Education Department learns how to Twitter town hall

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Pennsylvania Department of Education is 183 years old.

But at noon on Tuesday in its Harrisburg offices, the department did something it had never done in its history.

“Ready for the first question?” a staffer asked Education Secretary Pedro Rivera.

Three people at a conference table, each with a laptop, is actually a town hall for the masses in the Twitterverse.

The first question pops on the screen. “The quality of a person’s education should not be decided by their ZIP code. What is the administration doing to fix this issue?”

Rivera, a bit old school, likes to jot down his thoughts on paper and verbalize concepts out loud. His staff creates the Twitter response in 140 characters or less and reads it back to him for approval before the Tweet button is clicked.

“Good for the next question,” digital director Tracey Dukert announced.

I am sitting across the table but Tweet a question at the team about assessment testing. Why is it private schools spend much less time and money on them than public schools’ PSSA and Keystone Exams.

Rivera immediately spits out partial sentences and thoughts that will make their way into the final answer, which requires two tweets.

“States have to provide a common assessment for every student throughout the commonwealth,” is one part of the answer.

“Keystone’s are a federal requirement,” Rivera says to a second questioner on assessment testing.

It lasts a half hour.

He fields about eight questions.

A successful first town hall, but it won’t be the last.

“They’re an opportunity for us to interact one-on-one,” Dukert said. “I don’t think people often have the ability to interact with Secretary Rivera and get their questions addressed and their concerns addressed.”

Just because he’s the secretary of Education doesn’t mean he’s stopped learning or knows it all. When it comes to social media, being 20 or 30-something is an advantage to being 40 or 50-something. But Rivera insists he does have his own Twitter account.

“I’m probably more of a re-tweeter than a tweeter,” he said with a laugh.

For the town hall, however, he left the tweeting to his team, who thanked everyone that participated.

“We still have 14 characters left. Should I put a thumbs up?” Dukert said with a hearty laugh.

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