By New York Policy Fellow Leah Brunski

A year ago, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia spoke to the New York Educator Voice Fellows during our convening in Albany. Newly-appointed, Commissioner Elia talked to us about her priorities for the coming school year and repeatedly emphasized the importance of including educators in the process of creating education policy. 

After Commissioner Elia’s remarks, I asked her about the specific plans she had to give teachers and principals seats at the table during important policy conversations. Exactly how did she intend to bring educators into the policymaking process? 

My question came from a place of skepticism: I’d applied to the New York Educator Voice Fellowship in the hopes of bringing my experience on the frontlines of teaching and learning to the lawmakers who shaped our schools. During my twelve years in the classroom, I’d often heard policymakers emphasize the importance of including educator voices in the policymaking process; however, I had yet to hear specific plans for doing so. 

During my twelve years in the classroom, I’d often heard policymakers emphasize the importance of including educator voices in the policymaking process; however, I had yet to hear specific plans for doing so. 

I returned to Albany this summer as a Policy Fellow with America Achieves. Over the course of four days, I realized that while Commissioner Elia has worked to make good on her promise – inviting teachers to help design New York’s new assessments and to review the Common Core Standards, for example – America Achieves is helping to blaze the trail for elevating educator voice in the policymaking process. 

During our four days in Albany, New York Fellows met with people from Governor Cuomo’s office, state senators and representatives, lobbyists and strategic advisors, and experts on education policy. The America Achieves founder and staff made clear their vision for bringing us, teachers and principals, to the policymaking table – and laid out concrete plans for how to make it happen.

Fellow Leah Brunski sits at a table with New York Senator Betty Little at the New York Educator Voice Summer Institute in August. 

Fellow Leah Brunski sits at a table with New York Senator Betty Little at the New York Educator Voice Summer Institute in August. 

With one session after another reinforcing the goal of including educators in the policymaking process and with workshops tailored to giving us the policy knowledge and practical expertise to make it happen, the skeptic in me started to feel hopeful. And in talking to the other Policy Fellows and this year’s cohort of New York Educator Voice Fellows, it was clear that the enthusiasm was contagious. 

We stand at a pivotal moment in education: with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) last December, states must now get to work hammering out the ways in which the federal law will be implemented. In the next eighteen months or so, dozens of decisions will be made about our schools – about the ways we assess our students and evaluate our teachers; about the ways we support our most struggling schools and replicate the best practices of our most successful ones; about new teachers’ training and the ongoing professional development of veterans. 

We stand at a pivotal moment in education. 

In Albany this August, the Fellows felt the urgency of speaking up and taking part in these conversations. More importantly, we received explicit training and information about how to do this. 

Although I’m anxious about the months ahead – with whom will I partner in order to create the most impactful coalition? What avenue will I pursue in order to do the most good for the greatest number of students? – I’m so excited to get to work. And knowing that such an incredibly talented and thoughtful group of Fellows shares my commitment to improving outcomes for students assures me that New York’s policymakers will have to keep our classrooms – and what’s right for our kids – in mind. 

Leah Brunski has spent twelve years teaching grades two through five at PS 29 in Brooklyn. Currently the lead third-grade teacher, Leah is a frequent contributor to education websites and her writing has been published by the NY Daily News and The Nation. Leah is an active member of Educators 4 Excellence, currently serving on their Declaration Advisory and Teacher Advocacy Teams, and she’s most recently been working to improve access to effective educators in New York’s classrooms. Leah is a NY Educator Voice Fellow and Policy Fellow with America Achieves.

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