January 14, 2013
January 14, 2013
The new year typically marks the midpoint of the traditional school year, yet it seems like only yesterday that I embarked on the nationwide Education Drives America back-to-school bus tour. I'd like to recognize all of you for the work you do and your commitment to student achievement.
I specifically want to recognize those of you who recently started in new positions. Whether this is your first year leading a school system or you are a seasoned veteran who has moved to a new challenge, taking the reins of a district is an immensely rewarding opportunity that few will ever experience. My first few months as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools felt long and daunting, but taught me important lessons that I carry with me to this day.
Over the past four years, the U.S. Department of Education has strived to set a strong foundation that ensures your districts can provide high-quality programs and supports to our nation's students. We granted 34 states and the District of Columbia ESEA flexibility to better focus on improving student learning and the quality of instruction. Among other programs, we awarded $4.6 billion to states to jump-start the very difficult work of turning around our persistently lowest-achieving schools; $4.2 billion to states through Race to the Top, which is serving more than 1,000 districts; 92 Investing in Innovation (i3) grants to support practices designed to accelerate achievement and help students succeed in college and in their careers; 58 Promise Neighborhood grants to help communities in need provide cradle-to-career services that improve the educational achievement and healthy development of children; and almost $400 million for 16 applicants representing 55 districts across 11 states and the District of Columbia to support locally developed Race to the Top-District plans to personalize and deepen student learning, directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and prepare every student to succeed in college and in their careers.
As we enter 2013 and President Obama begins his second term, I am excited about the potential to improve student learning and achievement in districts like yours all across the nation. The American people agree that education remains a critical investment in our children and the future of our nation. It is a key to economic growth and prosperity and the surest path out of poverty in our knowledge-based economy.
Finally, we have experienced many highs over the past few years, but our hearts are heavy as we attempt to understand and cope with the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My prayers are with all of Newtown, Connecticut, especially the families of the students and faculty killed last month. Going forward, we must work to ensure that our schools remain among the safest places in society. At the President's direction, Vice President Biden is leading a group of Cabinet secretaries, including me, to make comprehensive recommendations to reduce gun violence and prevent future mass shootings. This difficult but important conversation will continue in schools and communities—in cities, suburbs, and rural areas across the country. Now more than ever it is a reminder to thank all of you who work every day to care for, comfort, and protect our children from harm.
I wish you, your families, and your students a wonderful new year.