Rivera Begins Working Wolf’s Policy Agenda in Pennsylvania

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Pedro Rivera, former superintendent of the Lancaster School District in Pennsylvania, has taken over the state’s Education Department as to help Governor Tom Wolf implement and carry out education policy.

Rivera said that his first few weeks as head of the Pennsylvania Department of Education were spent helping the Wolf administration “creating and facilitating a plan to support some of the state’s neediest schools.”

In order to fully take over as head of the department, Rivera must still be approved by the state Senate.  Once that happens, Rivera said he plans to address other issues in the state, such as whether the Keystone exams should continue to be a graduation requirement, as well as considering whether the School Performance Profile, the rating system for schools, needs to be revised.

During his campaign, Wolf said that he supported giving local control back to Philadelphia schools.  According to Rivera, there has not yet been any discussions concerning this issue, writes Dale Mezzacappa for The Notebook.

The governor philosophically believes that school districts should remain in local control,” he said. “But I don’t have any specifics in relation to Philadelphia.”

Up to this point, the discussion has mainly centered around York City schools, which recently saw a state receiver recommending giving control over to a charter management company.  “We’ve had very productive conversations regarding York,” he said.  However, the idea has angered area parents and educators, who are fighting the plan in court.

York is currently under a “financial recovery” status and under the control of a state receiver along with three other districts.  An additional four districts are in a “financial watch” status.  Philadelphia had been taken over through a separate state law.

According to Rivera, Governor Wolf’s “highest-focus priority” is to find additional funding and to create a formula for equal distribution of that money.  The governor is expected to deliver his budget to the General Assembly on March 3.

Rivera will replace former acting secretary Carolyn Dumaresq on the Basic Education Funding Commission as one of three administration appointees.  It is up to the commission to agree on a funding formula for education by June.

“We’ve looked deeply at what education funding would look like if we take into account establishing equity as opposed to inequality, and what is best for supporting the fiscally neediest districts,” said Rivera.

The department would also like to look into the School Performance Profile to make a decision as to whether the system needs to be changed.  Currently, it combines test scores and other criteria in order to create a score for each school relating to that school’s effectiveness.  Rivera would like to see a measure included to “help families make good sound decisions around the quality of education a child is receiving.”

“We have to make sure we are taking a comprehensive approach to [improving] teacher and educator effectiveness,” and that school evaluations are used “to better serve kids and not as a tool of punitive measures,” he said.