State education secretary talks school improvement

ANDOVER — The state Secretary of Education James Peyser spoke at the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce’s business expo Wednesday, where he outlined Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan to better prepare students across the commonwealth to enter the workforce.

Peyser, the keynote speaker at the expo luncheon, said that while “there’s a lot to be proud of” in the Massachusetts education system, “we can’t afford to rest on our goals.”

Baker’s administration has identified five key areas to promote a better education system, Peyser said: reinforce the foundations of education reform, strengthen the quality of early education, empower schools and educators, develop and expand STEM career pathways and improve college affordability and completion. 

Locally, Peyser pointed to what he called the success of the educational reform plans in Lawrence, where the state stepped in about six years ago to turnaround the district, which was one of the lowest performing across the state. He called out Lawrence Schools Superintendent Jeff Riley, who was in attendance, for his commitment to improving the district.

“I think the experience that Jeff has had in Lawrence and the experience that he has had on behalf of the children there is a reflection of what it means when the state steps up to do its part to help the communities that struggling the most,” Peyser said.

The state’s intervention at the local level “is not a punishment,” Peyser clarified, but “a partnership between the state and local community.” 

“And the early results that we’ve seen now, six years into it in Lawrence, are really quite impressive,” he added. 

Peyser also focused on the Baker administration’s investment in vocational schools, which are plentiful across the Merrimack Valley. The state is investing tens of millions into vocational education programs, specifically in equipment, he said. New statewide initiatives to streamline the paths from school to the workforce are just getting off the ground as well.

The Innovation Pathways initiative will create “career-oriented pathways in high school that are designed to be a partnership between a high school and an employer or a set of employers in order to create a pathway program that’s connected to a specific industry sector,” Peyser explained, “ensuring students coming out of high school are not just academically prepared, but prepared for work.”

Hand-in-hand with that program is the Early College Program, which, when in full swing, will allow high school students to take college courses through a partnership between community colleges and high schools. Students will be able to accrue up to a full semester’s worth of credit before they even have graduated high school, Peyser said. 

“I’m glad that you all are taking the time, and the chamber is taking the time, to focus on what ultimately is the most important economic and most important workforce issue we have, which is the quality of our education system,” Peyser told the crowd. 


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