BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
The Regents commitment to high standards for all students has inspired joint effort with many partners. Nowhere is that more important than in our collaboration with Mental Health. At the April meeting Mental Health Commissioner James Stone will discuss issues affecting collaborative efforts to improve outcomes for youth and adults with psychiatric disabilities.
Consider these facts: students with emotional disturbance represent 16 percent of the special education population in New York but over 27 percent of the special education dropouts and only 12 percent of students in special education earning a high school diploma. They represent 32 percent of the students in special education who are suspended.
A State Education Department paper argues that the scope of the unmet mental health needs of children is not sufficiently understood, nor have we recognized the relationship between these needs and poor school performance, incarceration and other bad outcomes.
The Office of Mental Health has been a reliable partner in many ventures. The purpose of the discussion is to understand the barriers, policy issues, and opportunities before us. This is very timely in view of many current issues: our Commission on Disabilities and Higher Education, our budget request for supported employment, and our determination to raise student achievement for students with disabilities.
We completed the recent cycle of Regents visits to the Big Five school districts in April but action continues, as does the discussion before the Task Force and the Full Board. At the April meeting the Regents will examine current and proposed activities in pursuit of their strategies to close the performance gaps.
Several points are clear. First, the State Education Department and the Big Five school districts are pursuing many strategies simultaneously. Some of this is already bearing fruit. For example, Yonkers has increased the numbers taking the Regents English exam by a factor of three over three years and doubled the number passing. Other Big Five districts are also showing gains. Second, we must remember the purpose: to close the measurable gaps in performance. When we look back on this work, it wont be the scope or intensity that mattered but the results. For example, we know that low student achievement in some New York City schools is associated with the use of unlicensed teachers. So how many fewer unlicensed teachers will there be in New York City next September?
Last month the Regents examined student performance in relation to the standards. This month the Board will look at data related to students with disabilities. This is part of the Boards continued monitoring of the reform of special education and an element of the gap-closing strategy.
The report provides 1998-99 data on the performance of students with disabilities on State assessments, graduation results, drop out rate, classification rate and race/ethnicity. The report also provides baseline data on school districts we are targeting for technical assistance. We plan to track these districts for several years to measure the effect of concentrated services on results. What we learn here may have implications far beyond special education.
Here is what I see:
Last fall, we convened an English Language Learners Advisory Group charged with recommending accommodations for English Language Learners to enable them to pass the required Regents exams. In April, the Regents will receive the Advisory Groups recommendations and the Departments response. The Advisory Group addressed three main topics: additional accommodations, alternative tests for English language learners, and a combination of the English Regents examination and a native language assessment. Several of the recommendations will be implemented in the April administration of the Regents Comprehensive English exam, such as allowing the use of bilingual dictionaries (text and electronic) and reading the listening comprehension passage three times.
In developing a solution to the leadership problem, the Regents and the State Education Department had enormous support and cooperation from many people and organizations. The Regents Task Force on Leadership, led by Vice Chancellor McGivern and Regent Meyer, and the Full Board approved the report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Leadership at the March meeting. We turn now to a plan to get the job done.
The purpose is to prepare, recruit, place, and keep a sufficient number of individuals with the knowledge and skill to lead New York schools. We will measure success by the number of individuals who, in the judgment of those who employ them, possess the essential knowledge and skills of leadership. When a formal assessment system is in place, that will become part of the measure of success.
There are three goals and six actions in the plan. Here it is in brief:
Guarantee the quality of leadership education
Recruit the education leaders that New York needs in sufficient numbers
Improve the environment for leadership
At the EMSC Committee, the Regents will review and take action on 14 proposed charters submitted by the SUNY Board of Trustees, and 3 proposed charters submitted by the Chancellor of the New York City Schools. We planned to review one charter school application submitted to the Regents, but this application was withdrawn this week. Staff is completing their review, which will include additional information expected from applicants by March 27. Recommendations for Regents action will come to the Board after we have examined the March 27 material.
The proposed charters submitted by the SUNY Board of Trustees and the Chancellor, which comprise thousands of pages, are under a 60-day statutory timetable for review and action. The Regents must act on each of those proposed charters in April or the charters automatically go into effect.
In May, the Regents will act on the charter agreements for those schools approved in April. In addition, we anticipate submitting for action three or four proposed charter conversions from the Chancellor of New York City Schools and two charter applications submitted to the Regents as the chartering entity.
In subsequent months, we will bring to the Board charter applications for a September 2001 opening date. We expect one such application in June and perhaps as many as 10 more in September.
As of March 15, the backlog of projects waiting to be reviewed is 14 weeks. The backlog is measured from the time the Office of Facilities Planning receives a complete set of construction documents until the architects and engineers begin their review. More than 600 projects are waiting for review. The actual review usually takes less than a day.
The Office of Facilities Planning is using $100,000 appropriated by the Legislature for the 1999-2000 school year to pay for temporary clerical and professional staff. Two clerical staff were hired. Interviews to hire temporary architects and engineers will begin before the end of March.
On March 29, Department staff will meet principals of the architectural and engineering firms responsible for 80 percent of all public school construction. The purpose is to expedite the review and approval process. We can save time if documents are complete and building code information is clearly marked. Issues relating to the 10 percent building aid incentive will also be clarified at the meeting. Many professionals are unaware that timelines depend on voter approval, not approval by the Office of Facilities Planning.
The State Education Building was originally dedicated in 1912. Those who conceived and built it had a firm grasp of the importance of education for the future of New York. In more recent times, the great halls on the second floor had fallen into disuse and disrepair. This space originally housed the State Library. Today, the great stairway is open once more and the halls on the second floor are restored to their former excellence. It is now one of the most distinguished public spaces in New York. Let it be again a symbol to all of what the Regents intend: to raise the knowledge, skill and opportunity for all New Yorkers.
Chief Operating Officer Richard Cate and many others in our Office of Management Services undertook this work and saw it to completion. Their efforts not only returned the building to its proper condition, but also significantly reduced the costs of renting office space. We are grateful for their vision and stewardship.
On Tuesday, April 4, the Chancellor Hayden and I will host a reception for the opening of the second floor of the State Education Building.
In April, the Regents Advisory Council on Libraries, the Regents longest continuing advisory group (1898), will make its annual report to the Regents with recommendations for policy and support.
This years report will focus on the draft recommendations of the Regents Commission on Library Services. Within the past two weeks, the Regents received copies of those recommendations. Two of those recommendations - creation of NOVEL, a statewide online virtual library that will provide all New Yorkers with a vast array of electronic resources, and support for public library construction - form the basis of Regents budgetary and legislative initiatives.
The Commission will further develop the supporting recommendations through in-depth discussion with the library community and its constituents in the months ahead.
The Commission will hold public hearings in April and May to discuss the preliminary recommendations. Hearings are scheduled in Rochester, New York City, Albany, Vestal and on Long Island. A videoconference originating in Albany will link sites at SUNY Plattsburgh, SUNY Potsdam and other sites to be scheduled.
A monthly publication of the State Education Department
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