parents’ voices heard in Harrisburg

Pa. Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera addresses the crowd at State Rep. Dan Miller’s Disability Summit

Harrisburg has heard parents loud and clear. Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera, one of the keynote speakers at State Rep. Dan Miller’s 5th Annual Disability Summit at Beth El Congregation in Scott last week, said parental feedback has “absolutely driven the agenda.”

As a result, the test-taking culture is changing, moving away from standardized tests to better focusing on kids’ needs. Issues such as chronic absenteeism, college and career readiness, graduation standards (like project-based assessment), and serving every student through intervention or enrichment are being addressed. “We’re moving toward a holistic system of accountability,” Rivera told the approximately 200 people in attendance.

Rivera also discussed measures that take into account actions and opportunities for students and the need to involve the local community in the process. This will allow students to be successful in school and beyond.

Questions from the audience covered Braille codes, dyslexia literacy programs, education inequity and mental health. One word that came up repeatedly was “advocate.” Continue to advocate in Harrisburg, Rivera said, but there’s a need to advocate more at home. “Don’t forget your civic leaders and local elected officials,” he added. “Quite frankly, we’re going to give you the tools that you need to hold us accountable. That’s exactly what you should be doing; we’re public servants, you are our constituents.”

There’s a clear need for more education funding, he said. The good news is if a current proposal goes through, $1 billion will be invested in education. “I have become an anti-charter school policy secretary,” Rivera said. The charter school law isn’t working and there’s no system of accountability. School choice vouchers have to take into account the needs of the local community. “How are schools that accept vouchers going to support students with disabilities?” he asked.

When Rep. Miller asked Rivera to quickly address school safety, Rivera said the biggest deterrent to violence is students having a trusting and nurturing relationship with a teacher. School staff shaking hands in front of school every morning and saying good morning has had a huge effect. “We have to arm schools, not with weapons, but with better relationships with students,” Rivera said. Safety and security training should be provided to support this, and the effects can’t be forgotten either. “Even if [violence occurs] far away in Florida, we have to have better health providers,” Rivera said, emphasizing that it’s all about engaging in conversation and listening.

Photography by George Mendel