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John Sheffield for New York Board of Regents

February 25, 2016

Below is a guest post by Yvonne Gasperino, co-founder of Stop Common Core in New York State. Gasperino composed this post, an effort to feature John Sheffield, candidate for the New York Board of regents, at my request.

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When it comes to the education of children in the state of New York, the Board of Regents holds a lot of influence, power and control. They supervise all educational activities within the state and preside over the State University New York (SUNY) and the New York State Education Department (NYSED).  Board members and chairs are appointed by the Regents chancellor, also, Regents includes 17 members elected by the state legislature for five-year terms: one from each of the State’s 13 judicial districts and four members that serve at large.

New York State (NYS) legislators (most of whom are not educators) dictate the election process. However, a very few were former educators, for instance, Assemblyman Al Graf.

So… let’s envision this:

If NYS superintendents had a voice in the vetting and election process of Regents, what questions should they ask candidates vying for an open Board of Regents seat? Which superintendents do we think must have a voice in this process? For this reason, John Sheffield and I offer this mock interview focused on hypothetical interview questions for the Regents seat that Sheffield hopes to occupy. The questions are posed by well-known and highly-regarded NYS school superintendents, Drs. Joe Rella, Michael Hynes, and William Cala.

About the Interviewers

Dr. Joe Rella, superintendent for Comsewogue School District, is known as “America’s Superintendent” due to his infamous robocall in the infancy of the Refusal/Stop Common Core movement. All who come in contact with Dr. Rella revere and admire him – not only in New York but nationwide.

Dr. Michael Hynes, superintendent of the Patchogue-Medford School District, is known for his commitment to our children, schools. But he is also known for his call to abolish the US Dept. of Ed.  Dr. Hynes has emerged as another prominent advocate for parents, children and teachers when he spoke in a Garden City, NY, forum hosted by Stop Common Core on Long Island, where he discussed the adverse effects of Common Core and why it was imperative to refuse the tests.

Dr. William Cala is a seasoned professional who has held several Superintendent positions throughout Western New York and Long Island (Pembroke, Shoreham-Wading River, and Fairport). Dr. Cala is well-known in Western New York, having served as interim superintendent for the City of Rochester, and rose as a voice for the public by, criticizing Governor Cuomo as a corporate hound with little knowledge of how schools work. (Read his letter here.)

John Sheffield for Regents

A bit about John Sheffield from the man himself:

John Sheffield  John Sheffield

My name is John Sheffield, and I hope to be appointed to the NYS Board of Regents. My Board of Regents agenda is encompassed by one simple question: “Is this what is best for the kids?” I am beholden to no group but the students of New York.

I am a father of two children who were well–served by the public school system (as was I, many years ago). I am an educator, I have been called an education activist, and I am an active member of my community. I also am one very concerned citizen of this great state-– concerned about the direction education is being driven, not just on the state level, but by the way Fed Ed is pushing, and at times threatening, our state. I am also deeply-– DEEPLY troubled by the daily erosion of local control of public education, which I feel is being outright taken from our communities across the state.

I was officially interviewed for the position of Regent by Assembly members in Albany, NY on Wednesday February 3rd, 2016. That interview in its entirety can be found here.

I was also interviewed live by Susan Arbettor on Friday February 5th, 2016, for her show, The Capitol Pressroom; that interview can be found here from the 36:12 mark to the 48:24 mark.

Finally, I have been interviewed by local papers and been endorsed by such groups as Stop Common Core in New York State, NYSAPE, and NY BATS, and by numerous other groups and individuals across the state.

The Rella-Hynes-Cala Interview 

Sheffield asked Rella, Hynes, and Cala what questions they would like answered if they were allowed to be part of the Regents process. Sheffield found that the superintendents’ individual questions could be grouped into four major areas of concern. Thus, the four items below represent Sheffield’s consolidation of the superintendents’ questions for a Regents candidate.

Item One: Trust Issues

Q: How would you begin to heal the damage done over the past five years?  How would you demonstrate that children are the center of the educational enterprise? Where do you stand on the right of parents to OPT-OUT?

Sheffield’s response:

All three of these issues are tied together by one simple theme: trust.  In order to undo the damage of the past five years, trust must be rebuilt between the Regents and the people of New York State. The legislature and the governor must also win back the trust of parents and communities across the state.

We must start by using child–centered practices that are proven and remove the emphasis on testing. Look at the programs that are being used in the consortium schools that are experiencing great success without a focus on testing and, for the most part, without Common Core.  We should expand on those models; let decisions be made at the local level as to which part or parts of the consortium models best fit their given community.

We need to address the different learning styles of our children, in part, by providing multiple pathways to graduation through the use of different diploma tracks. While recognizing that a Regent’s diploma appropriately suits the capabilities of some students, we must bring back the “local” diploma, have a vocational diploma track, and recognize that our hard– working special education students deserve a diploma as well for their various equivalent skill sets.

In addition to these things, I support parents’ opt out rights.  The children are their children. It is up to the Regents and education policy makers to earn back the trust of parents, schools, communities, and educators – until such time when parents do not feel they have to opt their children out.  Furthermore, I will fight against any and all government agencies or persons that threaten, attempt to intimidate, and/or try to penalize districts with high opt out rates.

