NORTHAMPTON — Even if the students at Bridge Street Elementary School didn’t know who Patrick Tutwiler was, they could clearly tell he was somebody important.
Students frequently stopped him during a Monday tour of the pre-K-5 school to say hello, shake his hand and even ask for his autograph. When he entered the cafeteria, flanked by a group of state, city and school officials, one student inquired whether he was the president.
Tutwiler, the Massachusetts secretary of education, visited the school as part of a larger tour of public schools across the western half of the state. Tutwiler visited Brightwood Elementary School in Springfield last week, and followed up his tour of Bridge Street with a stop at Pioneer Valley Regional High School in Northfield later in the day on Monday.
Guiding Tutwiler on his tour was Bridge Street Principal Carol Ruyffelaert. Tutwiler was joined by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, state Sen. Jo Comerford, and Northampton School Committee members Emily Serafy-Cox and Gwen Agna. Agna gifted him a copy of her children’s book “True You,” a nod to supporting diverse gender identities in children and public schools.
Prior to the tour, a closed session was held at Union Station in Northampton, attended by Tutwiler and several other local lawmakers including Reps. Natalie Blais and Mindy Domb and Jennifer Puckering, District Director for Sen. Jacob Oliveira. Presentations at the session by superintendents of districts across Hampshire and Franklin counties addressed topics beleaguering schools in the region such as staffing, state funding and addressing the needs of rural school districts.
The secretary’s tour of Bridge Street on Monday was at the invitation of Comerford, who chairs the state’s Joint Committee on Higher Education. The invitation is part of an effort by local officials to try to secure more state funding for Northampton’s public school district, which they say is disadvantaged by the current criteria used to determine how much funding municipalities receive for schools.