Christina Foti

Christina Foti- NYC Public Schools

Christina Foti serves as chief of special education for the NYC public schools. The work of her division reaches students and families within the district, charter, and nonpublic sectors. Her leadership and collaboration with global partners have earned NYC public schools international recognition for best practices in special education. During her tenure, NYC has expanded special education to include specialized programs for students with Autism, intellectual disabilities, physical accessibility needs, as well as students who are bilingual and students who have experienced trauma. Christina holds a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, a master’s degree in special education from City College, and a postgraduate degree in educational leadership from Hunter College. She is currently a doctoral student at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

What inspired you to pursue a career in education? 
My younger brother was born with cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities. I learned early on that my brother’s path was going to be different than mine. And while we all travel through our own journeys, those journeys should be self-selected and not chosen for us. My journey in education is reflective of a commitment to supporting equitable and joyful pathways for our children and families so that they have full access to their chosen journey and the freedom to pursue their own unique hopes and dreams.   

What aspects of education do you believe need more support from policymakers?
Policymakers at all levels have an obligation to uncover hidden narratives and long-standing equity issues that disenfranchise historically marginalized populations. For people with disabilities, these narratives often include an undercurrent of separatism which reinforce ableism. If we develop school and district policies and practices that meet the needs of historically marginalized populations, we will in turn raise the tide for all, creating an education system which empowers and inspires all of its students. 

What do you think the future of New York’s education system looks like?
Our aim is to take a “for the community, by the community” approach to special education, with a focus on developing high quality special education programs in every neighborhood in NYC. We envision a future where all families can send their students to their neighborhood school, knowing their child will receive an education that will open the door for their chosen journey. We want to move from a lens of inclusion to one of rightful presence–where our system intrinsically recognizes that everyone belongs.

Toby Ann Stavisky

Toby Ann Stavisky- NYS Senate

Senator Stavisky is the first woman from Queens elected to the State Senate and the first woman to chair the Higher Education Committee. Prior to serving in the Senate, Mrs. Stavisky taught social studies in NYC high schools. Currently, Senator Stavisky serves as vice chairwoman of the Majority Conference. In addition, she serves on the education and finance committees. She is a trustee of the CUNY Construction Fund and treasurer of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.

What inspired you to pursue a career in education?
I became a high school teacher because of my interest in the social sciences and a desire to work with young people. As for my current position, I was encouraged to run for the State Senate because of my involvement with community organizations and with educational groups.

What aspects of education do you believe need more support from policymakers?
As a policymaker, I believe we must continue to support education from pre-kindergarten through post graduate. We must keep higher education accessible, affordable and of high quality.

What do you think the future of New York’s education system looks like?

  • There are disturbing trends in higher education caused by Supreme Court decisions and we are reviewing “work around” options consistent with these decisions.
  •  Attempt to deal with students’ social issues such as mental health, food insecurity, etc.
  • Shift costs of college education from students to the city and state. We have not increased tuition at CUNY or SUNY while I have chaired the committee. 
  • Use of technology, especially A.I.


Havidán Rodríguez

Havidán Rodríguez
Havidán Rodríguez (for approval only)

Dr. Havidán Rodríguez is the president of the University at Albany, one of the nation’s most diverse research universities. The first Hispanic/Latino president of a SUNY four-year institution, he took office in September 2017. Under Dr. Rodríguez’s leadership, UAlbany has opened a state-of-the-art teaching and research facility, won $75 million in state support for the UAlbany-led Albany AI Supercomputing Initiative, and became the first R1 institution in the northeast to earn the Seal of Excelencia.

John B. King Jr.

John B. King Jr. is the 15th chancellor of the State University of New York, the largest comprehensive system of public higher education in the United States. Prior to his appointment as chancellor, King served as president of The Education Trust. Chancellor King holds a government from Harvard University, a J.D. from Yale Law School, as well as both a M.A. in the teaching of social studies and a doctorate in education from Teachers College at Columbia University.

