Pedro Rivera: Rebuilding the lost villages of PA education system
At an event last Thursday hosted by AL DÍA News, PA Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera engaged in a broad dialogue about statewide education, with emphasis on the current funding crisis.
In his keynote speech, Rivera used his own story as an example, crediting his success to the “really good teams” throughout his career, beginning with the “village” that raised him. Or rather, the five villages.
“If I didn’t have a supportive family, if I didn’t have opportunities within our community to really help lift me up and keep me engaged, I would have never had the opportunities leading up to being secretary today,” he said, citing his list of influencers in the troubled North Philadelphia neighborhood where he grew up. A strong mother, a strong grandmother, strong neighbors, store owners, teachers — these were his tribe.
“It’s my job to find the resources to build villages around each and every child in the commonwealth,” Rivera said.
Gov. Tom Wolf appointed Rivera to head up the education cabinet just after he assumed office in January. The governor’s call for big-time reinvestment in public education — $1 billion the first year, and another $1 billion over the next four years — put a lot of eyes on Rivera.
Step one has been, of course, the education budget. It still needs to be approved the the Republican-controlled legislature, which weren't too happy with the words “education” and “billion” in the same sentence.
“It didn’t make him extremely popular, but he knew this was the path of creating villages around children,” Rivera said.
Rivera went on to discuss the contemporary woes of the system, including the equal-but-not-equitable 10 percent funding cuts a few years back. “For too long, zip code has dictated the quality of education,” he said, calling for a better school-to-career pipeline in disadvantaged communities.
On standardized testing, Rivera stressed the need to measure progress and competency on a national level, but added that the state could do better to measure results. The secretary also touched on a range of other issues — teachers unions, the digital divide, second-language learners — in a conversation led by AL DÍA News managing editor Sabrina Vourvoulias, which was followed by questions from the over 80-person audience. At many points, Rivera called for not just action, but celebration.
“We need to celebrate this profession. None of us would be in this room right now if it wasn’t for a great teacher,” Rivera said. “Let’s celebrate what can be. Let’s celebrate that by being present you can change the lives of children. Let’s celebrate the fact that one day we will get a budget, but let’s make sure it’s a good budget that provides the much-needed resources to kids and communities.”