Every New Year offers the chance for each of us to set new personal goals to make us healthier, happier, or more productive. In 2016, I hope you’ll join me as I recommit myself to ensuring that every child in America—regardless of background or circumstance—has access to an excellent education.
I’m honored and humbled by the opportunity President Obama has given me to build on the many accomplishments he and my friend Arne Duncan have achieved over the past seven years.
Education always has been a focal point in my life—both my parents were New York City public school educators. My father was a teacher and a principal. My mother was a teacher and guidance counselor. When I was 8, my mother passed away. I then lived with my father who was suffering from undiagnosed Alzheimer’s disease and passed away when I was 12.
After that, I moved around between family members and schools. Home was an unpredictable and often scary place. But school, and the remarkable teachers who believed in my potential, offered me a safe haven. Because of them, I went on to become a high school social studies teacher, a middle school principal, and a state education commissioner—and now I have the tremendous privilege to serve you in this new role.
Over the past seven years, we’ve made a lot of progress. More students than ever are being taught to college- and career-ready standards; dropout rates are at historic lows and graduation rates at all-time highs; and high quality preschool and higher education are within reach for more families.
But there is a lot more work to do. Our efforts in 2016 must be measured by the progress we make toward educational opportunity for all—so that no child’s fate is left to luck, no student’s destiny defined by circumstances.
In the weeks to come, I’ll be traveling across the country to visit with folks like you—students, parents, teachers, principals and community leaders—to highlight what’s working and hear about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
I’ll also be asking you to help us accelerate progress in more classrooms.