Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Back to School, Already?

Can you believe that school is starting this week? Although summer vacation is coming to an end, the start of school is a time of excitement for our students, teachers and us as parents.

With the new year comes new opportunities for our children as they meet their new teachers, figure out their new schedules and meet new friends on the bus, playground, classrooms and cafeteria.

We as parents can sometimes feel just as nervous as they do when all of these new beginnings come together. We want to be confident and available to help support our children through their transitions, but we sometimes are just as excited and nervous.

NYS PTA is glad to offer parents and teachers resources and programs that can help make the new year a great one. We offer resources and articles from our many different publications available on our website and sent directly to our members that have provided email addresses with their membership form (click here for the publications page).

Our social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and recently added Pinterest) are other great places to get daily updates on many different topics from different sources. If you don't already follow us on the Mobile app, please start!

Our Mobile Phone app is a great resource that can be downloaded from your app store. Download the app to your phone today for access to many resources including our publications and access to our Take Action web page to help you advocate on your own throughout the year.

Starting this year we will also be sending out bi-weekly member newsletters that will sometimes include video messages from myself or other guest bloggers. Below is our first video message:

We hope you will continue your membership or consider joining us for the first time. Just click here to access our newest online membership system where you can Become a Member in a matter of a few minutes! #CarryTheCardToBeAPartOfChangeAndTakeAction

Wishing you and your family a great school year as we work together for every.child one.voice® to help make every child's potential a reality.


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

Friday, July 29, 2016

Summer Flies By - PTA Still Advocating!

NYS PTA Sends Comments on Every Student Success Act (ESSA) to the U.S. Department of Education:  Yesterday, NYS PTA sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education which summarized our comments and concerns with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which you can read by clicking here

The letter, along with a press release which you can read by clicking here, was also sent late Thursday, July 28, to the NYSED, media, Educational Conference Board and legislative contacts.

We appreciate the intent of the new law; to enable more state and local input and control of our education system, more state and local control and input over standards, assessments and accountability measures and increased family engagement and focus on parental involvement under ESSA.

We do, however, urge caution regarding attempts in regulation to abrogate local and state control and decision making that was a cornerstone of ESSA. We are concerned about certain proposals in federal regulation and want to ensure that parents continue to have the right to make informed educational decisions for their children, especially in areas connected to assessments.

Comments can be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education as a state PTA, unit/council or by an individual. The deadline to submit is Monday, August 1, 2016 and you can submit your comments through Regulations.gov.

Summer Leadership Conference (SLC) is a Success: We hope you are all having a great summer and finding time to spend with your children. This past weekend NYS PTA had the opportunity to come together with over 200 of our members at Utica College for our Summer Leadership Conference to have fun networking while attending many of the over 40 workshops offered on leadership and advocating for the whole child. 
The attendees also brought school supplies to donate to Watson Williams Elementary School in Utica as part of a Community Service project led by our Youth Member, Lyndsey Petrofsky. Thank you to everyone who participated in the drive.

Attendee Candy Ditkowski shared in her own blog post (click here to read) that one of the items that stood out from her about the weekend is, "If your PTA unit can effectively communicate with one another, you open the door for more creative ideas, and in the process, set your PTA unit on a course for longevity." 

I also agree with her that as the weekend closed, "There is still much work to be done. However, after this Summer Leadership weekend, there is now an entire group of advocates who are empowered to move forward and do some really amazing things for every child." Thank you Candy for sharing what the weekend meant to you.

To access SLC workshop materials from our website click here. (They are also available from our mobile phone app; just go to SLC Schedule, click on the workshop, and scroll to the bottom to see the files. You can also follow the events of the weekend through our tweets as summarized in storify by clicking here.


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


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Announcement of New Executive Director

The New York State PTA welcomes Kyle McCauley Belokopitsky, Esq. as our new Executive Director, to begin at the end of June, 2016. 

