NORTHFIELD — In the Pioneer Valley Regional School library and on the trails behind the building, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler got a lesson in rural education.
Tutwiler, along with two assistant secretaries and his communications staff, spent Monday afternoon with Pioneer students, staff, administrators and public officials, as he learned about the challenges faced by rural school districts.
“The incredible pride the students conveyed about their experience says a lot about the commitment to education here — the skill sets of the faculty and staff here,” he said in an interview. “I’m leaving inspired.”
It was the secretary of education’s first visit to western Massachusetts in at least a decade, according to Kristen Elechko, whom Gov. Maura Healey recently tapped as this region’s director. Tutwiler oversees the state’s early, primary and higher education.
Tutwiler had lunch with students and talked to them about the importance of rural education and the district’s needs. The conversation then opened up to all in attendance, where state Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, spoke about how the state’s funding formula can sometimes leave rural communities behind, even if those communities, especially those around the Quabbin Reservoir, contribute so many resources to the state.
After the meal, students, science teacher Nikki Pullen and restoration ecologist John Lepore, who is also a former Pioneer faculty member, took Tutwiler and the other public officials on a tour of the school’s recently restored hiking trail to give them a taste of rural, in-place education.
The event at Pioneer was the final stop on a day full of meetings with educators, school administrators and students that began with a breakfast town hall with the Collaborative for Educational Services, legislators and 35 superintendents from around the Pioneer Valley. Following the breakfast, Tutwiler made his way to the Bridge Street School in Northampton before spending time in Northfield.