She ran the Hillsborough County School District for ten years. People still disagree over whether her School Board was right to fire her in 2015.
Now MaryEllen Elia, who has since become the New York State commissioner of education and president of the University of the State of New York, will be the featured speaker at St. Leo University's April 28 commencement ceremonies.
Degrees at that 9 a.m. ceremony at the Marion Bowman Activities Center will be conferred to more than 400 students earning master's degrees and two students receiving their Doctor of Business Administration degrees, according to a notice by the university.
Elia's career in public education spans more than 45 years. In her current position in New York, she oversees the work of more than 700 school districts with 3.2 million students; 7,000 libraries; 900 museums; and 52 professions encompassing more than 850,000 licensees.
Elia achieved state and national acclaim during her years in Hillsborough, and forged a high-profile partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve student learning by training and evaluating teachers with more sophisticated, business-like methods.
In the final years of that relationship, however, thinking changed about education reform and the Gates foundation backed away from the project.