Published May 14, 2019
MaryEllen Elia, New York State Commissioner of Education and alumna from the Department of Learning and Instruction, was invited to UB by GSE to discuss future plans for the State Education Department. Elia was given an Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award for her extraordinary service, outstanding leadership and exemplary contributions to the education profession. The award was presented by the GSE Alumni Association.
As New York State Commissioner of Education and president of the University of the State of New York, Elia oversees the work of more than 700 school districts and 3.2 million students. She is also responsible for 7,000 libraries, 900 museums and 52 professions encompassing more than 850,000 licenses.
Elia was born and raised in Western New York. In 1970, she began her career as a social studies teacher while obtaining a master’s of education from UB. She taught in the Sweet Home Central School District for 19 years before moving on to administrative positions. Elia credited GSE for helping to pave her career path.
“I had some incredible opportunities while I was in GSE and I was also teaching at the same time I was getting my master’s, so I could use what I was learning from the different courses I was taking and apply it to my own classroom as an educator,” said Elia. “I also had great professors who helped mentor me.”
Several issues impacting New York schools were addressed by Elia during her presentation. One of the concerns included the measles outbreak affecting schools downstate. Elia noted the importance of vaccinations for all students before going to school. “I think we have to be very aware that this is a public health risk and we need to ensure that our children get the vaccines that are necessary,” said Elia.
There was also a discussion regarding the possible expansion of eligibility rules for Unified Sports players in New York. Unified teams are made up of students with special needs and their peers. Students with special needs are able to stay in high school until they are 21-years-old, but they are not allowed to be a part of unified teams after they turn 18. “This may require a change regarding the expansion of eligibility rules,” Elia said. “We need to work with the athletic association across the state and find out exactly what the issues could be, and how we might be able to make changes.”
Kelli Hare, an elementary teacher in Grove City, PA drove two hours to see Elia talk. Hare asked a question regarding the reciprocity agreement process between New York and Pennsylvania. “I have a serious passion for teaching in New York, but I am only certified in Pennsylvania,” Hare said. “I wanted to know if there was anything being made to support reciprocity and have the process of getting teachers certified in New York much smoother.”
The floor was open to questions after Elia concluded her presentation. Hare was impressed with Elia's responses. “She expertly answered all of the questions, including my own,” Hare said. “I am very happy I was able to go and listen to her speak.”
Elia also offered direction for students who intend to go into the field of education. “The best advice I have for students who aspire to be educators someday is to start early so they can understand how rewarding it is to teach others,” said Elia. “I am so thankful for what I have learned over the years.”