Item Two: Testing and Evaluation

Q: What do you see as the role of testing? Should testing be coupled with teacher/school/administrative/district evaluation?

Sheffield’s response:

First and foremost, the role of testing should be for the classroom teacher and used in both formative and summative capacities for the classroom.  I further add that its weight as a summative tool should be limited to 25% or under during any given marking period.  To be clear though, this decision should be made at the local level.  While I understand we are in an age of “globalization”, our communities are as varied as the children in them.

Should tests be linked to evaluations of teachers, principals, schools, and districts? The answer is simple: absolutely not. There is no reliable or valid formula to do so; Value Added Measure (VAM) is a perfect example of this. The reason there is no reliable or valid measure to link test scores to these types of evaluations is because these tests are not made to measure teacher/principal/school effectiveness. It is an axiom in testing and statistics that one does not use an instrument to measure something it was not made for! Where a Regents diploma is concerned, then testing may play a larger role due to the nature of that diploma track; what that role is needs to be determined by all stakeholders and certainly must have educator input.

Item Three: Charter School Funding

Q: What are your stances on the funding of charter schools with public money with little accountability or oversight, the $300 million that charter schools received for MANDATE RELIEF this year, and unfunded and underfunded mandates in our public schools?

Sheffield’s response:

I think what bothers me the most about charter schools is how their original intent has been distorted from an alternative setting for students who have difficulty functioning in the “normal” school environment to a cash cow for privateers and education reformers whose main concern is the bottom line and profit margins…NOT the kids.  The fact that they receive public funds with little or no oversight is mind–boggling to me as a citizen and tax payer.

If you delve further into it, you will find that many of these privateers have dumped millions upon millions of dollars into the legislative process of New York, including massive donations to Governor Cuomo, in order to exercise control over New York’s education policies. Part of their payback is that they receive public funds yet they do not have to play by the same rules as true public schools across the state.

As for the “mandate” relief charter schools have received this year, it simply disgusts me.  While not having to follow many of the same rules and regulations as most public schools, here they are receiving even more public monies – and it comes at a time where the state is claiming not to have enough money to properly fund public schools.  This leads me to underfunded and unfunded mandates.

Policies have been forced upon our public schools although proper funding has not been provided.  As a matter of fact, the GEA (Gap Elimination Adjustment) is still here even though in two campaigns Governor Cuomo said eliminating it would be a priority. As a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, it was found New York State owes its schools billions of dollars that it has yet to pay, and it has been known for years that New York’s Foundation Aid Formula is in dire need of adjustments…yet none of it has been fixed. It seems to me that this, combined with some of the other factors I’ve mentioned, constitutes a clear attack on public education; an attack that is purposely setting our children, schools, and communities up for failure in order to facilitate a hostile takeover of public education.

Item Four: “Pressing Concerns”

Q: What are the top three most pressing concerns you believe the Board must confront and correct?

Sheffield’s response:

There is really only one grave issue in my mind and that is the total lack of trust in those making educational decisions about our children. Trust must be rebuilt. In order to re-establish that trust, there are several main issues that must be dealt with.

People, be they concerned parents, grandparents, educators, or community members in general, need to really be listened to.  By that I mean more than just reflective listening and lip service. Action must be taken– action that undoes the damage of the past five years; it must be swift and it must be clear.

Processes dealing with education (and many other decisions for that matter) must be much more transparent. The citizens of this state deserve honesty and integrity where our children are concerned. Our children are not baseball cards to be traded and bartered away to the highest bidder and they should not be treated as such.  The politics and big money must be driven from the equation in order for all children to be educated in the manner they all so richly deserve.  The Regents must take the lead in this and all things regarding education.

The Board of Regents must regain control of educational decisions in New York State. The legislature must work with the Regents to properly fund education; investing in our children is truly investing in the future.  The adage of pay now or pay later holds true.  The cost of not investing in the education of all of our children to the very best of our ability leads to much greater financial and societal costs down the road.  It is the Regents who must take the lead in all of this.  It is they that must gain the trust of the parents, for with the active, involved, and informed parents backing them up, the legislature, and even the governor, will have to follow suit.

The Regents also must lead in absolving New York from its misplaced commitment to Common Core.  After five years, the fact that there is so much public dissent about Common Core, its history, its developers, its inadequacies, its intrusiveness through data, its misplaced emphasis on testing, and the mere fact that it essentially is an experiment on our kids…all lead to the conclusion – it needs to be tossed.  It is my opinion that it would have been gone already if not for the hundreds of millions of dollars of private money propping it up.  Before Common Core, before RTTT, before NCLB, before federal government overreach began, New York had a first class public education system; we need to go back in time in order to move forward in education. New York also has its own “lost standards’ which had both time and money invested into them only to be “lost” in the wild goose chase of Race to the Top.

It is time for New York State to be a leader in education once more. The first step must be to leave Common Core and, if necessary, fight the Federal Department of Education.

And Sheffield’s apt closing:

New York as a state must fight for its children.  The leaders in that fight should be the New York State Board of Regents because they do not have to play politics; they only have to do what is right.  In doing so, then trust can be restored, and we can move forward together.

***John Sheffield for Regents***

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