Tips and reminders for a successful school year

by MaryEllen Elia

On Board Online • September 4, 2017

MaryEllen Elia
Commissioner of Education

I hope students in your school district were among the more than two million children across the state who avoided the "summer slide" by participating in summer reading programs at public libraries. This is one of many statewide initiatives of the State Education Department.

People are often surprised to learn the vastness of the scope of the department's work. Our stated mission is "to raise the knowledge, skill, and opportunity of all the people in New York." To achieve this ambitious mission, we have a system in place that includes all of New York's educational and cultural institutions: schools, colleges, libraries, archives, museums, public television, the licensed professions, vocational rehabilitation, career and technical education, and much more.

After consulting with my colleagues throughout the department, below is my list of tips and reminders about important issues affecting K-12 education as we begin a new school year. While it is far from exhaustive, I hope it will come in handy as your districts strive to inspire students to achieve new levels of success.

Resident students' right to attend school

Our immigrant students have a right to a free education and they must not fear retribution for themselves or family members simply because they attend school. As education leaders, it is imperative that we protect all students, as well as the information we have about them, to the fullest extent possible under the law. In February, I partnered with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to remind all districts of their duty to comply with existing state and federal laws that ensure the rights of immigrant children to attend New York's public schools. That guidance is available here: goo.gl/ZwdqpQ .

Protecting student safety and dignity

Our greatness as a country and as a state lies in our diversity, our inclusiveness and our willingness to accept and welcome others - regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability to speak English, or any other basis. Students can't learn if they don't feel safe. That's why the Board of Regents, the department and I continue to work with educators to help create school climates that foster learning for all students. We all agree that it is not acceptable to look the other way when students are teased, bullied or even subject to violence simply because they are perceived as different.

I know that your boards have been working hard to help ensure that the Dignity for All Students Act is strictly enforced - and that our schools are, and will always be, safe havens where all students are free to learn without fear of discrimination, harassment or intimidation. Districts also have a duty to ensure the safety of all bus-riding students, including, of course, students with disabilities. Please review the guidance document that Attorney General Schneiderman and I released jointly on Dignity Act compliance: goo.gl/hZ9BdV .

Promoting student health and wellness

It's a simple fact: healthy children are better prepared and more likely to succeed in school than children who face health, mental health or emotional issues. So, please make certain that your schools remind parents and guardians to ensure that all students receive their regularly scheduled check-ups and medical screenings. Advise parents that they can check to see if their child needs a vaccine for his or her new grade level with this Health Department document: goo.gl/gF9npF .

Focusing on the importance of attendance

We know that good attendance is critical to strong academic performance. Studies show that chronic absence in the ninth-grade is a better predictor than eighth-grade test scores that a student may drop out of high school. And students who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are less likely to read proficiently by the time they finish third grade than students who attend regularly. So, as you welcome students and staff back to school this fall, be sure to remind them about the importance of good attendance. Remember, September is Attendance Awareness Month!

Preparing students for life after high school

Districts should also be proactive in working with their rising juniors and seniors to help them think about and prepare for the next step in their lives. For many, now is the time to think about life after high school - whether the goal is to attend a two-year college, a four-year college or to go directly into a career (in many cases, with an industry-recognized certification gained through your schools' career and technical education programs).

There are many resources available to those considering higher education, including:

Supporting adult education and high school equivalency

SED's Office of Adult Career & Continuing Education Services (ACCES) serves the education and employment needs of New York's adult citizens. Your schools should remind district residents that SED can help adults who have not yet graduated high school find the right program to earn an equivalency diploma. Additionally, our ACCES-VR (Vocational Rehabilitation) Office assists individuals with disabilities as they transition out of school and into gainful employment and independent living. Information about all our ACCESS programs is available at www.acces.nysed.gov .

Bringing cultural education to the classroom

I hope that you'll remind your school leaders to encourage learning outside the classroom too - at cultural institutions like museums, libraries, archives, historic sites and parks. Many cultural institutions also have free online resources for educators to use in the classroom. And New York's Public Broadcasting stations are working to raise student achievement and close the achievement gap by providing high-quality multimedia resources for use in teaching and learning.

Learning from our state's licensed professionals

Through the Office of the Professions, the State Education Department oversees New York's licensed professionals. This relationship recognizes the key role that education plays in both preparing licensed professionals and in ensuring their continuous development. I hope that your schools will invite local licensed professionals to speak with students about career options and the education required for those paths. Invite doctors, nurses, architects, landscape architects, speech pathologists, engineers or professionals from any of the more than fifty professions we oversee. They have insights and inspiration to share.

I hope these tips and reminders will help you and your district's teachers, administrators, parents and students get off to a great start to another exciting and productive school year!


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