by Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
District Superintendent
Questar III

It is hard to believe that there are only a few days remaining in 2022. This is an opportune time to look back on a busy year in public education as we prepare for 2023. While this year brought numerous challenges and changes, it also demonstrated what was possible through collaboration, flexibility, and patience.

In March, the state ended its mask mandate in schools and authorized local health departments to make decisions based on local conditions. Schools within our counties met weekly with the county health departments and BOCES for much of the year to collaborate and work to keep our schools open. Just recently, the state health and education departments sent a joint memo encouraging voluntary masking to prevent the spread of the flu and other respiratory illnesses in response to increasing cases.

In April, the final state budget provided a record $31.5 billion in statewide aid to schools. This followed the state’s agreement to fully fund the current aid formula over a three-year period, ending the state’s long-time opposition. Schools across the region and country also deliberated on how to spend federal funding that will end in September 2024.

In September, the State Education Department announced a Blue-Ribbon Commission to explore what a state diploma should signify (I am a member along with a Tech Valley High School student and a Troy CSD student). Last month, WestEd presented a report that will inform the work of the Commission and Regents. It included a literature review, a scan of state/international policy, and a compilation of feedback from surveys and more than 30 meetings. The future of the high school Regents exams has been discussed as part of the Blue-Ribbon Commission. Ultimately, this is not about lowering standards, but rather broadening the pathways to college and career.

Earlier this year, the state released the 2017 cohort graduation rates. The overall August graduation rate statewide increased to 86.1 percent, up from 84.8 in 2016 and 76.7 percent in 2008. Various studies and data reports were released looking at student performance and impact of learning loss.

In October, the State Education Department released state assessment results. Overall, students scored worse on math exams compared to pre-pandemic results. Leaders also reacted to the “Nation’s Report Card,” which also showed declines in math and English. The scores confirmed what was already known – that the pandemic disproportionately impacted different groups and reinforced the need to help students catch up.

Last month, the State Education Department partnered with Stanford University to identify and examine inequity and its causes as it seeks to close the opportunity gaps. This partnership supports the state’s focus on addressing the barriers that impact its most vulnerable students, including students with disabilities, and English language learners (ELLs), as part of a five-year diversity, equity, and inclusion project.

Last month, the Board of Regents visited Tech Valley High School based at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany – the first time it ever hosted one of its monthly meetings outside of the State Education Department building in Albany. The Regents were interested in seeing this regional high school given its success of student outcomes.

In 2022, we saw a return to a sense of normalcy among students, staff, families, and community members. This included sports, plays, musicals, and other gatherings – something that was sorely missed during the previous two years. It was great to see our students smiling, and families cheer on and support their children.

At the same time, reports of anxiety and depression by children and adults alike increased dramatically during the pandemic and remains an issue today. Stanford researchers found that pandemic lockdown accelerated the aging of teenagers’ brains. This will remain an issue for years to come. Our schools, counties, families, and others must continue to prioritize relationship building, community and a sense of belonging.

The past two years have tested us in ways we could have never imagined. In many ways, 2022 was a transition of sorts as we pivoted away from COVID disruptions and disagreements to the opportunity to modernize and revamp practices and expectations to help all students succeed as they prepare for their futures.

As we look ahead to 2023, please reflect on the past year and continue to model respect and civility for our students. Reflect on how we can do better and be open to feedback that may not always match our own. As John Dewey said, learning happens in the reflection of an event rather than the event itself.

I wish you a wonderful holiday season. Happy New Year!

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