Statements on John White’s Tenure in Louisiana

Chiefs for Change
January 8, 2020

Chiefs for Change Board Chair Pedro Martinez and CEO Mike Magee issued the following statements today in response to news that Chiefs for Change Board Member John White will step down as Louisiana State Superintendent of Education.

Pedro Martinez:

John White’s announcement that he will step down as Louisiana State Superintendent is a bittersweet milestone for the students of that state and for education chiefs like myself who have learned so much by watching him and working with him.

John leaves behind the kind of legacy we all aspire to: greatly improved student graduation and post-graduate outcomes, an era of substantive teacher leadership statewide, and a host of fellow chiefs serving other communities who have turned to him for partnership over the years. He chose to move to Louisiana because of the opportunities and challenges before the state as it recuperated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. From rejuvenating New Orleans’ and Baton Rouge’s schools to calling upon the state’s educators to see themselves as leaders, John has always brought vision, humility, passion, and commitment to his work. And when he talks about commitment, he knows what the word means; eight years later, he is the nation’s longest-serving state superintendent. 

A host of talented leaders and teachers will continue the work to put every child in Louisiana on a pathway to success. That they are ready to move forward is the greatest testimony to John’s leadership. 

Mike Magee: 

In eight years as the leader of the Louisiana Department of Education, John White has set the standard for deeply committed service. As the nation’s longest-serving state superintendent of education, John combined clarity of vision with unshakable determination to do what’s right for children and families. He leaves an extraordinary legacy: a cadre of skilled and diverse leaders he has mentored, a high-functioning state organization, and most important, children, families, and communities benefiting from a path to a better future.

I am personally grateful to John for the pivotal role he played as board chair of Chiefs for Change during a period when the organization grew from five to 37 members serving more than 7 million students. John has been and will continue to be a trusted colleague to dozens of the nation’s most successful education chiefs. 

Throughout his time in Louisiana, John’s strong values guided his role as a leader. In his own words:

Schools should be a place that reflect the best aspirations that we all have, not just for our own kids, but other peoples’ kids. At every stage of the continuum, from birth to early adulthood, the education system should not just be about building skills and knowledge, but also creating opportunities to explore next steps in life. What that should ultimately lead to is a system where our high school graduates are credentialed not just with knowledge, not just with skills, but with a natural, clear path to a productive next step. … It has to be that you’re in a position to take care of yourself, you’re on your path to taking care of your own children, and you’re going to be a productive, loving, contributing, responsible member of our society. That, at the end of the day, should be the goal of the education system. 

As John would surely agree, Louisiana is on a path to even greater success: More Louisiana students graduate from high school and enroll in college today than ever before. What’s more, those graduates have better opportunities and are better equipped to seize them: They complete more college courses and attain more high-growth, high-wage industry credentials. Although John will be the first to point out that the work to offer the state’s young people what they deserve is far from done, Louisiana’s schools and their students are certainly better off. The state has a plan and the leaders and teachers in place to see it through. 

John never forgot the wisdom of teachers and instead encouraged, cultivated, honored, and followed it. In 2012, he convened a small group of teachers to advise him in his new post. He sought their guidance for ways to include teachers, believing that they would be some of the best judges of what is best for kids. From that meeting grew an annual convening of Louisiana teachers representing almost every school in the state. Today, the Teacher Leader Summit has increased tenfold. When reflecting on how the state’s education system has changed over his tenure, John said, “The most promising thing that has happened here is that teachers are embracing change, teachers are owning change, and teachers are the ones who are pulling the change.” He may have left the classroom, but in his role as Louisiana State Superintendent, John brought the power of his colleagues’ voices to Baton Rouge with him.

When asked a while back what he’d like to be known for when the time eventually came for him to leave this role, John told me that whether you agreed or disagreed with him, he’d hope to be known as someone who gave it all – heart and soul – and, in basketball terms, left it all out on the floor. He has surely done that. 

I congratulate John on such remarkable achievements on behalf of the children of Louisiana.