Commissioner John King kicked off his farewell tour on Thursday with a call for school districts to continue the changes he oversaw during five tumultuous years at the State Education Department.
“What we’ve done is good. How do we get to great?” King said in a speech in Albany.
King, who announced on Wednesday that he will step down at the end of the year, praised those who have supported his decision not to slow down the implementation of tougher learning standards for students and new evaluation systems for teachers, an insistence that drew heavy fire from parents and teachers in recent years. King said the changes he tried to make across the state were aimed at addressing broad social inequities, citing the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the recent nationwide protests over the deaths of unarmed black men caused by police officers.
“It’s about bridging the gap between the reality that we’ve seen around race relations in the United States in the last three weeks,” he said, “and our aspirations to be the society that Dr. King imagined and dreamt of.”
The remarks came less than a day after Commissioner King announced he was leaving to join the U.S. Department of Education. King joined the state education department in 2009 as as a deputy commissioner under David Steiner and then succeeded him in 2011.
King’s speech was made at the Network Team Institute, a professional development program attended by school district officials working to implement Common Core standards and teacher evaluations in their schools. Because its size allowed it to hold its own trainings, New York City rarely sent officials to the meetings, which were funded by Race to the Top grants.
“I am sad to leave you, my friends,” King said toward the end of his speech, which drew a standing ovation.
King will have more chances to say goodbye next week at the Board of Regents’ monthly meeting. Chancellor Merryl Tisch is expected to announce a committee to oversee the search to replace King, whose job duties will immediately be taken over by Executive Deputy Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin and Deputy Commissioner Ken Wagner.