Commentary: Centre County’s school districts collaborating amid challenges

Leadership Centre County’s Class of 2019 had the unique opportunity to speak with local educators and students to explore the county’s schools recently during Education Day.

The day began with the class’ hearing from Bob O’Donnell, superintendent of State College Area School District. O’Donnell spoke about the differences in education between when he started his career and today. In addition, he spoke about initiatives currently underway in the district. Class members had many questions; O’Donnell provided more details about steps being taken to address the mental health crisis, school safety concerns and the nationwide teacher shortage.

To get a deeper look into the county’s public school systems, class members were divided into seven groups and spent a day visiting local schools. Groups visited one of the five school districts (Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley, Philipsburg-Osceola and State College), three charter schools (Centre Learning Community, Nittany Valley and Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania) and a career and technical education school (Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology). As class members toured districts and spoke with administrators, teachers and students, they observed passionate educators, engaged students and educational innovation. Ongoing district initiatives include technology, safety, updating current buildings and building new schools, developing community, developing community partnerships, curriculum development, professional development for teachers, career exploration, career and technical education and student-centered instruction.

Upon return from the visits, members heard from James Orichosky, director of elementary education in the Bald district, and James Nolan, Penn State professor emeritus. Nolan discussed the changing face of public education regarding accountability requirements, funding sources for Pennsylvania schools, violence in schools, teacher perspectives of education, and diversity and inclusion. Orichosky, who wore his passion about education and teaching on his sleeve, spoke about his “on the ground” experience with children and parents and emphasized the importance of keeping parents engaged.

The main takeaway from the day was that while there are many challenges facing public education today, our local school districts frequently collaborate and are working hard daily to address those challenges and improve education for all students in the county.

Amber Cesare is a STEM education outreach specialist in the Penn State Center for Science and the Schools and a member of the Leadership Centre County Class of 2019. Information about Leadership Centre County is at www.leadershipcentrecounty.org.