Melissa Heckler, a certified teacher and librarian, wrote the following letter to the New York State Board of Regents. She feels sorry for Dr. King. She wonders why the Regents selected as state commissioner someone with so little experience as a teacher or administrator. She doesn’t blame him for his present predicament. She blames the Regents, who selected someone so young and so inexperienced, so lacking in the wisdom that comes with maturity. After Dr. King made a hash of his first parent forum in Poughkeepsie, first lecturing parents for over an hour, then interrupting parents who tried to express their views, the meeting descended into chaos, and King canceled the other four events he had announced. The Regents determined that they had to back their Commissioner, no matter how inept and arrogant he is, so they have now announced that there will be 16 such parent meetings across the state, but Dr. King will be accompanied by one or more Regents at each meeting. Maybe they will bring a stopwatch to cut him off when he goes into lecture mode. Oddly enough, the Regents did not include New York City, where 1/3 of the state’s students are enrolled, in their list of parent meetings.

To: The Board of Regents

From: A N.Y. State certified School Librarian and N.Y. State certified K-6 state certified Teacher
Re: The Commissioner of Education
October 20, 2013
To my way of thinking you have done a terrible disservice to Dr. John King by putting him in a leadership position for which he is not yet qualified. I did not expect to feel compassion for this young man with whom so many, including me, disagree, knowing that his policies harm children and education. With his lack of experience, he is not even qualified to be a principal or superintendent in any New York public school. Yet, you appointed him to lead those of us who arehighly qualified for the positions we hold. John King might have had, and might yet have, a brilliant career in education, but he is not yet a veteran, highly qualified educator. How you could do this to such a capable young person is beyond imagining. He may speak eloquently, even brilliantly, in a lecture, but he clearly has not developed the communication skills to respond to teachers, administrators, or parents when they express deep concerns about his policies. What he lacks, in a word, is wisdom.
I struggle to understand how you appointed, and continue to support, as the Commissioner of Education a man who has so little teaching experience and none in the public schools. He, as far as I know, never achieved tenure in the public school sector as a teacher or administrator. How could Dr. King be remotely qualified to guide and lead educators without the required experience? He may be extremely bright, and put on a fast track to become an administrator, but that does not mean he has achieved the experience and wisdom to guide teachers and communicate effectively with those who challenge his policies. As a senior teacher, I am appalled by his recent behavior in Poughkeepsie. It is embarrassing to our profession to have someone at the helm of education react so defensively and dismissively to parents who were clearly anguished by what they witnessed happening to their formerly school loving children. I hold each of you responsible for appointing a man whose policies have harmed children, their families, and teachers. Why compassion for him? He clearly didn’t know how to handle this challenging situation because he was not adequately prepared and was put by each one in an untenable position.
The appointment of such a singularly unqualified individual as New York’s educational leader begs the question: How much do you understand of the long, hard path to becoming a highly qualified teacher or a wise administrator? In my forty years plus in education, as a teacher, librarian, and parent, I have witnessed all kinds of teachers. The singular qualities that define all great teachers: They are life long learners and passionate in discovering the unique methods for reaching and teaching every child. The best senior teachers often look back and reflect on what they did not know as young teachers. Although beginning teachers may be outstanding, it takes years to become a seasoned, veteran teacher— able to single out the exact learning/teaching approaches that will best inspire a love of learning and activate each student’s potential. No single curriculum fits every student’s needs; it takes constant professional development and education (not training) to hone these skills. As any beginning professional— doctors, lawyers, accountants and a host of others— needs years to develop wide ranging professional intelligence, so, too, does the teaching profession require years to develop an ability to reach and support all kinds of minds and communicate compassionately and knowledgeably with the families we serve.
Would you give your children medicine for which there is no research? That is what you are doing with the forced implementation of the Common Core State Standards. They were not developed with the expertise of educators or child development professionals. Are there good, even excellent, points in these standards? Yes. The way to develop a sound foundation for what is good in them, is to include teachers, administrators, and child development experts (pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists) in their development. What has been pointed out repeatedly, and pointedly ignored, is that the U.S. does not have an achievement gap, it has POVERTY gap. With one broad brush you have painted all schools as failing schools and implemented programs for which there is NO research. You have actually lowered education standard and achievement in many schools once filled with excellent creative teaching; worse, you are destroying schools in impoverished areas that could actually use some of the billions spent on the CCSS, to implement researched programs and hire qualified teachers.
I remain hopeful you will listen to the public outcry from teachers, administrators, parents, and students and rescind your policies and begin the long hard road to addressing the real problems facing education: poverty, class size, the financial crisis in New York education caused by the 2% tax cap and unfunded, unresearched mandates. If you believe in every student’s right to a high quality educational experience that will address unique learning needs, then your actions must prove it. It you want to preserve the career of this young man, Dr. John King, then remove him and let him get the experience and wisdom that you require of all New York State educators. You have done him a disservice, harmed children, and undermined the teaching profession by placing him in this position.
Melissa A. Heckler, MS ECE, MLS
Cross River, New York