US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will step down from his position in December, he announced via a press conference on Friday. John B. King Jr. was picked to replace Duncan as interim secretary.
“New York City teachers saved my life,” he said in prepared remarks at the press conference.
King explained that he lost both his parents at a very young age – his mother when he was 8 to a heart attack, and his father when he was 12 to Alzheimer’s. He said that it was the teachers in his Brooklyn public school who saved him, not only by teaching him lessons in the classroom, but giving him hope.
King’s father, John B. King Sr., was a public school teacher and administrator who was the first African-American principal in Brooklyn, according to The New York Times. His mother, Adalinda King, was a guidance counselor.
After the death of his parents he briefly attended Phillips Exeter Academy but was eventually expelled.
“I sort of resented adult authority,” he told The Times in 2011. “At the time I felt like adults had let me down in my life.”
But his story was far from over. He was accepted into Harvard, though he says at the time he thought that his acceptance had to be a mistake.
He received a law degree from Yale and a doctorate from Columbia University’s Teachers College, according to the Albany Times Union. He went on to teach social studies in Puerto Rico and in Boston, and became principal at Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston.
From there he became a charter operator, opening for charters, for Uncommon Schools.
He was appointed New York State education commissioner in 2011.
He has been a highly sought after education figure, and was courted for a leadership position, including Newark superintendent, as part of Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to donate $100 million to Newark, New Jersey’s failing public-school system with the intention of turning around the schools in five years.
He turned down the role because he wanted to stay in New York and give back to the community, according to the Times.
In January 2015, he was appointed as a senior advisor to Duncan.
When he left his position as NYS Commissioner of Education, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch commented on the legacy he was leaving behind.
“The positive impact of John King’s work in New York will be felt for generations,” she said. “We’ll miss his wisdom, his calm leadership and his remarkable courage.”