Secretary Duncan’s Straight Talk Is Music to Puerto Ricans’ Ears

Secretary Duncan speaks in Puerto Rico

Secretary Duncan speaks at the Puerto Rico Education Summit. (Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

On the island of Puerto Rico, home to the third-largest school district in the United States, Secretary Duncan on Monday brought a tough, but optimistic message to the “Investing in Our Future” Education Summit.

Puerto Rico, Duncan said to the more than 300 attendees, must choose “the path of embracing innovation, academic rigor, accountability, and effective strategies for accelerating learning for all students.”

In the first official visit by a U.S. Secretary of Education to Puerto Rico in 18 years, Secretary Duncan delivered opening and closing remarks at the 7-hour summit.

Duncan’s message was summarized Tuesday in the front-page headline of Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, which read; “U.S. Education Secretary Sings the Truth.”

Convened at the recommendation of the President’s Task Force Report on Puerto Rico’s Status, the summit brought together local elected officials, teacher unions, nonprofits, Puerto Rico Department of Education stakeholders, mainland education experts, as well as the business community.

Participants in the summit included Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño; resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi; San Juan mayor Jorge Santini; Vadim Nikitine, founder of the Flamboyan Foundation, and Nelson Colon, President of the Community Foundation of Puerto Rico.

Summit panels included System Wide Education Reform; Labor Management Collaboration as Key to Student Success; Beating the Odds in Traditionally Failing Environments; and a Business and Philanthropy in Education roundtable.

Student achievement has floundered in Puerto Rico, and 63 schools have been identified as persistently low-achieving.

Duncan acknowledged the challenges, but pressed summit attendees to meet those challenges, including poverty, with a spirit of collaboration and optimism.

“I know that poverty is not destiny,” Duncan said.  “We have all seen lives change because of opportunity, support, and guidance from great teachers and mentors.”

The summit’s panel on labor-management collaboration was the subject of particular attention, and Dr. Linda Lane, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent, and Nina Esposito-Visgitis, President of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, shared with the audience how they forged a strong working relationship.

“It all began when they asked me to participate in a teacher evaluation discussion, and I realized they were listening to me,” Vigisitis said.  “That really is where things began.”

The Department of Education, along with the Task Force, will continue to follow-up on the recommendations and lessons learned from the Summit.

During his visit, Secretary Duncan also conducted a town hall with parents and teachers at a school in Bayamon, as well as a small meeting with high school seniors at a school in San Juan.


  1. Its sad how things are that the secretary of education Jesus Rivera Sanchez got his house Burned on Sunday the 24th and his family was inside and were able to get out, for the past month he’s being accused of stealing light and water and now this, it seems to me SOMEBODY wants him out, He gave up his position on Sunday after the house incident and receiving threats for him and his family, how sad but thats how things work in Puerto Rico, who knows what they are covering up that all this is going on and they wanted him out.

  2. I want to be part of the solution not the problem, but I’ve tried applying for a job with the Dept of Education and it’s an uphill task, to say the least. I’m currently a fed employee and own a PR state teacher certification as an English as a Second Language teacher. I know the culture, I know the people and I know how to do investigations. And more importantly, I want to help. All I’d have to do is transfer from my department – I’ll even pay my way, if necessary.

  3. I am puertorican but went to school in USA, I moved to PR in 2007 and things are so bad in the public school system that alot of parents take there children out and move to USA or move them every year to different schools with no luck. I have 2 children in Special Education and believe me when I say they are left in the dark they are and not just mine but every parent that has special needs children, they struggle with the system. Mine have been waiting for OT since 2008-2009 and theres parents that have been waiting for more years, that they just give up. These kids need there services right away not 5 years later when the kids have grown up and missed out on there OT, PT or Speech Therapy. There has to be a BIG change on the system and I support it. Everything is about money and politics and the future of these children is sad. They just have a smart answer for everything and paint the pretty picture when we get a special visit from USA and take them to the best school in the metropolitan area. Why not go to a school in Lares, Camuy, Hatillo, ofcourse not….. I have Autistic Children and I got to school from 11 am to 1pm to watch them because of bullying or always something happens and theres only one security guard watching the gate, the teachers are loyal to their one hour lunch break. Kids have a whole hour lunch break running all over the school and buying candy because parents sell them candy thru the gates with no permission hello “(obesity and cavities)” and they dont eat there lunch because of that and the principal allows it. When they go back into class the kids are so hiper that the teachers cant handle them. It’s bad, start doing a survey for parents all over PR to see what really goes on in the Public School System. If they can give there children money for buying candy everyday they can afford it if schools are privatisized. Always go with the truth so the system can get better and accept your faults leaders in PR. THINGS HAVE TO CHANGE!

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