even imperative. That's why I am delighted that the new school year is underway. This year, which is my third as State Education Commissioner, we will continue to work together to build upon the progress that we've made over the past two years to improve public education in New York State.
In other words, like our students, we have homework to do to make our schools even stronger.
Our first assignment involves our Next Generation Learning Standards. Next week, the Board of Regents is set to adopt these new standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. But getting the new standards in place is just the start. This time, we will roll out the new standards over the course of several years, allowing ample time for teachers, your children, and you to feel comfortable with the revised material before students are tested on it.
Another big project for us is our Every Student Succeeds Act Plan. ESSA replaced No Child Left Behind and gives us a new opportunity to look at how well our schools are doing and provide additional supports to schools that need them. Our plan emphasizes the importance of fostering equity in education for all of our students and expands measures for school support and accountability, and for student and school success.
We are on track to submit our plan to the U.S. Department of Education later this month. Once we receive approval, we will be thoughtful in how we turn our plan into action to make sure superintendents, educators, parents, and others understand our plan. You'll be hearing more about it in the coming months.

There's more to do too. This year, we will start the process of gathering input from teachers on a new evaluation system, and we will look for new strategies to achieve true equity across New York's schools and do more to ensure every classroom respects and celebrates our State's rich diversity. For more details about our work ahead, you can watch my back-to-school video.
Thank you again for all you do to strengthen our schools. The parent-school connection is a key component to school and student success. I encourage you to continue to be involved in your child's school this year.
Best wishes for a positive and productive school year. Together, we will make it the best one yet.


MaryEllen Elia