Friday, April 8, 2016

Budget Update

NYS PTA Response to NYS Adopted Budget 
On Monday, April 4, school districts received their state aid allocations according to the final vote by the NYS Senate on Friday, April 1. An overview of funding issues that NYS PTA advocated for, with what was included in budget bills and what was not addressed, is now available from our website by clicking here.

At the end of the document, we also pinpoint certain items we believe will be discussed until the end of the legislative session in June. Your continued attention to advocacy efforts and our advocacy messages is important. 

During this session, many last minute issues were responded to with our Education Conference Board (ECB) partners in response to concerns from our constituencies.

UPDATE: An Opportunity for Parents to Share Your Voice on a NYS Learning Standards Committee
Last Thursday we sent out a Voter Voice email to all of our members that we also shared with other parent organizations throughout the state concerning the NYS Education Department (NYSED) request that parents help review and revise the ELA and Mathematics Learning Standards during 2016-17. 
The Standards revision is first; assessments will be addressed later. NYSED has asked the PTA to help with the marketing of this request along with working together on the nomination process that will determine who will be selected for these committees.
As of Thursday, April 7, 151 completed applications have been received. The breakdown of those applications is that 87 parents have applied to participate on the ELA Committee and 64 parents selected the Mathematics Committee.
The application deadline is April 14. For parents interested in being considered for one of these committees they can start the application process from going to our website by clicking here. 

Thank you for continuing to Communicate to Advocate with us for the children of NYS!


NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Advocating in Albany and in Washington

Since my last message, we have been extremely busy. In response to the governor’s budget proposal, NYS PTA responded on our own and in some situations in partnership with the Educational Conference Board with the following:

Legislation/Education Conference and Lobby Days: We joined with our members from NYS PTA at our Legislation/Education Conference in Albany where we continued the conversation on the above topics and heard from specialists in the field who are dealing with these issues on a day-to-day basis.

Check out our YouTube page to see video of NYS Regent Judith Johnson talk about Regent Priorities.

You can also check out a great video presentation from the EPIC Theatre Ensemble Student Performers (in collaboration with the Campaign for Educational Equity).

Guided by Epic artists mentors, and researchers from the Campaign for Educational Equity (Teachers Colleges, Columbia University), this student theatre ensemble presented: 10467 - "Why do we stand down when we should stand up in the battle against educational injustice? And how do we conceive and construct a new value system where someone's zip code doesn't damage their educational opportunities?"

The day after, we brought 18 advocates to meet with NYS Senate and Assembly representatives and staffs to share our opinions and ask for their support with the above issues. Our member advocates throughout the state joined our ranks to share their views on virtual lobby day where close to 4,000 letters were sent to our legislators about funding our schools. (You can still send your messages from our TAKE ACTION page.)

One of our delegates from the Western Region, Candy Ditkowski, shared her thoughts about the experience in her blog post, "Party of Five". You can check it out by clicking here.

Advocating for Statewide Family Engagement Centers in Washington: We then took our advocates to Washington, DC where we had the opportunity to attend many workshops to prepare us for our Hill visits on Thursday.

We had the opportunity to meet with representatives from Senator Chuck Shumer, Senator Gillibrand, Representative Katko, Representative Israel, Representative Tonko, Representative King and Representative Rice’s offices.

We met with them to ask for them to sign onto a letter of support to fund the Statewide Family Engagement Centers that are within the new ESSA legislation. We had very productive conversations and embraced the opportunity to share our views with our federal legislators. Those we met with were very open to supporting this important legislation. If you follow @NYSPTA on Twitter, you can see some direct and re-tweeted quotes and pictures from the visits and from throughout the week.

Thank you for continuing to Communicate to Advocate with us for the children of NYS!


NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Reflections on Governor's Budget and Upcoming Events

The Governor's State of the State and Executive Budget:  Last Wednesday, Governor Cuomo gave his State of the State Address in combination with his Budget Proposal. NYS PTA released a statement that evening in which we expressed cautious optimism with the tone of the Governor’s State of the State/Budget message which is much more positive than a year ago. 

Later in the week, NYS PTA Executive Administrator Rick Longhurst shared his analysis and how it connects to NYS PTA in our Advocacy Newsbriefs. 

While the governor’s education message in this week’s State of the State message was far less contentious than in past years, the fiscal proposals were a disappointment. Here is an outline of increases the Governor proposes for state aid to schools.
  • Basic Foundation Aid: $266 million of $4.3 billion currently owed to schools
  • Gap Elimination Aid: $189 million of $434 million currently owed. The remainder is proposed to be eliminated next year
  • Reimbursement of expenses incurred for building, transportation, BOCES and some special education programs: $408 million
  • Conversion of struggling and some high needs schools to community schools: $100 million
  • Extending prekindergarten programs to three year olds: $22 million
  • Other grant programs: $6 million
  • Total 2016-17 proposed state aid increase: $991 million
  • Total increase proposed for 2017-18: $1.2 billion
In contrast, the NYS Board of Regents has recommended an increase of $2.4 billion and the Educational Conference Board (ECB), representing the larger educational associations including NYS PTA, has recommended an increase of $2.2 billion.
To read the rest of the article of what was left unsaid and the upcoming legislative challenges, click here.

