U.S. News: Vail's Johnston has Obama's ear
May 12, 2008 —
I was only half serious when I called up Mike Johnston a year ago and asked him which presidential campaign he was working on.
He had chosen a long-shot candidate – or, rather, a long-shot candidate had chosen him – and Johnston had been engaged in multiple discussions on education policy, playing a large role in formulating this candidate’s education platform. This candidate’s “long-shot” status, I gathered, allowed Johnston and other education gurus the opportunity to think big, think freely, and avoid the snares placed by the “usual suspects” of education policy.
That long shot candidate, Barack Obama, is now the Democratic frontrunner and Johnston was recently named by U.S. News and World Report as one of three people who has Barack Obama’s ear when it comes to education. The story, available at
www.usnews.com, names Johnston, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Christopher Edley as three people who have played a major role in forming Obama’s education policy.
That may not be big news to the world at large, but it’s big news to me. I first met Johnston at a Vail preschool and have been close friends with him ever since.
We don’t always agree with each other’s politics (who does?), but I’m certainly proud to see any Vail graduate - no matter the school, no matter the politics – succeed in the world at large.
Johnston’s ascendancy hardly begins or ends with Barack Obama. After graduating from Vail Mountain School in 1993, he went on to get an undergraduate degree from Yale. With a world of options before him, he chose to go on to Mississippi, where he taught at Greenville High School with the program Teach for America.
Johnston’s book about that experience, “In the Deep Heart's Core,” was written mainly in the brief hours between 5 and 7 a.m., day-by-day, sentence by sentence. After early-morning writing sessions he would leave for school, teach large and unruly classes, coach track, and lead the chess club. The book, which is thankfully short on clichés and one-liners, reaped numerous awards and was well received by educators around the nation.
Johnston shunned a few offers to make big bucks after he earned his masters in education from Harvard and a law degree from Yale. Along with his wife, Courtney, and their two boys, Sheamus and Emmit, Johnston now lives in Denver and is principle of the Mapleton Expeditionary School for the Arts, which has been featured on N.P.R. as one of the most unique and promising schools in the nation.
Somewhere along the way he co-founded New Leaders for New Schools, which recruits, trains, and places urban school leaders. And, among other things, he also played varsity soccer and starred in a one-man theatrical adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s, “The Wasteland.”
As anyone who knows Johnston will attest, this starry resume is not the core of who he is, nor is it even too valuable a summary by which to judge him. It’s true that, if you read between the lines, you can judge that a man who has accomplished all this by age 33 is neither lazy nor misanthropic, and he’s certainly not lacking in motivation.
All I can hope, after learning about this latest of many “Johnston sightings” in the regional and national media is that the region and the nation will come to know him along the same lines I do, as a man who is much more than his list of accomplishments, and someone who I’m exceedingly proud to call a friend.
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