SEPT 10, 2015 – New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia received the full tour of HFM BOCES and PTECH by students and administrators during her visit Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. The newly appointed head of the State Education Department was interested in seeing and hearing about the innovative programs taking place locally.
“I’ve seen others, but people tell me this is the best PTECH in the state,” Elia said during a luncheon hosted by the students and staff at PTECH.
Joining Elia for the tour were HFM BOCES District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel along with representatives from SED, PTECH’s business partners, the regional Chamber of Commerce and area legislators’ offices.
PTECH principal Mike Dardaris guided Elia through the facility, explaining how the non-traditional layout of PTECH’s learning spaces enhances the project-based learning model of the school.
Elia acknowledged that it was time for public education to “expand the K-12 realm to a K-20 perspective.” PTECH’s six-year program takes students from 9th grade through college, culminating in an Associate’s degree at no cost to the student’s family.
Fulton-Montgomery Community College President Dr. Dustin Swanger told the commissioner he saw collaborative energy in the HFM region between secondary education, the college and the local business community like nowhere else in his experience, and believed it was a model for the rest of the state.
However, the visit was primarily about meeting students, and the commissioner heard directly from them how big a difference their PTECH experience was from their home schools, from smaller class size, expanded opportunities and adaptable course of study to teachers’ accessibility and personal investment in the growth of individual students.
Following the visit to PTECH, Elia and the SED representatives traveled to HFM BOCES for a tour of those facilities and separate meetings with teachers, principals, superintendents and Board of Education presidents from HFM BOCES’ component schools.
She highlighted her background to each group and explained some of her objectives in her new role. Elia emphasized her first item of business was to listen to the stakeholders in public education.
“I believe whole-community involvement is essential to make our schools and school system stronger,” Elia said.
When asked about Common Core and other “controversial” issues in education, Elia said she had no intention of backing away from higher standards for students.
“You don’t cap excellence in education,” Elia said. “We need our students to be well prepared to succeed in the world after high school.” She pointed to the large number of students who are spending money on remedial courses in college without earning credits toward their degree.
However, while she strongly believes raising standards is good, Elia said she “was not married to every section and sequence” in the new standards.
According to Elia, some areas needed evaluation and possible changes.
“No state has done a good job with this seismic shift,” she said, promising to release her approach to a review of New York’s Common Core standards in the next few weeks.
Questioned about the “opt-out” phenomenon, Elia said she thought several steps could help alleviate that problem for schools, from shortening the length of the tests to school leaders doing a better job explaining the important value of the tests in the educational process.
Repeatedly, Elia emphasized the importance of involvement by all stakeholders – teachers, parents, school leaders and their communities – in the work to resolve issues weighing down progress and to improve public education in New York State.