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Exclusive Interviews With Two New Members, New York State Board Of Regents - Dr. Betty A. Rosa

Last March, the joint session of the Legislature of the State of New York elected Dr. Betty Rosa and Dr. Lester W. Young Jr to the state’s 16-member Board of Regents. The Board, established in 1784, presides over The State University of New York and the New York State Department of Education. Its members serve five-year terms, with a regent for each of the state’s 12 judicial districts, plus four regents at large. Regents receive no salary. With the recent announcement by Dr. Richard P. Mills that he will be stepping down as New York State Commissioner of Education and with a newly appointed Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, Education Update thought it a good time to catch up with the Regents’ newest members and get their take on state and national challenges and priorities.

By Joan Baum, Ph.D.

For Betty A. Rosa, serving her first term as a Regent, filling the position from the 12th Judicial District (Bronx County), was an opportunity to “come back home.” After resigning from the restructured New York City system a few years ago, Dr. Rosa became a consultant, looking particularly at public schools in Miami Dade, Florida, L.A., and Clark County, Nevada. When she was urged, however, by several political and academic colleagues to consider becoming a New York State Regent – she was at Cornell at the time -- she found the call of her “backyard” irresistible.

Her connectedness to the city had been honed, of course, from years as a practitioner and administrator, a diverse background that included five years as superintendent for Community School District 8 and principal in District 6, and over 13 years in allied administrative positions.  Named Educator of the Year in 2002 at the Bronx Puerto Rican Parade, Superintendent of the Year by Mercy College in 1999 and Outstanding Educator by the New York State Assembly, she feels that she comes to her new role with solid experience. She has a Ed.D from Harvard University. 

The attraction of the position, she says, was a chance to address issues that have always been important to her but that now had the chance of being translated into major policy:  falling graduation rates especially for Blacks and Hispanics, Special Needs education, maintaining “rigor” in the curriculum.  She’d also like to do what she can to ensure that the State Education Department be more “service oriented” and that districts all over the state, urban and rural, “feel involved” in initiatives.  She thinks that her familiarity with education as a practitioner, as someone who has a “sense of reality about the day-to-day operation of  schools,” will be an advantage on the board. It is her intention to continue to consult with principals, those she knows for former days and those whom she has recent met, to hear their ideas. She wants “reality” to inform her work.  And research.  She has been looking at curricula in other states, such as North Carolina, where efforts to “raise the bar” on teacher training throughout the state have been proving effective, and where the governor has been involved in a supportive role.

Particular goals? Dr. Rosa feels strongly about addressing testing. Why is the English Language Arts exam offered in January? That means that many teachers are  “obsessively” devoting September to January on preparing their students for the exam. Then, when that’s over, they start in on preparing for the Math exam. “This doesn’t make sense.”  Such an arrangement is not desirable way to deal with accountability. There must be different models out there, she says, and of course she’s looking at them, as well as reviewing recent research. The issue is more than the timing of the exams, however, she points out. It has to do essentially with the purpose and evaluation of the exams, the interpretation and use of the reported data.  

Dr. Rosa is also especially cognizant of global strategies. Yes, there are wonderful schools out there, but if they remain sui generis, then the system cannot benefit. She used to think that “local problems deserve local solutions,” she says, but “if you try to compare one local district with another, in another state, it’s like comparing apples and oranges.” She is, needless to say, an advocate of national standards, if not curricula, and perhaps teacher training. As for curricula, she would have “fewer concepts, more in-depth learning.”  Overall, she is optimistic about have Arne Duncan at the national helm – “he has good people skills” and his views are consonant with those of President Obama.

She has nothing but success on mind. After all, it’s what her grandmother, her ultimate mentor, would wanted.  A woman who cleaned schools for a living, her grandmother taught Dr. Rosa that “education is your credit card to a better tomorrow.”  In fact, when Dr. Rosa was elected to District 8, Grandma was right there, counting the votes. And she bought herself a new dress because she just knew the occasion would happen and that it would be good for her granddaughter, for education and the city of New York. And now, she would probably add, the state.#



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