Hillsborough’s ex-superintendent Elia lands consulting job

MaryEllen Elia, who led the Hillsborough district from 2005 to 2015, has been an educator since 1970.
Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia holds a back-to-school press conference at Rampello K-8 School, [TIMES files]
Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia holds a back-to-school press conference at Rampello K-8 School, [TIMES files]
Published Sept. 18, 2019|Updated Sept. 18, 2019

TAMPA — This should quiet speculation that MaryEllen Elia will replace Jeff Eakins as Hillsborough County’s next schools superintendent: Elia has accepted a job at the International Center for Leadership in Education in New York.

ICLE, as the organization is called, is a a division of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt educational products company. Elia, who resigned recently as education commissioner for the state of New York, will work for ICLE as a senior fellow.

A news release described ICLE as a company that “researches and disseminates best practices for district-wide achievement and is known for its high-impact work around school transformation.” The release said that “Elia will serve as a vital thought leader for ICLE, contributing to the vision and content development within her specialized practice areas, which will include policy, community schools, teacher evaluation systems, standards, school choice and urban education.”

Fellows such Elia provide strategic guidance and also work directly with educators in the field.

The release included this statement from Elia: “As a former teacher, administrator, superintendent and commissioner, I have devoted my entire career to putting children on a path to success both in school and beyond. I am enormously grateful for the opportunity to join The International Center for Leadership in Education."

Originally from Buffalo, Elia joined the Hillsborough district as a reading specialist and worked her way up to the position of superintendent in 2005.

She was well known for being ahead of the curve in offering magnet schools as an instrument of voluntary desegregation. She also sought prestigious grant opportunities. One, a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ran up so many costs, at a time of disappointing state funding, that the district incurred losses of more than $200 million in its reserves, triggering a credit crisis that took years to resolve.

The School Board was not aware of the financial losses. But Elia fell out of favor with a majority on the board for other reasons. She was fired by a vote of 4 to 3 in 2015. Business leaders, education scholars and the mayor of Tampa criticized the firing, and Elia soon landed a job as the first female New York State Commissioner of Education and as President of the University of the State of New York. There, she oversaw the work of more than 700 school districts with 3.2 million students; 7,000 libraries; and 900 museums.

Elia was replaced in Hillsborough by one of her deputy superintendents, Jeff Eakins. He is retiring in June of 2020 and a search for his replacement is under way.