Michael Benedetto


Michael Benedetto represents District 82 in the New York State Assembly, where he has also served as chair of the Education Committee since 2019. During his time as committee chair, Assembly Member Benedetto has sponsored and passed historic APPR legislation and has presided over hearings regarding the admissions requirements of New York City Specialized High Schools.  Assembly Member Benedetto graduated from Iona College with a B.A. degree in history/education and an M.A. in social studies/education.

Zakiyah Shaakir-Ansari

Zakiyah Shaakir-Ansari- Alliance for Quality Education

Zakiyah Shaakir-Ansari is the advocacy director of the New York State Alliance for Quality Education, the leading statewide organization that has been fighting for educational justice in New York State for over two decades. Zakiyah is the mother of eight children and grandmother of four. She has dedicated 23 years of her life to the fight for educational justice and ending the oppression of Black and brown people. Zakiyah is an Atlantic senior fellow for racial equity.

What inspired you to pursue a career in education?
As a mom of 8 children it chose me. I was always volunteering at my children’s schools. I joined the PTA’s and volunteered on class trips. Being involved allowed me to see the inequities in their public schools while simultaneously learning how to organize which gave me the tools to fight for equity. It was fueled by wanting change for my children and inspired by the positive impact of that change for all children.

What aspects of education do you believe need more support from policymakers?
We need policymakers to want to transform education in our public schools not maintain what was started 100 years ago, it wasn’t created for everyone to succeed. Greater need requires greater investment. Students know what they need, but adults don’t truly listen. Students deserve more than the rhetoric from some policymakers about, “spending more money on education than ever before”. Invest in early education through higher education including thriving wages for the educators not incarceration. 

What do you think the future of New York’s education system looks like?
What that looks like depends on our ability to understand that we can’t cut corners on public education. We need New Yorkers, elected officials, community, families and media to champion public education unapologetically. It’s one of the last public goods we have left, which is why it’s under attack. Education for liberation. We can transform what happens in our public schools if we ask, listen and act on the solutions from students, educators and families.

Vreneli Banks

Vreneli Banks- NYS Council of Superintendents

Vreneli Banks has been dedicated to the New York State Council of School Superintendents and its foundation, the Leadership for Educational Achievement Foundation, since 2006. She has assumed various roles, starting as a program assistant to program coordinator and assistant director. Since 2018, Vren has served as the associate director, a position that places her at the helm of all professional development and program services aimed at empowering and assisting school leaders throughout the state.

What inspired you to pursue a career in education?
Public education wields a transformative influence on the quality of life for countless individuals who might otherwise never have the chance to enhance their circumstances. My parents serve as my constant source of inspiration for their courageous decision to embark on a challenging journey to offer this opportunity. I find daily inspiration in the dedicated school leaders with whom I collaborate, as they make a positive and lasting impact on their communities.

What aspects of education do you believe need more support from policymakers?
In today’s educational landscape, it’s imperative that we shift our attention towards nurturing the next generation of leaders, with a particular emphasis on those from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds. There exists an exceptional reservoir of talent within the realms of female leadership and leadership among people of color. When we harness and cultivate this potential, it holds the power to reshape the future of education.

What do you think the future of New York’s education system looks like?
The future of education will be driven by advances in technology, evolving societal and cultural needs and a growing understanding of teaching and learning methods. Education will need to emphasize global collaboration and cultural awareness. The pace of which these factors are changing is both exciting and concerning. Flexibility, adaptability, ethical accountability and a focus on preparing students for an ever-changing world will be key factors in shaping education’s future.

Tania Tetlow

Tania Tetlow- Fordham

Tania Tetlow is the first woman and layperson to serve as president of Fordham University, having previously served as president of Loyola New Orleans. A law professor, Tetlow began her academic career at Tulane University, directing the Domestic Violence Law Clinic and later as senior vice president and chief of staff. Prior to academia, she was an assistant U.S. attorney. She earned her undergraduate degree from Tulane and a J.D. from Harvard Law.

What inspired you to pursue a career in education?
I love the force multiplier of teaching, the chance to inspire and train generations of students who will go out and change the world. Our teaching creates citizens in the broadest sense. It supports democracy and engagement. It reinforces values and ethics. Higher education becomes one of the gateways of opportunity, the chance to invest in talent the world might otherwise squander. We fuel American global competitiveness. We make meritocracy real.

