Commissioner Jeff Riley Visits Western Mass

The new Commissioner of Education, Jeff Riley, came to Western Mass to answer questions and outline his future goals.


New commissioner Jeff Riley addresses the crowd at The Delaney House.

On Thursday March 29th, the future Massachusetts School Commissioner, Jeffrey Riley, met with local education leaders at the Western Massachusetts School Committee Forum held at the Delaney House in Holyoke. Riley, the current receiver of Lawrence Public Schools, outlined his priorities going into his new role as commissioner and hosted a question-and-answer session to hear the concerns of Western Mass educators.

Devin Sheehan, Vice-Chair of the Holyoke School Committee and President-Elect of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, gave a brief introduction prior to Jeffrey Riley taking the stage in one of his first public engagements. Throughout the forum, Riley stressed the importance of communication, empowering educators, and providing the best possible future for Massachusetts students.

“It went great. The fact that we were able to bring the future commissioner out to Holyoke and out to Western Mass, as one of his first public engagements, really says a lot for the work that he wants to do for our region,” Sheehan told The Herald. “I think all of us coming together can really help public education moving forward, for the future of both Holyoke and the Commonwealth.”

Questions raised during the evening ranged from topics concerning vocational schools to the current issue of the foundation budget review. When asked about his ninety day plan, Riley discussed how he will be working hard to hear the opinions of everyone. He wants to get input from not only committees and boards, but teachers, students, and parents as well. He stressed making people a part of the process.

On the topic of the foundation budget review, Riley spoke of how the current formula is not working for everyone and that he does not at the moment see the state revenue there to be able to fix this problem. He said we therefore need to ask, “What can we do to do better?”

Another hot topic of the evening was how to promote non-MCAS subjects. Many subjects, such as history, are being pushed to the side and not receiving the same attention as subjects that have MCAS testing, such as math and English. Riley said “we need to treat all of our subjects equally” and that he is open to offering a History MCAS. He does, however, worry about the amount of time that students spend testing instead of learning. He also said that he feels that we need to support world languages because “every student deserves a well-rounded education.” He hopes that all students will one day be able to speak multiple languages.

When asked about his opinions on charter schools, Riley discussed how the main concern for parents is that their children are provided with a strong education, whether that be in a public school or charter school. He discussed how he asked both charters and unions to run schools in Lawrence and spoke of how he made charters a part of the district. Riley stressed the need to get extremists on both sides to come together.

Devin Sheehan, of the Hoyoke School Committee, hosted the event.

There are many students today who shy away from community colleges and instead attend costly schools that put them into heavy debt. On this issue, Riley said he believes that “the stigma about community colleges is coming to an end.” He spoke of how it’s important that we do a better job explaining the opportunities and financial advantages that community colleges offer because students who get their associates with a 3.0 GPA can easily attend schools such as UMass for exceptionally low rates.

On the topic of career and technical education, Riley spoke of how we need to let students pursue their desired education, but he said that “this can often be difficult because you end up asking eighth graders to decide their future.” He said that “vocational education is a critical skill” and that “we need to increase footprint space.”

“I think it was great to come out to the western part of the state as one of my first events,” future commissioner Jeffrey Riley told The Herald. “It’s really important that we talk to all of the folks that are involved in education. We had school committee members here today, we had superintendents here today, we had students here today and part of my job is to get out and listen to everyone as we plan for what’s next.”

For a full summary of the event and Jeffrey Riley’s statements, check out The Herald’s live tweets from the forum on our twitter account: @hhsherald.