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‘Schools Can Save Lives’: An Exit Interview With The U.S. Education Secretary

January 10, 2017
Cory Turner

He didn’t have long. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. was confirmed by the Senate in March 2016 after President Obama’s long-serving secretary, Arne Duncan, stepped down at the end of 2015. No matter the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, King knew that Obama would be out in a year and replaced by a president who, regardless of party, would almost certainly replace him.

At the helm of the Education Department, King followed the polestar that had guided him as a teacher, principal and as deputy secretary under Duncan: protect kids, especially those who have been traditionally marginalized — children of color, English language learners, students with disabilities and those living in poverty.

King knows all too well what it means to live on the margins. Raised in Brooklyn, he lost both of his parents by the age of 12 and found the stability he needed not at home, shuttling between family members, but at school. He credits several public school teachers with saving his life.