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Local man will host national education conference in Lake Placid

April 21, 2014
By MATTHEW TURNER , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The man organizing an education policy conference in the Olympic Village is a part-time resident of Saranac Lake.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and political figures from around the country are expected to attend.

Joe Williams, president of Education Reform Now and the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, is leading the three-day event called "Camp Philos" at Whiteface Lodge. The conference will begin on May 4.

"I've been going to the Adirondacks since the late 1980s," Williams said in a phone interview. "I was a camper at a camp in Saranac Lake called Floodwood Mountain Reservation, and I just fell in love with the place. I try to spend as much time as I can up there in the summer and winter. I am an Adirondack junkie."

Williams, who lives near McKenzie Pond, said exposing people to the Adirondacks and also drawing in "thousands of thousands" of dollars to the local economy was the reason for hosting it here.

Originally, he wanted to host the event in Saranac Lake, not Lake Placid, but the accommodations there weren't sufficient, he said. Guests will stay at one of three host hotels: including the Whiteface Lodge, High Peaks Resort and Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, according to

"I think if Saranac Lake was ready to go, to host a large gathering like what we were trying to put together, it would have been a first choice," Williams said. "I would have loved to pulled it off. ... I love Lake Placid, but Saranac Lake needs it."

Education Reform Now is a nonprofit policy think tank, whereas Democrats for Education Reform is politically driven and lobbies elected leaders, Williams said. The organizations, which have offices in several states including New York, has successfully advocated for policies most recently in New Jersey and Washington state. It supports charter schools and tougher teacher evaluations and tenure requirements.

Williams said his group has been doing work with the governor on education policy. Cuomo has vacationed in the Adirondacks over the years.

"The next time I saw him, I told him I'm a Saranac Lake guy at heart, and I told him I really appreciate him stopping by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and talking about it (tourism)."

Cuomo visited the Enterprise office on Dec. 28, 2012, while on vacation with his family. There he mentioned a need for an anchor event to draw tourism, and a couple of weeks later he announced in his State of the State speech that he would hold an Adirondack Challenge event themed around rafting. This March Cuomo held the Adirondack Winter Challenge, bringing state legislators to Lake Placid and the surrounding areas to enjoy winter activities.

Williams said he later pitched the idea to Cuomo about attending the conference in the Adirondacks because he saw the governor was interested in promoting tourism.

"We wanted to do something in the off years to get people from around the country together," Williams said of the conference. "And the governor loved the idea. His staff was very enthusiastic, too."

Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi told the Enterprise the governor is pleased to take part in the conference.

"The Governor is pleased to welcome a major national education conference to the North Country as we continue to build on this administration's efforts to increase tourism and economic development opportunities to Upstate New York," Azzopardi wrote in an email. "From spring hiking to summer rafting, fall foliage and winter skiing we know that once people get to know the North Country, they will love the North County."

The governor's office is not involved in planning or funding Camp Philos. Cuomo is merely the "honorary chairman." Other notable people on a list of attendees include U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana; Denver Mayor Michael Hancock; Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson; Russlynn Ali, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education; and M. Night Shyamalan, a film director best known for "The Sixth Sense."

Asked if the education conference will include New York teachers, superintendents and administrators, Williams said teacher administrators would be there.

An outline of the event says there will be a welcome reception the first night. Most of the conference discussion will be held on May 5. The education talks will begin at 9 a.m. and end around 9 p.m. Discussions topics include "a successful school reform coalition," "innovative teacher prep" and collective bargaining. On May 6 there will be one closing session held in the morning.



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