The White House announced this week that New York State Education Commissioner John King is joining the Obama administration as Senior Advisor in the U.S. Department of Education. John brings unparalleled credentials, experience in both traditional and nontraditional schools, and extraordinary courage and composure as a leader.
Commissioner King has led New York through a period of enormous change and progress, including raising standards, strengthening educator evaluations and supports, expanding high-quality options for children at risk, and boosting funding. Under his leadership, New York has made progress in raising student achievement and graduation rates.
For all of his remarkable professional accomplishments, the most compelling element of John’s biography is his personal story and how it led him to be an educator. As he said in a recent speech:
I became an educator for a very simple reason: I know that school can be the difference between hope and despair for a child and especially a child at risk—whether its from poverty, disability or a difficult family situation. I know that an amazing teacher can save lives because one of my elementary school teachers at P.S. 276 in Brooklyn saved mine. His name was Mr. Osterweil.
My mother died when I was 8. At the time, my father was suffering from undiagnosed Alzheimer’s disease. It was just the two of us in my house. Over the next four years, he declined rapidly and then he passed away when I was 12.
During those years, life outside of school was scary and unpredictable—but in Mr. Osterweil’s classroom I was safe, I was nurtured, and I was challenged. We read The New York Times every morning; we did a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. In Mr. Osterweil’s classroom, the world beyond Canarsie was opened up to me. We worked hard in Mr. Osterweil’s class and we discovered the joy of learning.
As a teacher, principal and policymaker, my goal is and has always been to give every student what Mr. Osterweil gave me—a classroom where they feel supported and inspired and challenged. That’s all I want for New York’s children.
As policymakers in Washington and across the country consider the best way to improve public education, John King will be a vital resource to the administration and the broader policy community and a tireless advocate for America’s children.