Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

Meet the distinguished educator the state still hasn't appointed to Buffalo

Since September, we've been hearing about the state's plan to appoint a "distinguished educator" to Buffalo.

Here's an excerpt from a story we had in late September 2011:

State officials plan to appoint a “distinguished educator” to the Buffalo Public Schools to help the district turn around its low-performing schools.

The educator will act in an advisory capacity to interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon and sit as a nonvoting member of the Board of Education.

“It’s a helper who will work with the superintendent, plain and simple. I think it’s an extra asset for Amber to use wisely,” said Regent Robert M. Bennett. “It’s not imminent, but I would hope by the end of the year.”

Well, here we are at the end of March, and still, no appointment has been made. It's not quite clear what the holdup is, but what does seem clear is that state officials seem to have decided who they are going to appoint.

ElliottThe same name has been floating around for quite awhile as the presumed distinguished-eductator-to-be: Judy Elliott.

She has local ties, having earned her bachelor's in education from Buffalo State College in 1982 and her doctorate from the University at Buffalo. She worked locally as a teacher and then as a school psychologist.

She has held a number of other positions in education, including: chief of teaching and learning in the Portland, Ore., public schools; assistant superintendent for the Long Beach Unified School District; and senior researcher at the National Center on Education Outcomes at the University of Minnesota.

Most recently, she was chief academic officer for the Los Angeles School District.

She seems to have worked quite extensively over the years as a speaker, trainer and consultant. Her publishing credits include "Response to Intervention Blueprint: District Level Edition" and "Improving Test Performance of Students with Disabilities...on District and State Assessments."

In August 2011, the Los Angeles board bought out her contract, paying the remainder of her salary through the end of June 2012, along with paying for unused vacation days. Total compensation: $231,164. The Los Angeles Times wrote:

The Los Angeles Unified School District has bought out the contract of its chief academic officer, a key appointee who worked closely with former Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, but who quickly fell out of favor with his successor, John Deasy.

Among other efforts, Judy Elliott oversaw the selection of a new reading program and an early academic intervention initiative. She also developed a new policy — limiting homework to no more than 10% of a student’s grade — that prompted widespread public debate this summer. Deasy ultimately shelved the idea...

One of Elliott’s goals was to align measures of student performance to portray more precisely what students know. She wanted to end both grade inflation and “deflation” — penalizing students for non-academic factors. One policy now being tested gives students a higher grade for improved or strong performance on state standardized tests and Advanced Placement exams.

The homework policy became official in May, but in July, Deasy put it on hold pending public review and input. School board members criticized Elliott for not bringing the policy forward for public discussion and their approval.

But Elliott had alerted the board and Deasy in writing of her intended direction on homework in March, and apparently no one objected at that time. Deasy, then a deputy superintendent, did not assume the top job until the next month. Former Supt. Cortines said he was fully aware of the impending policy, and others should have been as well. He added that he advised Elliott to confirm that the new policy had Deasy’s support.

Cortines credited Elliott with being “tenacious in improving academic achievement.”

Judy ElliottElliott has written and spoken quite a bit about students with disabilities. Here's an excerpt of one piece, which seems fairly representative of her views:

We now know that students with disabilities can and do achieve. Not reinforcing this through performance targets and graduation goals will allow the clock to be turned back to a time when it was assumed these students could not succeed.

However, performance targets and graduation goals are not enough.

Schools that do not make these goals and targets should be required to address instructional deficiencies in schools. Schools where students are struggling need to monitor and adjust their instructional techniques and expectations for student achievement, implement a robust standards-based curriculum, and offer teacher and administrator professional development to make course corrections and accelerate student achievement.

Inherent within these efforts should be attention to administrator and teacher evaluation, done through valid and reliable assessments that account for the effectiveness of a teacher with all students, and support to improve both leadership and instruction in our classrooms. Without these intentional and targeted efforts, struggling schools doom those students to a life of lowered expectations and achievement, and inequitable opportunities for postsecondary college and career options.

- Mary Pasciak

comments powered by Disqus

About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |