By Louis Freedberg
SACRAMENTO—Tony Thurmond, educator and public school parent, took his oath of office as California’s twenty-eighth State Superintendent of Public Instruction Monday, saying that it is an honor to lead the state’s 6.2 million students and over 10,000 schools.
He said his own life story underscored the vital need for all students, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or immigration status, to have a first-class education.
“I grew up in poverty and without my parents,” he said. “But I was raised by a cousin, an amazing woman, who made certain that I got a great education. That’s what got me where I am today, and that’s what I want for my two daughters and all students. I pledge to devote all my energy, talent, experience, and all the powers of my office to ensure all students get a great education.”
“But I need help. I’m asking everyone to join me. Help with your local schools. If you can, find a way to be a mentor, a volunteer, or contribute to a fundraiser.”
Thurmond, a former Assemblymember, was a social worker who worked in nonprofits and in education and served on the West Contra Costa County school board and as a member of the Richmond City Council.
He said that schools face many difficult challenges.
“As I traveled the state this past year, I saw many good things happening in schools, and I saw that many educators and students are working very hard. But we must do better. We must reduce the achievement gap and supply social services to children whose needs outside of the classroom are not being met. We cannot rest when so many of our students are falling short of meeting our high academic standards. We have to work harder and smarter for every student.”
Thurmond’s plan for improving schools includes lifting California from the bottom end of per-student spending to the top end. “Providing more money to our schools helps our students, our communities, and our economy. But most of all it helps create a bright future for our state,” he said.
His plan also includes the following:
• Keeping schools safe by reducing gun violence.
• Providing school-based mental and physical health services to ensure that students get the care they need and come to school healthy, alert, and ready to learn.
• Expanding access to early education and after school programs to help reduce the achievement gap.
• Making college and career pathways accessible to all students.
• Alleviating the teacher shortage so that all schools have highly trained and certified teachers.
• Improving the type of student data available to allow better research and analysis of student learning.
• Renewing our commitment to helping English learners acquire the language skills they need rapidly, while retaining their native language.
The swearing-in ceremony was headed by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon with a keynote address from legendary farm worker/labor activist Dolores Huerta.
It also featured remarks from Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, and leaders of legislative caucuses that represent the diverse communities of California:
• Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus
• Senator Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, vice chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus
• Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus
• Assemblymember Evan Low, D-Cupertino, chair of the Legislative LGBT Caucus
• Senator Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus
Thurmond was sworn in by retired Alameda County Superior Court Judge Gordon Baranco. Reverend Theon Johnson III of the Downs Memorial United Methodist Church in Oakland gave the invocation. Rabbi Rebekah Stern of Congregation Beth El of Berkeley gave the benediction.
Thurmond’s two daughters, Jayden and Maya, led the Pledge of Allegiance, while Samantha Collier sang the national anthem.
Thurmond is the first Afro Latino and second African American to hold the position of State Superintendent of Public Instruction.