New education secretary King says teachers saved his life
KEVIN FREKING | 10/12/2015, 7:33 a.m.
WASHINGTON – The Education Department’s incoming secretary, John King Jr., recognizes that education can be the difference between life and death. After all, he said Friday, it was for him.
King grew up in Brooklyn, but lost his mom at age 8 and his father four years later. He moved between family members and schools during those years. Teachers, he said, saved him and drove him to succeed. He went on to graduate from Harvard, get his law degree from Yale and a doctorate from Columbia. Now, he’s on the verge of running the nation’s Education Department, serving as acting secretary once Arne Duncan steps down in December.
“Teachers, New York City public school teachers, are the reason that I am alive,” King said during a White House press conference announcing the changes. “They are the reason that I became a teacher. They are the reason I’m standing here today.”
King has been serving as an acting deputy secretary at the department since January. The department’s biography of his career says he oversees all preschool-through-12th-grade education policies, and the operations of the department, which has more than 4,000 employees.
Before coming to the department he had served as New York state’s education commissioner, overseeing elementary and secondary schools, as well as the state’s public colleges and universities. He was the first Afro-Latino to hold that job.
In a 2011 profile of the new commissioner, The New York Times described him as part of a circle of idealistic charter-school founders in Boston who experimented with longer school days, strict rules to guide student behavior, and ways to hold teachers accountable for student performance.
King’s appointment by Obama to serve as acting secretary brought some criticism from teachers unions. The New York State United Teachers called him an “ideologue with whom we disagreed sharply on many issues.”
Duncan, though, said King is an inspiration.
“So many times, I think we as society write off kids that look like John, come from places like John,” Duncan said. “To see what he can accomplish, I think that’s what drives all of us. We know there are so many other kids out there that we can reach.”