What aspects of education do you believe need more support from policymakers?
We need to remember that higher education is a public good, not just a private benefit. We need to remember the kind of economic and social impact created by the GI bill, and how quickly that investment paid back the taxpayers. Every dollar New York invests in her students’ opportunities benefits the state for a generation to come.

What do you think the future of New York’s education system looks like?
At a moment when COVID set back decades of progress in educational opportunity, we need to redouble our efforts to create meaningful access. From fully supporting public institutions to allowing students to seek out private institutions that will best support them, I hope that New York will continue to stand ahead. Investing in education is a tide that lifts all boats.


Susan Poser

Dr. Susan Poser is the ninth president of Hofstra University, and the first woman to lead the university. She serves on the board of directors of the Long Island Association and Accelerate Long Island and is a member of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council. Before coming to Hofstra, Dr. Poser served as the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Illinois Chicago, and in several positions at the University of Nebraska, including dean of the College of Law.

Stefanie Ortiz-Cidlik

Stefanie Ortiz-Cidlik- IEARN

A visionary strategist and change catalyst, Stefanie Ortiz-Cidlik has led international youth development and education non-profits for over 15 years. As the CEO of iEARN-USA (International Education and Resource Network), Stefanie is transforming education, developing global citizens through classroom-based International virtual exchanges and study abroad programs that break down cultural barriers and equip young people with essential skills. Stefanie serves on the iEARN International Executive Council and the Alliance for International Exchange Board of Directors.

What inspired you to pursue a career in education?
I believe that education is the great equalizer and everyone deserves a quality education. What drew me to iEARN was our virtual exchanges that leverage technology to connect classrooms around the world allowing students to learn about and with one another. Very few students travel or study abroad; virtual exchanges level the playing field giving all students an opportunity to develop global competencies that are essential skills today. That is really exciting to me!

What aspects of education do you believe need more support from policymakers?
The Covid pandemic took a tremendous toll on our teachers and classrooms resulting in learning loss and student disengagement. I believe it is critical for policymakers to increase mental health support services for students and educators; to invest in our educators and give them the freedom to integrate innovative programming into their classrooms to excite and engage students; and to address the needs of historically marginalized students who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

What do you think the future of New York’s education system looks like?
While charter schools will remain an important component of New York’s education landscape, I think we see a resurgence in New York’s traditional public schools. With time and with more parents returning to the office, we may see homeschool numbers return to pre-pandemic rates with public school enrollment increasing. Budget constraints are always a factor, but I hope we see greater investments in our educators, new programs and services, and school infrastructure.

Shelley Mayer

Shelley Mayer- NYS Senate

Shelley Mayer has been an activist elected official for over 10 years, with a special dedication to education. She has served as the chair of the Senate education committee since 2019. Mayer was elected to the Senate in an April 2018 special election and re-elected in 2018, 2020 and 2022. Previously she served in the State Assembly representing Yonkers.

What inspired you to pursue a career in education?
I strongly believe education is the door to opportunity and achievement in our society. With strong support, all children can learn and grow academically and socially to become true participants in our democracy. A free quality public education is the bedrock of the American system, and we are obligated to publicly support it and make it work for every child.

What aspects of education do you believe need more support from policymakers?
With strong advocacy from my colleagues, NYS has now finally met its responsibility to fully fund the Foundation Aid formula for public schools. Our federal partners have also provided major funding to ensure schools have the resources they need to recover from the pandemic. Now we must ensure that schools have used these resources effectively, that we encourage creative solutions to the problems we face, and that schools have the support they need going forward.

What do you think the future of New York’s education system looks like?
As we saw during the height of the pandemic, schools are incredibly important community spaces. In addition to the essential instructional role they hold in educating children, they feed our children, provide essential child care and after school services, and provide socialization. Our children and communities rely on our schools to fulfill this function, and we must ensure our districts have the resources and flexibility to strengthen this essential role they will continue to play.