When it comes to rural school districts, some administrators think they get the short end of the stick with education funding and support.
But on Thursday, state Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said the state has their backs.
He spoke to a group of educators and school board members at the annual Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools conference at the Ramada Inn and Conference Center.
The three-day event aims to spread awareness about the organization and its mission to promote equal opportunity for quality education.
“One of the things we’re talking about is advocacy for education and hitting the needs of rural community education,” Rivera said. “We fully understand the plight of our rural school districts and what they need.”
Rivera emphasized the plan to limit standardized tests, use positive incentives toward schools and increase vocational education for secondary school students.
Some local school district school board members and administrators were in attendance, including Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District Superintendent Gregg Paladina.
Paladina signed a contract extension last week with the district, and he said one of the reasons he opted to stay was to see out the goals of the schools.
He thinks some of what Rivera talked about Thursday morning could benefit P-O.
“I think his message is definitely something that is important for school districts and public education,” Paladina said. “We’re always trying to do the best for our students and trying to limit standardized tests in our schools. It’s something that should happen. … We test kids far too much.”
Rivera said limiting the number of state-mandated tests will give school districts the opportunity to focus more on teacher-student relationships.
“This year we fought for a budget,” he said. “This year we’re focused on more resources that allowed educators to focus on accountability — moving away from standardized tests and looking at teaching and learning and engagement in high quality programs.”
The goal, Rivera said, is to limit how much test scores are accounted for in School Performance Profiles, but he doesn’t believe they will ever be fully eliminated from evaluations.
Rivera also urged educators and school board members to work with local legislators in the fight for fair education.
Paladina said he attended Day on the Hill when the state budget was passed last month and met with Rep. Tommy Sankey, R-Decatur Township, and Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township.
“(I’m) trying to advocate for public education, but it has been difficult without a budget for so long,” Paladina said. “We’re looking out for the best interest for our students.”
But a major benefit, Paladina said, is increasing vocational education that is popular among rural and small schools.
“As far as for P-O, I just think students are students, and we need to advocate for the needs of all of our students whether it be career paths or college,” Paladina said. “Our district is not much different from other area rural school districts with a need to prepare them for the workforce. That’s really important.”
P-O has a partnership with Clearfield County Career and Technical Center.
Bald Eagle, Bellefonte and Penns Valley area school districts work with Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology to allow students in 10th grade or higher to participate in career technical education while still receiving a high school diploma.