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Regents member James Jackson resigns before State Legislature's vote on four seats

Regents member James Jackson's abrupt decision to drop

Regents member James Jackson's abrupt decision to drop his bid for reelection to the New York State Board of Regents was confirmed Tuesday, March 11, 2014, by Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Credit: NYSED

State Regent James Jackson has abruptly resigned -- an apparent casualty of controversy swirling around the state's push for tougher student testing and teacher evaluations tied to Common Core academic standards.

Jackson's decision to drop his bid for re-election to the state's highest education policy board was confirmed Tuesday morning by Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. The decision came just hours before state lawmakers were scheduled to vote on whether to award new terms to Jackson and three other board members.

"James Jackson was a terrific educator," Tisch said. "They were lucky to have him."

Jackson, a former Albany-area teacher and school principal, attended the Regents' monthly board meeting in the state capitol on Monday, but was not at Tuesday morning's meetings.

Jackson, reached by phone at his home, said he had to take another call and had no immediate comment.

Under the state constitution, annual selection of Regents whose terms are expiring is by the combined Assembly and Senate, meeting together. Assembly Democrats, who hold the biggest voting bloc, have controlled selections in recent years.

Other incumbent Regents standing for re-election Tuesday are James Cottrell of Brooklyn and Wade Norwood of Rochester, both of whom serve at-large, and Christine Cea of Staten Island.

Jackson was elected to a three-year term on the board in March 2011, representing seven counties in the Hudson Valley area. His resignation came the day after emergence of a surprise candidate for the 17-member board, which spurred speculation that at least one incumbent's bid for re-election could be jeopardized.

State Assembly members on Monday held a last-minute interview with candidate Josephine Finn, a village justice in upstate Monticello who is a former associate professor at Sullivan County Community College. Finn could not be reached by phone Monday at her office or home.

Regents are largely insulated from day-to-day politics, and ousters of incumbent panelists are rare.

However, a growing number of parents and teachers opposed to the Regents' pursuit of testing and job evaluations stemming from the Common Core academic standards have called for changes on the board. Finn's insertion into the race by Assembly Democrats a day before the vote had fueled speculation that a shake-up was imminent.

"If it's not, then it's odd that they brought someone in at the eleventh hour for an interview," Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square), ranking minority member of the chamber's Education Committee, said on Monday.

Lawmakers and their aides, who asked that their names not be used, had noted that Finn comes from the same area as Jackson -- an indicator that he was the most likely member to face a Finn challenge.

On Monday morning, Tisch chose Jackson to open the board's meeting with inspirational remarks. Such remarks are a tradition at the Regents monthly meetings.

Jackson delivered a ringing defense of the Common Core standards, declaring that schoolchildren must receive "the highest caliber of educational support and services, which will prepare them for jobs, a career and college."

Maria Neira, a vice president of New York State United Teachers, the state's biggest teacher union, said her organization is "looking forward to there being some change in the voices" on the Regents board.

With Yancey Roy

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