Ms. Belokopitsky has specialized in education policy after years of working in both the New York State Senate and Assembly.  She currently represents New York State United Teachers, serving as a PK-12 education lobbyist working on state budget and education funding, and other high profile issues such as testing, learning standards, teacher and principal evaluation and receivership.  

Prior to serving our state’s teachers, she represented the NYS Council of School Superintendents as Assistant Director for Government Relations and the New York State Catholic Conference as Director of Government Relations.

She has been admitted to practice law in New York and the District Court for the Northern District of New York, and teaches Law and Criminal Justice at Hudson Valley Community College and has taught Education Law at The College of St. Rose Graduate School of Education. She is extremely active in the NYS Educational Conference Board, and is a member of the National Association of Legislative and Political Education Specialists, the NYS Bar Association, and a former member of the NYS Management Association for School Law Attorneys. 

Ms. Belokopitsky devotes her free time volunteering at numerous organizations and most importantly, she currently serves in a variety of ways at her son’s school, Gardner Dickinson in North Greenbush.

Ms. Belokopitsky has said, “I am tremendously excited to work with the dedicated staff and team of accomplished leader volunteers to continue the mission of supporting our schools, parents, students and educators. Increasing advocacy and media coverage will allow PTA's influence at the Capitol and across the state to grow.

“Working in concert with region leaders, I hope to continue to re-grow membership and engage parents at the grassroots level in new and innovative ways. Continuing to work with, and increasing the connections with the Education Department and Board of Regents will only benefit our members, and expanding relationships with other educational organizations, including other parent groups, will be critical.

“I am honored and humbled to lead this amazing organization, and hope to work together in supporting what we already know - that PTA makes a difference in the lives of our children each and every day.”  Ms. Belokopitsky offered. 

Ms. Belokopitsky's vision for our future is exciting, as we work together supporting what we already know – that PTA makes a difference in the lives of our children each and every day with everychild.onevoice.® as we Communicate to Advocate!

Ms. Belokopitsky resides in Wynantskill, NY with her husband Doug and two sons, and can be reached at execdirector@nyspta.org, on twitter at @kbelokopitsky, or at 518-452-8808. 

Educational leaders from across the state had this to add:

“I have known and worked with Kyle since she was employed by the New York State Council of School Superintendents, where she brought considerable ‘Albany insider’ experience to the Council, with well-established personal contacts and an in-depth knowledge of how best to work within the system to achieve desired results. Over the years, Kyle has consistently been among the most active and contributing individuals to the Educational Conference Board, frequently assuming a leadership role. Over the time we have worked together, Kyle has earned my respect and admiration.  I believe that she will make an outstanding Executive Director for the PTA.  She has my unqualified recommendation for this position and I look forward to continuing to work with her in this new role.” John Yagielski, Chair, New York State Educational Conference Board.

“Kyle brought creativity, connections, and a tremendous capacity for hard work to our organization.  She made lasting contributions to the Council of School Superintendents during her nearly three years with us.  PTA chapters, parents and students themselves will benefit from all those strengths and from the critical knowledge she has gained about our state's education system. We look forward to continuing to work with Kyle and the New York State PTA and wish both good fortunes in the years ahead.”  Robert Lowry, Deputy Director, New York State Council of School Superintendents.

“As a professional lobbyist and lawyer, Kyle Belokopitsky has a wealth of knowledge about public education advocacy issues, having represented both public and parochial schools as well as teachers and superintendents. She is also a parent of a school age child, which solidifies her credentials as an outstanding choice to be the Executive Director of the NYS PTA. The NYSSBA staff and I look forward to continue working with Kyle in her new role.” Timothy G. Kremer, Executive Director, New York State School Boards Association.

“Kyle Belokopitsky is a consummate professional with tremendous knowledge of education policy and holds a real commitment to parents having a meaningful voice. She will be a great asset to the PTA and we look forward to continuing our collaboration with the PTA.” Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education.


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

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.