We are Looking for Leaders

New York State PTA is seeking individuals interested in leadership positions for 2016-2017.
Are you interested in enhancing your PTA experience at the state level? NYS PTA brings together individuals throughout the state to realize our mission to make every child’s potential a reality, by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.
I am interested in learning more about serving on the NYS PTA Governance Team.
I am interested in becoming a Region Partner.
You can find out more in this video:

Legislation/Education Conference Online Registration Now Open!

Mission Possible: Act Today for a Better Tomorrow 

NYS PTA offers its annual Legislation/Education Conference, providing current information on hot topics and long-standing issues on February 27-28 at the Desmond Hotel in Albany, NY

Panel discussions and workshop presentations are conducted by education partners; health, wellness and child advocacy service providers, agencies and organizations; and members of the NYS PTA Board of Directors. 
Open to all interested PTA members, this conference offers specific advocacy training and ways of accessing resources that can benefit your local PTA and school community. For more information about the conference, click here

To register now, click here. (Deadline for registration is February 7, 2016)

The PARP Conference is Back and Online Registration Now Open!
Reading: Where the Adventure Never Ends 

For more information about the PARP Conference being held on March 19 at the Melville Marriott including keynote speakers and workshop information click here

To register now, click here(Deadline for registration is February 28, 2016)


Bonnie M. Russell

NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Education Reform: What Next?

The last two weeks have been a very busy time for Education Reform from the signing by the President of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, to the recommendation released by Governor Cuomo's Common Core Task Force.

Our Executive Administrator, Rick Longhurst, and Education Coordinator, Cathy Romano, ask: Education Reform: What Next? in this editorial article below.

Education Reform:  What Now?

Last week, eight years after the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) expired, Every Student Succeeds Act, (ESSA) the single greatest change in National Education Policy in many years was signed into law.  A thousand pages of legislation boil down to two simple principles: student testing remains but states get to set standards and determine how they use those standards to evaluate schools and educators. 

Already, two camps are emerging. 
  • The first says, we have had enough of reform and testing.  We want to be done with Common Core and go back to the way things used to be.  
  • The second says, we should Pause, reflect on what works, change what does not; then move forward. NYS PTA falls into the latter.

What do parents and the education community really want for our students from the education system? It is not complicated. We ask:
  • What do we want our children to know and be able to do? How do we know when those       goals have been met?
  • What information do schools need to keep education reform moving in the right direction
  • What impact do educators make in our children’s learning and how do we know it?

What do we want our children to know and be able to do?- Standards, Curriculum and Instruction
Research demonstrates that where there are high expectations and support for those expectations by educators and parents, children achieve! NYS PTA has long supported the higher aspirations for all students expressed in the Common Core Standards, but understand that a short time frame, limited resources, and an overemphasis on immediate results have caused tremendous stress over the past five years. As with any change, adjustments are necessary to get us where we need to be. This takes time.

The NYS Education Department continues to seek feedback from communities and educators on standards and testing that will lead to necessary adjustments. We ask that they be allowed to do their job as professionals with minimal interference from our legislators in that process. 

Researchers also point out that 21st century success depends on ability to communicate, collaborate, think critically and create. While the global economy asks more of workers, recent events reinforce the idea that our everyday life is global. This fundamental shift requires new curriculum, challenging assessments and fundamental changes in instructional practice. The transition is complex and requires extensive professional development, integration across all subject areas, and the full engagement of families and communities. Schools must spend this time wisely to improve local practice and state resources must support each aspect of the transition.

How do we know when our children meet those goals? What information do school systems need to keep education reform moving in the right direction? - Assessments

Standardized testing continues under ESSA.  This is to ensure that we are not overlooking or under expecting performance of some students or communities. The NYS Education Department promises streamlined testing and adaptive assessments that today’s technology makes possible. We need an immediate and substantial investment to develop these assessment tools, improve instruction and promote learning, not punish educators or students.

Assessments serve two functions. They tell us what students have learned and help to identify opportunities to improve the learning process. We call upon those who will design or select tests to remember that we are working with children.
  • Tests must be shorter, 
  • Content must be interesting, and
  • Questions must reflect the both the substance and nature of instruction while being relevant to how and where students live.

Educators must be assured that scoring methods, cut scores and scales are reliable and provide an accurate view of student performance. We must also provide parents and communities with clear, trustworthy data on how individuals, groups of students, and schools compare across the state.

