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New PA Education Board member Colleen Sheehan looks ahead

Love, Kudos, Remembrance is an occasional series profiling people from the Main Line who stumble into grand loves, stand out to their neighbors and whose memories remain after they're gone.

The State Senate's 49-0 vote to confirm Colleen Sheehan as a member of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education was a personal victory, as well as a professional one for the Villanova University political science professor.

"I was particularly happy and gratified by the unanimous and bipartisan vote of confidence," Sheehan wrote in an e-mail. "My goal on the Board is the same goal as that of all Republicans and Democrats who care deeply about educating the youth of Pennsylvania, and this simply that the children come first."

"They come first before state bureaucracy, first before teachers, of which I am one, and first before politics," she added.

Sheehan, a resident of Wayne in Radnor Township, was nominated for the six-year term by Gov. Corbett to join the 21-member board, which is made up of two councils, the Council of Basic Education and the Council of Higher Education, as well as nine standing committees. Sheehan underwent numerous interviews with Senators from both political parties before confirmation.

The political science professor had much demonstrated-leadership to show interviewers, including former membership of the House of Representatives for the 149th district of Montgomery County, and her work as an appointee of the Governor's Advisory Committee on Academic Standards for then-Gov. Tom Ridge.

Aside from her public office and committee experience, Sheehan currently serves as director of the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good at Villanova University.

"As Director of the Matthew J. Ryan Center, I am aware of the importance and need for civic education in Pennsylvania and across the nation," Sheehan said. "I believe that at both the state basic and higher education levels, we should attend to teaching students the fundamentals of their rights and responsibilities as citizens in a free society."

Now, Sheehan is looking forward to working with her board colleagues and on state education-related issues.

"Clearly, the most important educational issue in Pennsylvania is achieving the opportunity for a good and solid education for the children of our state. This is, as they say, a 'no-brainer,'" Sheehan said.

The new board member said this is accomplished by ensuring every teacher in the classroom is prepared to teach their specific class, as well as "making it possible for all children in state to attend schools that offer a genuine education," which she suggests is accomplished by school choice legislation, an initiative that has drawn equal praise and criticism.

"School choice is a policy that that puts children first; everything else should be in the service of providing the kids a good, solid education," she said.

In terms of both of these issues, Sheehan said that high school graduation requirements and polices pertaining to teacher preparation and professional development are addressed in the board's Chapters 4 and 9 regulations respectively. She said the board recently took action in both areas and will continue to monitor effectiveness of reforms and implement refinements as necessary.

Despite concerns over education budget, Sheehan said there are recent positive takeaways from Pennsylvania Education. For example, Sheehan said the board highlighted Pittsburgh Public Schools' efforts on teacher effectiveness as an example of how a district's administration and union can work collaboratively to implement reforms necessary to ensure a strong teaching and learning environment in every school.

Another positive Sheehan mentioned was the Board's recent highlighted anecdotal evidence from the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Office for Safe Schools. Requirements for memorandums of understanding in Act 104, Sheehan said, have significantly increased and improved communication between schools and local law enforcement. She added that the board is hopeful its new Chapter 10 regulation will continue the growth of this positive relationship.

Sheehan said that United States' historic roots in Pennsylvania should motivate the state to lead the nation in civic education, citing a quote by father of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison.

"Pennsylvania is the nation's home of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution," Sheehan said. "As such, our state could – and should – be the national leader in civic education in America, by providing an educational curriculum that values how 'liberty and learning each lean on the other for their mutual and surest support.'"

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