In 2006, Dr. John B. King Jr. was leafing through an old book called “Negroes of Achievement” when he came across a chapter about his father, who was once the highest-ranking African-American educator in the United States.

King’s parents, career NYC public school educators, both had passed away from illness by the time he was 12, so there were gaps in his knowledge about their lives. It was only through this book that King learned his father had served as principal of P.S. 70 in Brooklyn during the 1940s.

This was an uncanny coincidence. P.S. 70 had been housed in the very same building King and his colleagues at Uncommon Schools — a network of public charter schools — were in the process of transforming as part of a larger effort to improve the learning experience for students. Today, that building is home to Excellence Boys Charter School, a Robin Hood community partner, and the auditorium is named after John King Sr.

This remarkable story may sound familiar to some readers because King first told it publicly at the 2008 Robin Hood Heroes Breakfast. Although he was in his early 30s at the time, King was already an accomplished educator. He held a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, a master’s degree and doctorate in education from Columbia, and a J.D. from Yale. After several years as a classroom teacher, he cofounded Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, which developed a strong reputation for supporting low-income students to achieve at high levels and frequently outperform their more advantaged peers. King then cofounded — with Norman Atkins (a former co-executive director at Robin Hood and founder of Newark’s North Star Academy) and other extraordinary charter leaders — Uncommon Schools, a longtime Robin Hood partner that now includes more than 40 schools across the Northeast.

After cofounding Uncommon, King continued to demonstrate his commitment to public service by becoming the first African-American and Puerto Rican to serve as commissioner of education for New York State. During his time in Albany, King cemented his reputation as an innovative education reformer with a commitment to high standards for all students. In 2015, President Barack Obama brought King to Washington to help lead the U.S. Department of Education, first as deputy secretary and then as the 10th U.S. secretary of education. In tapping him to lead the department, President Obama called King “an exceptionally talented educator,” citing his commitment to “preparing every child for success” and his lifelong dedication to education as a teacher, principal, and leader of schools and school systems.

Today, King lives in Maryland with his wife and two children, and serves as president and CEO of The Education Trust, a national education equity advocacy organization that promotes high academic achievement, particularly for students of color and low-income students in preschool through college. King was named a member of Robin Hood’s board in March.

In a nation where more than half of all children in our public schools are students of color and a majority qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, King says he believes the nation’s future hinges on our ability to provide economically disadvantaged and historically underserved students with a high-quality education. He also believes Robin Hood has a critical role to play in creating that future.

“Having experienced significant challenges while growing up in New York City, I’m very conscious of the critical role that quality public schools play in the long-term success of our students — especially the most vulnerable,” says King. “I’ve always appreciated Robin Hood’s commitment to educational equity, and their work to expand opportunity to kids for whom school is the critical difference between despair and hope.”

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