With student mobility, parents and families must have quality information to make the best possible choices for their children and communities. Families need comparative information on school performance when selecting where their child will learn. The education department and the legislators must support families and communities as full partners in this effort. 

Finally, assessment of student performance must be the springboard for school improvement. ESSA enables schools to use multiple measures of effectiveness, including attendance, graduation rates and school climate as part of a whole school review. Communities whose schools are underperforming need good comparative benchmarks when setting goals for improvement. NYS PTA encourages all to participate in the assessment process and improvement directed discussions as the system changes.

How do we know that Educators make a difference? - Educator Impact - 
When asked about schooling, everyone can point to an educator who made the difference, positively or negatively. But defining what makes a great educator remains a challenge. We risk devaluing the importance of good teachers and instructional practice, thereby risking an entire profession if we avoid examining APPR.  In 2011, the Board of Regents, with parent and educator input, adopted teaching standards. Great teachers must:
  • know their students,
  • know their subject matter,
  • successfully employ research-based instructional practices,
  • establish a classroom climate that is conducive to effective learning,
  • select meaningful assessments and use results to improve the learning experience,
  • collaborate with families, communities and each other, and
  • take responsibility for professional improvement. 
It is critical that we move educator evaluation away from an imbalanced matrix focused on single test scores to assessing educators on a broad spectrum of quality standards. We can only make progress when we use the full potential of the teacher evaluation process as an opportunity to improve practice.

We ask legislators to empower school boards, educators and parents to redesign an APPR evaluation system that is accurate, fair, and transparent, resulting in improved  instructional practice and information  that provides families and communities with the confidence that they are  placing children in the care of quality educators.

The Every Student Succeeds Act gives New York a real opportunity to move forward on our own terms.  Let us not waste it. It is essential that we use this opportunity not to retreat from reform but to reflect on what is required to move it forward. 

NYS PTA asks Governor Cuomo, the legislature, the Regents and SED not to simply implement a pause in linking student performance to grading educators, but to make a joint and determined effort to use that time to collaboratively build a future that will prepare every child for the success we aspire for all children regardless of zip code or income.  

Monday, November 30, 2015

Pressing Pause at the Annual Convention

The 119th Annual NYS PTA Convention held November 13-15 in Niagara Falls was a great success! 

We covered critical topics and offered:
  • opportunities to work on leadership skills;
  • engagement with a wide range of exhibitors; 
  • highlights of the great creativity of our students in the Reflections Gallery;
  • presentation and approval of updates to our bylaws; 
  • participation in the parliamentary challenges and debate with the resolutions process; and 
  • keynote speeches by: MaryEllen Elia, NYS Commissioner of Education; Ashli Skura Dreher, 2014 New York State Teacher of the Year; and Kent Knappenberger, Music Teacher and Inaugural Grammy Award Winning Teacher. They were very inspirational and full of Information to be brought home to our local members!

We also had some firsts:
  • Streaming our General Sessions Online - For those members unable to join us in Niagara Falls we offered our General Sessions video streamed online. Those videos are now available on our NYS PTA YouTube channel or directly from our website by clicking here.
  • Approved a new resolution on Bio-Solid Waste - To see that and other resolutions discussed at our convention, click here.
  • Installed new and returning officers: Vice President Jane Harsha, Vice President Judy Van Haaren, Secretary Helen Hoffman and Treasurer, Neil Johanning
  • Introduced of new Awards - The first NYS PTA Family Engagement Award in Honor of Jami-Beth Knapp was presented to NYS Board of Regents Chancellor Emeritus Robert Bennett; and the Empire State PTSA presented the first Muriel Berk Service Award to past NYS PTA President Alice Willett. (To see the presentations, please check out the YouTube videos of the Banquet by clicking here.
  • Introduced the Premiere Letter of Interest along with an introductory video for members interested in being involved with the NYS PTA Board. (Be on the lookout for more information about this new program.)
  • Announced the "Press the Pause" Twitter Campaign Vice President Jane Harsha led delegates in an Advocacy message from our seats to kick off  our "Pressing the Pause" Campaign. Delegates tweeted: "#NYSPTA calls for immediate pause in the link of APPR & test scores thru 2016-17. Get the reform right first! @NYSenate @NYSA_Majority."  Update: This past weekend the press is reporting that the governor may be moving toward reducing the role of test scores in teacher assessments. He is awaiting the Common Core Task Force report this month and is expected to announce changes in his State of the State address in early January. Time will tell....(look for further details in a future post!)
As we enter into the holiday season, I hope you spend time with and enjoy your families!

Thank you for all that you do for children....


Bonnie M. Russell

NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Busy Few Months in Education

I hope you have had a great start to the new school year these past few months! It is such a busy time in education and especially in our schools.

NYS PTA has also been busy advocating for children throughout the state during this very tumultuous time in education that started a few years ago, and it just seems to continue to evolve and change at a very quick pace.

