King of New York

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on

Commish John King.jpg

Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

If the weekend sweep of the Yankees was not enough for you, here is a story of a great Boston reformer who has made good in the Big Apple.

John B. King Jr., who credits teachers for helping him surmount an isolated childhood as an orphan in Brooklyn and who ran celebrated charter schools in New York and Massachusetts, was named Monday as the state’s next education commissioner, with a unanimous vote of the Board of Regents.

At 36, Dr. King, who previously served as deputy commissioner, will be among the nation’s youngest educational leaders…

After losing both of his parents to illness by age 12, Dr. King earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a law degree from Yale and a doctorate in education from Columbia. In between, he co-founded Roxbury Prep, a top charter middle school in Massachusetts; led Uncommon Schools, a network of charters based in New York; and married and had two daughters.

His drive, he said in an interview on Sunday, comes from a sense of urgency to create for other children the refuge he found as a fourth grader at Public School 276 in Canarsie, the year his mother died of heart failure. His teacher that year, Mr. Osterweil, was dynamic and creative, encouraging him to read Shakespeare and memorize the leaders and capital of every country in the world. Later, Celestine DeSaussure, a social studies teacher whom the children called Miss D, made him the sportscaster in a fake Aztec newscast.

Well, OK, he grew up in Brooklyn. But he built one of the great Massachusetts charters in Roxbury Prep. That school has done exactly what he aimed to do.

“Having gone to New York City public schools, that quite literally saved my life,” he said, “I feel an incredible devotion to make that possible for more kids.”

Dr. King, who will be New York’s first African-American and first Puerto Rican education commissioner, was 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. They raised expectations for poor students, and sought to form close relationships with children while reshaping teaching into a more quantifiable science.

Congrats to John. We hope his sense of urgency in turning around New York’s schools rubs off on our state leaders!

Crossposted at’s Rock the Schoolhouse.