This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
What is your assessment of the current state of Pennsylvania's educational infrastructure?
It can be argued that the global and historical pandemic needs to be studied further as it relates to its impact on public education. It brought months of school closures, a paradigm shift from instructional in-person teaching to remote instruction, trauma and isolation for students and educators alike. Therefore, in Pennsylvania, the aforementioned impacted the educational infrastructure as well. Pennsylvania then needs to continue to synthesize nearly three years of research on the academic, mental health, and other impacts of the pandemic and school closures on our Commonwealth students, families, educators and communities to reverse the deficits.
What are you/your company/organization doing to improve the educational landscape in the state?
The Education and Community Outreach efforts of the PHRC support the mission of the PHRC by developing innovative anti-discrimination training in each of the jurisdictional areas covered by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). Moreover, we provide free training and outreach with the purpose of educating the public about discrimination, as mandated by settlements and by requests. The trainings include programs such as Implicit Bias, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Race Dialogue on College Campuses Initiative, Anti-Bullying for Schools, Fair Housing training, and School to Prison Pipeline Conference. We also have a civil rights legal internship program that trains the next vanguard of social change agents.
What are the biggest education priorities for local, state and national politicians to address?
Resources are essential for the future of educational outcomes for our democracy and our Commonwealth. Moreover, not just money as it relates to resources, but people and improved building structures come to mind as well. Buildings are resources, equipment are resources, playgrounds are resources, gardens and green spaces are resources, mental health practitioners are resources, nurses are resources, and school social workers are resources. Diverse school boards and administrators are pivotal to the educational ethos of our schools throughout Pennsylvania and our democracy. Politicians need to explore further the varied harmful unequal educational disparities in many aspects of the learning environment.
What is the easiest lift to improve the future of education in the state? What is the hardest?
Exploring the societal costs associated with unemployed youth and opening lines of communication between business and industry and school districts to determine the needs of students so they can be better prepared to enter the workforce is very important for our Commonwealth. We must work to increase the number of black men in teaching from Pre-K to Post Secondary. The hardest is a shared view of education. Not a red view, not a blue view, not a privilege view, not a poor view but an aligned philosophical view for our children in our great Commonwealth.
Are there any lessons to be learned from other states/countries on what to do or what not to do to improve the education system in Pennsylvania?
I welcome the opportunity to more than consider what other educational systems are doing around the globe. However, it's important to acknowledge two things. Firstly, what works in one place may not work in another as context, culture and history matter. Secondly, there are no simple answers to complex questions. As an industrialized nation, we need to reverse the trend whereas our children are the "faces in the bottom of the well" looking up with looks of hopelessness and despair in their precious eyes. We should establish a 'school to personal, to professional, to civic success social justice pipeline.