Our Executive Administrator, Rick Longhurst, has worked collaboratively with our Education Coordinator, Catherine Romano, to respond to the many changes affecting the education of the children in our state based on feedback we are receiving from our members. 

These very informational documents are available from our Hot Topics in Education webpage by clicking here.

  • Information from Hot Topics Workshop at SLC  - At the Summer Leadership Conference, Rick Longhurst and Catherine Romano held a workshop session entitled “Hot Topics In Education.“ (This workshop is being be offered again at our upcoming annual convention being held in Niagara Falls November 13-15.)
    • The following are questions that workshop attendees posted (in black) and answers provided to the best of our ability (in blue). Please note that when discussing school process, we provide a general understanding. For what actually occurs in your school or district, please speak to teachers, principals, district office leaders and superintendents. Click here to read the document.
  • Response to the Governor's Commission - The following is a response by the NYS Congress of Parents and Teachers (NYS PTA) to the six points described by Governor Cuomo in outlining the Commission’s charge. Click here to read the letter. 
    • Excerpt from letter -  "We had hoped and even expected that we would be asked to participate as commission members and were disappointed when our direct voice was not considered.  We have played key roles in bringing diverse parent groups together in the past. Most recently, this past May, we brought groups as diverse as Students First New York, the NYS Alliance for Public Education and the Alliance for Quality Education together with NYS PTA representatives to offer common goals and views on sometimes diverse solutions to the NYS Board of Regents. Nevertheless, we conclude that we have an obligation to contribute our views and offer initial thoughts in response to each of the Governor’s points."
  • NYS PTA Responses to Questions Posed to NYSSBA Panel - NYS PTA responsed to questions posed to a NYSSBA Panel by Timothy Kremer, Executive Director of NYS School Boards Association, on October 19, 2015. Click here to read NYS PTA responses presented by Executive Administrator Rick Longhurst.
    • Excerpt from the responses - "Schools aren’t factories. We’re in the people business, not the widget business. Successful schools are built on common focus and collaboration. Successful collaborations are built on productive relationships and productive relationships are based on mutual trust."

A Few Notes.....
  • The Parent Teacher Magazine is now available electronically and is not only available from the website but is also now being sent directly to members as you requested when we surveyed you last spring. 
  • The 119th Annual Convention will be here before you know it. It will be in Niagara Falls from November 13-15. This year we will be offering live streaming capability from our website to our General Sessions 1-3. So if you are unable to be there with us, you will be able to view the proceedings from our website. We will be sending out more information about this in the upcoming weeks....
Thank you for all that you do for children....


Bonnie M. Russell

NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Assessments are Much More Than a Test

Summer is a time to prepare for the upcoming school year, and for our NYS PTA Board of Directors (Board) that includes reviewing resolutions for our upcoming Convention in November, and reviewing and updating position papers.

At our Board meeting held last month, we approved the following position papers that were presented to us by our Resolutions Committee/Advocacy Team taking into account feedback from our members.

The paper on Assessment, Testing and Learning was timely with the release of the Grade 3-8 ELA and Math Assessments last week. Keep in mind that our position is on overall assessments (those used in the classroom), NOT just NYS Assessments.
Assessment is an essential aspect of the learning process since it provides feedback intended to show the level at which instruction should begin, the effectiveness of ongoing learning strategies, and the level of proficiency attained as a result of the instructional process. It is intended to benefit the student, to inform teachers who guide each student’s progress, and to assist parents in understanding how to support their child’s learning. 
There are many types of assessment, with what we know as tests representing only a subset of the numerous assessment tools available. (Please reference the position paper from the link above for specifics.)
Here is a preview of some of the talking points:
All Educators must
  • establish balanced use of assessments to inform instruction without over testing or overemphasizing test performance
  • create and use high quality assessments to measure what is important in a meaningful manner that meets the standards with validity, reliability, fairness, and developmental appropriateness - especially for students with disabilities or new English learners
  • maintain a positive environment for students during assessment/test administration 
  • minimize the use of testing and test preparation so to maximize the learning environment and support whole child learning 
  • avoid the use of a single test or single assessment measure for the placement, promotion, or retention of a student, or within high stakes decisions affecting students 
  • establish developmentally appropriate seat time when assessing students
  • use assessment as part of a holistic improvement of learning and strategic planning for the individual student, groups of students and school systems, rather than using assessment results for punishment or competition
  • never use standardized multiple-choice tests and school readiness tests with preschool and early elementary children for any purpose 
We ask that you also review our position papers on Educating the Whole Child and Juvenile Justice in New York State. They are very important and are representative of our balance as an association to address all aspects of a child at school, at home and within the community.

A big thank you to the Resolutions Committee/Advocacy Team who worked diligently and passionately on these position papers.


Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!