This letter was distributed to every member of the New York State Board of Regents, along with many elected officials in New York State.

Dear Distinguished Elected Officials,
I am the parent of two children one presently enrolled in the Spackenkill school district, the other is a junior in college studying computer science, much to my chagrin. I have an advanced degree and have practiced in the legal field for many years. I am raising my second child who is now in Kindergarten in the Spackenkill School District, Poughkeepsie, NY.
Spackenkill teachers are professional, engaging and amazing people! They go the extra mile for our students. We feel blessed to live and learn in this small community. But, I digress. A little more about me. Both my parents are physicians. My brother has a PhD in neuroscience. In fact, to be honest everyone in my family has an advanced degree of some sort, mostly MDs, a few pharmacists and some dentists. I have a JD. Naturally, I am the black sheep in this family both figuratively and pregoratively. My point?  As you can see, I am not an ignorant fool…, in my family we strive for and understand the value of a stellar education. I want to instill those values and I expect the same opportunity for my children too.
Which brings me to why I am writing you today. I am writing to express my deep disatisfaction with Commissioner of Education John  B. King, Jr. I attended and spoke at the October 10, 2013 Town Hall event and would like to share my thoughts with you, if you dont mind.
The event, at capacity, was hosted by the NYSPTA. My friend Jennifer Kaufman (who also spoke) and I sat in my car prior to the event debating whether we should bail and go for coffee to catch up. That was the extent of our “plot” to organize some sort of concerted effort to “manipulate and control” the forum. I assure you, that was the farthest thing from our minds that evening. My intention that evening was to face Dr. King, make eye contact and to be heard with the hopes that he would address my concerns. End of story. No conspiracy there.
From the NYSPTA Town Hall flyer:
“NYS PTA is providing you with this opportunity to gather information,
ask questions, and share concerns with NYS Education Commissioner
John King and/or other SED Representatives at one of five town hall meetings around the state”
Those of us who were at the meeting saw firsthand that Dr King must have missed the memo. Instead of providing parents and teachers the opportunity to “ask questions, and share concerns” this meeting was dominated by Dr. King. The audience was not given much opportunity to speak, ask questions or raise concerns which issues we were hoping the Commissioner would address.
Concededly, there were some hecklers at the meeting. People who were rude and spoke out of turn. But, I understand why they were acting this way. You see, as parents and teachers I feel that we have not been afforded an opportunity to express our concerns directly to the man in charge – Commissioner King- about Core, privacy or testing and this was our golden moment. A shot. A chance. A rare opportunity for us as parents and teachers to face the man who is making important, significant educational policy decisions that have been affecting our lives every day and night at, breakfast, lunch and at the dinner table with our children. Look, this forum was supposed to be our turn to have a say, a voice, a chance to express concerns. This evening, for once, was about us,  not about him.
I understand that some people were rude and spoke out of turn. Some hecklers were annoying. But, so what? This is a very important subject one that we have been denied an opportunity to participate in at the outset. So, even though I dont condone such behavior, I understand where these people were coming from. In my opinion, whether rational or not, they were coming from a primal need and desire to protect their children. Guess what? I GET THAT AND CAN RESPECT THAT. Can you? Truthfully, if Commissioner King had handled these individuals questions and concerns with sensitivity, tact and grace then I would have had respect for him also.
But thats not what happened. I was there. I spoke at the mic. I consumed every last second of my precious 2 minutes at that mic. while Dr. King made attempts to further dominate and manipulate the forum. I had 2 minutes to speak up – I did the best that I could speaking as quickly but articulately as I could knowing full well that my concerns were not and have not been addressed and probably wont be. This  does not sit well with me. But, to add insult to injury,  the meeting ended abruptly after 5 speakers including myself presented  leaving at least 75 or more people who were simply denied the chance to speak. On subject matter of this magnitude, this is simply unacceptable.
Commissioner King has since canceled all further Town Hall appearances without affording parents, students, and teachers an opportunity to have a voice in the curriculum that is being bestowed on them. We deserve better. What a disappointment and disgrace to parents, teachers and students of Spackenkill and the State of NY. I am very disgusted with the support Commissioner King is recieving from Robert Bartlett, Regents Board Member and Chief.
I would like to express my incredible displeasure at Commissioner John B. King, Jr.’s decision and the support being promulgated by the Board of Regents about his decision to cancel the state sponsored PTA town hall meetings. As I stated earlier, we have legitimate concerns regarding NYS educational reform policies that are affecting our children and deserve an opportunity and forum in which to be heard, not patronized…..heard. Commissioner King is an appointed official who oversees the education of our children. He became defensive when mention was made of his own 2 children, so he should understand why we as parents feel defensive towards NYSED when it comes to the policies being implemented and the curriculum around those policies that affect our children and our lives.
Commissioner King should at least have had the decency to listen to concerns and address policy and curriculum related decisions publicly. He did not do this. This speaks volumes. Frankly, may I be so bold as to suggest that Comissioner King apologize for shutting down dialogue on a subject that is so significant to us as parents and teachers on a daily basis. We breathe it. We sleep it. We eat it. I am flabbergasted that Commissioner King does not have the sensitivity or capacity to understand where parents and teachers are coming from.
