Former Colorado state Sen. Mike Johnston was named the new president and CEO of the Denver-based Gary Community Investments, which supports efforts to help low-income families and children. 

Johnston, 45, the architect of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law and a key figure in the passage of the state’s 2012 reading law, will replace outgoing leader Dave Younggren in January. 

Gary Community Investments, which includes the Piton Foundation, provides grants and other types of investments to a wide range of early childhood, education and family support initiatives. Those include school districts, child care centers, policy groups and organizations such as Clínica Tepeyac, Teach For America, and Mile High United Way. Leaders at Gary plan to use up the organization’s money and close their doors in 2035. 

Johnston, a former teacher and principal, was a leading education reform advocate during his time in the state Senate. In addition to his work on teacher evaluation and reading legislation, he rallied bipartisan support to pass a bill that made undocumented students who graduate from Colorado high schools eligible for in-state tuition.

After his tenure as a state senator ended in 2016, Johnston spent time running for office. In 2018, he ran unsuccessfully for governor and, in January, he entered the Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Cory Gardner, a Republican. Johnston dropped out of the crowded field in September after former Gov. John Hickenlooper entered the race.