Education Week - February 14, 2018 - 15
I'm fully aware that there may be points in the journey that the adults
are not happy with the decisions I make."
Puerto Rico Secretary of Education
not something we can execute immediately," Keleher said, because of
the island's troubled budget books.
In her view, people who grew
up in Puerto Rico and are now in
their 50s got a good public education, but those who are now in the
system deserve a better education,
especially but not exclusively because of Hurricane Maria's damage. And she has little patience for
skeptics who she says lack their
own data-driven alternatives to
her ideas, including those who
have protested school closures.
"I'm fully aware that there may be
points in the journey that the adults
are not happy with the decisions that
I make," said Keleher, who has been
secretary for a little more than a year
after previously working in Puerto
Rico for the U.S. Department of Education. "I can't have a situation where
a student doesn't have access to a
teacher and there's an excess of teachers in [another] location."
Keleher added that if Puerto Rican
parents' demands to have better
schools "provokes a corresponding
conflict with a set of adults, then I am
excited by that opportunity."
Keleher doesn't lack critics, including in the leadership of the island's teachers' union.
Some educators are worried about
whether they will have their jobs in a
few months. The number of proposed
school closures has caught them off
guard. They worry that the close-andrevamp approach to many schools
will lead to a downward spiral in
which more teachers move to the U.S.
mainland, leaving their former students and parents in the lurch.
In a message reacting to Rosselló's
proposal, the Federación de Maestros
de Puerto Rico, an activist group of
educators who have protested Keleher's actions, said his administration
"just declared war on the education of
our children and the teachers by announcing the privatization of schools
through the failed charter model."
And to summarize their most
fundamental fears, critics say the
plans from Rosselló and Keleher
amount to a push to privatize education at a time when better public
schools, and more public schools,
"It's like saying, 'We are not going
to give you the right to education,' "
the Asociación de Maestros de
Puerto Rico's Toledo said.
Toledo, whose group is an American Federation of Teachers affiliate, expressed particular concern
for students in rural, mountainous
areas. If schools in those regions
close, she argued, many students
would have to travel 45 minutes to
the nearest school-assuming that
one doesn't close. Many parents, she
said, won't accept that change and
could leave the island.
Rumors and anxiety about what the
department is up to are spreading.
In early February, teachers in
Puerto Rico were sharing a list of
soon-to-be-shuttered schools on
social media, a list that Keleher's
department has said is false. The
names of the 300 or so schools that
would be closed under Rosselló's
plan are set to be released at the
end of March, the secretary said.
Even the governor's proposed raise
for teachers doesn't match what
many teachers expect at this point.
Toledo said teachers deserve pay
increases so that their salaries rise
to $3,000 a month on average. By
contrast, Rosselló's proposal would
increase the average teacher salary
to $2,325 monthly, or a $125 monthly
increase from current pay levels. And
that's not the only material shortfall
she said needs to be addressed.
"We don't have books. We don't
have computers. We don't have access to so many resources that the
schools in the States have. That's
what upsets us," Toledo said.
cludes charters and vouchers, Toledo
Veteran educator Isabel Rodriguez
Santos is of two minds.
Puerto Rico's 2007 Teacher of
the Year still teaches marketing
and business administration at
Dr. Maria Cadilla High School in
Arecibo, about an hour west of San
Juan, but she is in the middle of her
own transition out of the classroom
to oversee other educators. In early
October, just a few weeks after the
hurricane, she expressed hope that
the island's teachers would remain
and help the schools recover.
Her school has power and internet
access, and she is able to teach with
the lights on. However, when she looks
at other schools that are struggling
and are clustered close together in
some areas, she said she understands
that changes may be inevitable.
"The schools are part of the community. So when you close a school,
the people start to make some hard
statements about the decision. But
I understand that it is a difficult
time," she said. "The government
has to make a difficult decision."
Some of the struggles deal with
Hurricane Maria's aftermath, not
traditional hot-button policy issues.
Schools have so far received only
temporary structural repairs, Keleher noted. And schools that need
permanent fixes won't get them this
school year. She laments that she
doesn't have generators and solar
panels to offer to all schools. As of
late last month, about a third of the
island's schools were without power,
and some only had it intermittently.
"I wish I had in hand generators and solar panels for each of the
schools. I wish the timeline for school
repairs wasn't what it is," Keleher
But the secretary also isn't shy
about criticizing what she calls a
broad cultural problem in some
schools: students who are at school
but who don't go to class and mill
around in hallways or elsewhere.
"It was striking to me when I
first saw it and it continues to be a
concern. But it's not solely a consequence of the hurricane," Keleher
said. "There's a culture in some of
the school buildings that allows
for that sense of disconnectedness.
There's sort of a lax approach to
managing the day and managing
Keleher's background is also still
the subject of discussion. Toledo
raises, unprompted, the surprise
some in Puerto Rico felt when Rosselló appointed Keleher as secretary
over a year ago because she is from
the mainland United States and is
not a native Puerto Rican.
And ultimately, Toledo's union is
worried that Puerto Rican leaders
want to "let the schools go down the
hill" in order to replace them with the
model of schooling they want that in-
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EDUCATION WEEK | February 14, 2018 | www.edweek.org | 15