Many parents, like myself, chose to raise our children here in NY because of the quality schools that have existed for decades. The Commissioner’s policies seem fatally flawed and the curriculum has been poorly implemented. The canceling of these important meetings suggests to me that the Commissioner of Education, and his progeny, are more concerned with privatized education and corporate nepotism that children and teachers.
Commissioner King claims that the forum was hijacked by self interest groups intent on dominating and manipulating the forum. In one article that is presently circulating, Commissioner King was asked to identify the “self interest” groups he was referring to. He was quoted as saying: google it. I did. The video in which I speak comes up. Commissioner King further elaborates about these purported self interest groups alleging that “Email blasts encouraging their membership to dominate the microphone and take over the meeting,” were sent.
Well, if I were an average citizen, which Im not, I would write a boiler plate letter and be done with it. But, Im not writing you a boiler plate letter for a reason. I am disgusted by King’s representations. I am a one of the parents who spoke for 2 minutes at the mircophone on October 10, 2013 before Commissioner King and he has essentially reduced my concerns to anti education reform zealot rhetoric. I dont take kindly to that representation and I dont think my 6 year old and his teachers would appreciate it either.
In the short video aptly entitled “Commissioner gets Spanked” by Mert Melfa, I can be seen around the 7min 10 sec mark. I am “Anna Shak” (sic….its Shah). I am a parent. A taxpayer. A citizen. A mother. I am all of those things and I dont appreciate the fact that Commissioner King dismissed my concerns.
A copy of my speech is attached herewith. I cannot tell you how many hours I have devoted to researching these issues prior to this event in order to be fully informed before speaking to the Commissioner. I wrote my speech because I was thrilled beyond imagination about having the opportunity to voice my concerns to Dr King in an open forum. As you can see from the video and my speech, I was respectful, articulate and I advanced intelligent, well versed and legitimate concerns that I have about common core, testing and privacy that I wanted the Commissioner to hear. I did not even get to finish my statement within the 2 minute mark despite the fact that I had practiced it over 100 times and had clocked in at 1 minute 54 seconds – giving myself the cushion of a few seconds leeway in case I had to sneeze or cough during my statement before Dr. King.
I am disgusted beyond words that a man of the Commissioner’s stature would choose to dismiss parents and lump speakers in with “special interest” groups just because he did not like what he was hearing. King’s statements are inflammatory and abhorrent.  Rest assured, I am not a special interest group – I am a parent, a tax payer and a mother  of two children who simply wants to make sound decisions that are right for my children. I took the opportunity that exists in a democratic society to air my concerns to the official to whom those matters whould be addressed and he slammed the door in my face and the face of all of us. This is absolutely unacceptable and should not be tolerated by those of you who are in a position to do something about it.
Cancelling further Town Hall sessions and referring to speakers at the mircrophone that night as an organized effort by “special interests” to “dominate and manipulate” the forum was disgraceful. I am offended beyond words by this man.  The Commissioner’s decision to cancel further appearances speaks volumes. While I went into this forum willing to have an open mind, circumstances have now changed as a result of King’s behavior. I question his agenda more now then I did before the meeting. I have lost faith and respect in the Education Department. I have been unwilling to be swayed by zealots who argue against education reform in general, as King so put it, but King’s lack of judgment has given legitimacy to these coalitions. As a result of King’s own actions, I am worried that the Core initiative is less about children and more about competing interests (think $). Personally, I attended the meeting skeptical of this initiative, concerned about common core strategies and its implementation and yes I had nagging questions. But, to be honest, I was open to being persuaded if the evidence to back up this plan was there. It wasnt. I had hope that this meeting would quell my concerns so that I could have faith in Commissioner King’s leadership. I went into it as a parent. But, when I realized how mismanaged the system is and how irresponsible Commissioner King has been with legitimate concerns, red flags were raised and circumstances changed considerably for me. King has thrown down the gauntlet- he has accused me of being a “special interest” and he questionsmy agenda. So be it. I have no problem being accused of being a “special interest”. Indeed, my special interest is 6 years old and his name is Tyler and I would love the opportunity to face Commissioner King one more time.
There have been allegations made by Regent Board Member Bennett that Commissioner King was subject to racial slurs at this meeting. I was there at the meeting. I have watched the video several times. Given the fact that I am a person of color, a minority, I am acutely aware and sensitive to the challenges that minorities face on a daily basis. I can assure you that I heard no racial epithets and, in my opinion, the Comissioners race was not a factor at this event.
For all of the forgoing reasons, I am respectfully requesting that elected officials censure, reprimand and/or seek the resignation of Commissioner John B. King, Jr. immediately.
I am attaching a photo of myself and my youngest, “special interest”. Rest assured, I will remain active, interested and involved in my child’s education for despite Commissioner King attempt to shut me and other parents like me out of it. Thank you for your kind attention to this matter.
Respectfully submitted,
Anna Shah