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Noe Ortega. Photo: Harrison Brink/AL DÍA News
Noe Ortega led Pennsylvania's Department of Education through one of its most trying times. Photo: Harrison Brink/AL DÍA News

Noe Ortega steps down as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education

He is the latest in Governor Tom Wolf’s cabinet to announce a departure, as the administration winds down in its second term.

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April 29, 2022 will be the last day, Noe Ortega is Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education. The announcement of his departure came in a late afternoon release from Governor Tom Wolf’s office on Friday, April 22.

In departing, Ortega leaves a legacy of having led Pennsylvania’s Department of Education through one of its most challenging moments amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

During its early days, the longtime education administrator and diversity advocate from Texas had to help lead the transition of schools from in-person to virtual learning across the state, all with different technological capabilities. Later on, as he pushed for schools to return to in-person instruction, he found himself on the frontline of defending the department’s mask mandate and other COVID prevention efforts within school buildings.

Beyond the pandemic, Ortega also brought his past experience rooted in reshaping education systems with diversity to regulate and reform charter schools across the state, among other policy battles.

Ortega first joined PA’s Department of Education in 2017 as a Deputy Secretary and Commissioner of Postsecondary and Higher Education. Then, the department was led by previous education secretary Pedro Rivera, a North Philly native.

In his departing message, Ortega thanked Wolf for the opportunity to lead and called holding the post “a tremendous honor.”

“I am extremely proud of the accomplishments made and the resiliency demonstrated by the PDE team throughout my tenure,” he said. “Together, we worked tirelessly to ensure that every learner in Pennsylvania has access to a high-quality and equitable educational opportunity.”

Wolf returned with kind words of his own.

“Noe is a dedicated advocate for all students and I’m grateful for his service to our commonwealth,” he said. “He led the department through unprecedented times, ensuring a safe return to in-person learning and providing access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines. His successful efforts to diversify our educator workforce and improve opportunities for students to obtain postsecondary education opportunities will undoubtedly continue to impact our learners for years to come.”

Before coming to Pennsylvania, Ortega built himself quite the resume of breaking barriers and fighting for education equity, first at many posts in Texas at the state level, and then nationally at the University of Michigan, where he also got his doctorate of education in higher education policy. While working towards his degree, Ortega also led many groundbreaking efforts to reshape how universities accepted immigrant students, particularly DREAMers.

Ortega has received many accolades for his work throughout the years, and in 2021, he added to the trophy case when he was recognized by AL DÍA as the Education Archetype at AL DÍA’s 2021 Hispanic Heritage Awards.

His replacement to lead Pennsylvania’s Department of Education as Acting Secretary is Wolf’s Chief of Staff Eric Hagarty.

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