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New education official wants to reform NCLB

Freddie Allen | 2/2/2015, 3:25 a.m.
John King Jr., a highly respected educator from New York City, says that teachers saved his life and in his ...
John King Jr., the new deputy secretary for the Department of Education, wants to reform the No Child Left Behind Act. Freddie Allen

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – John King Jr., a highly respected educator from New York City, says that teachers saved his life and in his new post as the deputy secretary at the Department of Education, he wants all children to have the support in school that he had growing up.

Both of King’s parents were life-long educators. His father, John King Sr., was the first Black principal at an integrated school in Brooklyn, New York, and also served as a the deputy superintendent for New York City schools after the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education banned “separate, but equal” practices in public schools.

In elementary school, King used to ride to work with his mother, Adalinda, who worked as a guidance counselor at the middle school. When King was in the fourth grade, his mother suffered a heart attack at work. That night he went to the hospital with his father and the next morning, his father broke the news to him. His mother was gone. She was just 48. It was hard for the younger King to understand at 8 years old.

“Losing my mom in a lot of ways was the moment when school took on this much larger importance in my life,” King said. School became the safe harbor from the turmoil in his home life that slowly deteriorated after his mother passed away.

His father, then in his 70s, started to forget things.

“I didn’t know why he would forget things,” King recalled, though he later learned that his father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. “I didn’t know why he would be upset one moment and not upset the next.”

In an environment where there was a lot of instability, King said school was a source of stability, structure and support and for three years, from the fourth grade to the sixth grade, Alan Osterweil’s classroom anchored that stability.

In that class, King read The New York Times every day, memorized the capital and leader for every country in the world and performed Shakespeare. King said he felt free to be a kid.

“He set very high expectations for us,” King said. “Sometimes people think that kids will be overwhelmed by higher expectations, but I think that kids rise to higher expectations and one of the things that I experienced in his classroom was that his high expectations were motivating and encouraging to all of us. He also paid a lot of attention to a full range of subjects.”

King said that Osterweil saw his role as a teacher wasn’t just about conveying knowledge, but it was also about mentoring and supporting students.

John Sr. died at 79, when John Jr. was 12 years old. He then lived with a half-brother on Long Island and, later, an uncle and aunt in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

King said that he carried the lessons he learned in Osterweil’s class with him when he taught his own social studies class and co-founded a charter school in Boston, Massachusetts, after attending Harvard University and earning a master’s degree at the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York.