Joseph Torres

Joseph Torres is president of the Lancaster Education Association, a union that represents teachers in the School District of Lancaster. 

When Matt Przywara, acting superintendent of School District of Lancaster, addressed the entirety of his staff at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, he likened himself to a goldfish.

He told people that, like a goldfish, he was going to jump right in. That he would be active and visible, and that, although he was an “interim” superintendent, the district would continue to grow and do the work of supporting kids.

In contrast, the Seattle Public Schools’ teaching staff started the 2022-23 school year on strike, a strike rooted in concern about more than 100 cuts to special education staff and the elimination of set student-teacher ratios.

I’m the president of the Lancaster Education Association at one of the largest school districts in Pennsylvania. So, I have no doubt that Ricardo “Rocky” Torres’ role as assistant superintendent of student services — charged with overseeing the special education department — at Seattle Public Schools was filled with challenges that had no easy fix. Though our urban district is not as large, I theoretically understand that sometimes difficult decisions have to be made by the people at the top.

But I don’t understand it in practice. This is because I and my colleagues in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1758, which represents the support staff at School District of Lancaster, have been fortunate enough to educate and lead under the capable, creative and collaborative leadership of Przywara.

When Matt said he would jump right in, none of us doubted his sincerity. From working with Matt for the past decade, we knew his commitment to this staff, this community and, most importantly, our kids.

Matt first proved his value to us with his incomparable financial skills. Though there were steps that were at times painful, Matt brought our district from one that was constantly on the watch list for fiscal insolvency to one that ran efficiently and put money into programs that helped our kids succeed.

The more responsibility Matt earned, the more he involved union representatives in the process, making sure we were on board. He knows that a staff that is respected is best able to educate and inspire our kids.

Matt has the analytical prowess required to appropriately manage a district the size of School District of Lancaster — combined with the heart of someone who has worked in this community for more than a decade.

While it is true that he doesn’t have the classroom experience of a traditional superintendent, his commitment to Lancaster city — and the families that live within its limits — has shaped a school leader who cannot be defined by a doctorate in education. He has earned the loyalty of his staff, his administrators and the parents in this community, which is something that cannot be reduced to a line on a resume.

What can be listed on a resume is his track record of prioritizing student growth and achievement while also strengthening the social-emotional component required to help mold capable humans ready to face the world.

Matt removed barriers to updating and aligning curriculum, making sure that both teachers and students are equipped to handle 21st-century learning challenges. Under his purview, our professional learning opportunities have improved and prepared us to better handle the unique challenges our students bring to us every day.

Matt is committed to culturally responsive teaching and has worked diligently to make sure our staff reflects the dynamic population of our community. He has authentically included stakeholders in this work, and the teamwork has considerably improved our district’s ability to provide the support and education that this community demands and deserves.

We supported the school board when it decided to open a nationwide search for a new superintendent. In considering the three finalists, 92% of respondents to a district survey highly recommended Matt for the position. In my view, to select anyone else is to risk the growth this school district has made during his tenure.

Matt is one of our own, and we stand with him, knowing he will continue to provide the best educational opportunities for our students.

We implore the board to listen to the community and stand with us.

Matt started the school year ready to jump in. In honor of the work Matt has done, continues to do and we hope is given the opportunity to do in the future, we are wearing orange today. And we are using the hashtags #TogetherWeSwim and #matt on social media to support him.

As educators and support professionals, we remind everyone that education is a human thing. And when you see your humans, adults and kids alike, reacting with this type of support, you run with it.

Or, in this case, swim.

Joseph Torres is president of the Lancaster Education Association, a union that represents teachers in the School District of Lancaster. 

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