Pennsylvania Education Secretary Noe Ortega is the latest member of term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf’s Cabinet team to announce his departure as the administration winds to a close.
Ortega is leaving his position on April 29 after five years of working in the department initially as deputy secretary for the Office of Postsecondary and Higher Education and as secretary, for the past year and a half.
He will be succeeded by Wolf’s deputy chief of staff Eric Hagarty, who will serve in the post in an acting capacity.
Wolf spokeswoman Beth Rementer said Ortega plans to take time off to focus on family and to consider his next professional pursuit.
“Noe is a dedicated advocate for all students and I’m grateful for his service to our commonwealth,” Wolf said in a statement. “He led the department through unprecedented times, ensuring a safe return to in-person learning and providing access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines.
“His successful efforts to diversify our educator workforce and improve opportunities for students to obtain postsecondary education opportunities will undoubtedly continue to impact our learners for years to come.”
Ortega, who came to the department from the University of Michigan where he worked on diversity and higher education issues, found himself in some tough spots during his time as secretary. He was forced to defend the administration’s controversial school mask mandate and other COVID-19 mitigation strategies. He fended off criticism of regulatory reforms to the charter school law. He also had to withstand some pressure from lawmakers over the delayed release of state test scores.
Still, Ortega said he considered it “a tremendous honor to lead the Department of Education during an unprecedented moment in the history of the commonwealth and I am extremely proud of the accomplishments made and the resiliency demonstrated by the PDE team throughout my tenure,.”
Hagarty becomes the third person in the Wolf Administration to head the education department. Wolf’s first education secretary Pedro Rivera left in the fall of 2020 to become president of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster.
As deputy secretary, Hagarty is credited with implementing the governor’s education priorities including the “Level Up” program to invest more in state money in the most chronically underfunded schools, the COVID-19 vaccine initiative for educators and the generational investments in the Pennsylvania State System of higher education.
“I’m committed to continuing to support the governor for the remainder of his administration and to ensure that his priorities for our education system are implemented, from pre-K to higher education as well as the libraries that serve as the bedrock of many communities ,” Hagarty said.