MLK was right: Everybody can be great
On Board Online • November 20, 2017
"Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love." - Martin Luther King Jr.
In my last On Board column, I wrote about Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the lessons to be learned from those awful events. Tragically, an even more destructive storm, Hurricane Maria, ravaged my childhood home of Puerto Rico just as the country was beginning to recover and heal from Harvey and Irma.
Maria brought an unimaginable level of destruction to an island already challenged by poverty, substandard infrastructure, and a woefully outdated electric grid. We have all seen the images and read the news accounts - and our hearts ache for the people there.
Some families from these impacted areas, and their school-aged children, have already relocated to various communities throughout New York. Many more are likely to arrive in the coming weeks and months. We must embrace them and welcome them into our schools and communities.
Like so many others of good will, we refuse to stand idly by while our fellow citizens suffer. So, the Board of Regents and the Education Department have taken immediate action in several important ways.
Enrollment of displaced students
In October, the State Education Department issued guidance to all schools and school districts regarding the rights of students displaced by the recent natural disasters, as well as the services available to these children. I urge you and your fellow board members to carefully review that guidance. Here are some of the highlights:
- Students who are temporarily displaced due to disaster are likely protected by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, a federal law that details the educational rights of students in temporary housing.
- Under the McKinney-Vento Act, students in temporary housing can enroll immediately in a school in the district where they are temporarily living even if they do not have the documents normally needed or missed enrollment deadlines.
- In addition, these displaced children are eligible for free school meals, Title I services, and services to support students with disabilities and English language learners.
Temporary teacher certification
We expect that many of the students displaced by Maria will not be fluent in English, and we want to ensure there are enough certified teachers in place to teach them. So, at our meeting in October, the Board of Regents unanimously adopted emergency regulations to allow teachers displaced by Hurricane Maria to obtain temporary, nonrenewable teaching certification in New York State. Here are the highlights of the new regulations:
- The regulations, which took effect on Oct. 17, allow for alternative forms of proof of certification and recent employment to obtain a temporary certificate.
- Temporary certificates will be non-renewable and valid until June 30, 2018, allowing the teacher to work in a public school or BOCES for the remainder of the 2017-18 school year.
- During this time, teachers from Puerto Rico may pursue a New York State initial teaching certificate through the existing reciprocity pathway provided for in regulation, which allows certified teachers from other states or U.S. territories to obtain a New York certification if they meet certain requirements.
I know that enrolling displaced students and providing them with qualified teachers is an expensive and time-consuming proposition for you and your districts. But it's the right thing to do. We have committed ourselves to help students - children - in need. That's what we're about; that's what we do.
But it's not just us. The outpouring of generosity from around the state and the country has been truly inspirational. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in particular, has done incredible work to help improve the situation on the ground in Puerto Rico and here in New York for those who have come seeking refuge. And while the rhetoric from the White House has been troubling at times, I was encouraged that the administration recently agreed to pay for a large share of the recovery costs.
At October's Board of Regents meeting, my colleagues and I heard a presentation from students who are making exceptional progress at the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES P-TECH program. When asked to talk about volunteerism and service learning opportunities, one young man spoke of his experience working with his church on hurricane relief efforts. He shared how his experience helped him better understand the value of serving others, the importance of planning and coordination when undertaking a large-scale operation, and the joy that comes from learning to appreciate the many blessings we enjoy and too often take for granted. This young man said that he felt empowered by helping other human beings in need - even those who live hundreds of miles away and whom he would never meet.
As Dr. King said, "Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve." Let us always strive for greatness.
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