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An Agenda for Excellence

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s Inaugural Address
California Department of Education Foyer
Remarks as Prepared
January 5, 2015

Thank you all for being here to celebrate this special day—so many friends, so many dedicated educators; I am so thankful to the voters of California for giving me four more years to serve as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. It’s a job I love. It’s energizing, inspiring, and challenging all at the same time.

I couldn’t do any of this without the love and support of my wonderful wife, Mae; terrific daughters, Tamara and Tiffany; grandson, Anthony.

I want to give special thanks and recognition to some friends I’ve had the chance to talk with about priorities for the next four years: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst.

Special thanks to teachers, classified employees, and administrators working valiantly day in and day out.

Special thanks go to our CDE team throughout the state for doing wonderful work every day. To those leaving, I want to say thank you for your wonderful leadership and passion —Chief Deputy Rich Zeiger, Deputy Superintendent Jeannie Oropeza, and Principal Advisor Craig Cheslog. Thank you.

I appreciate all the staff at all levels—the managers, consultants, and support staff. I’m looking forward to coming around and visiting each of the divisions to listen to you and your sense of priorities and how we can do things even better for the success of our students.

Together, as a team, dedicated, hardworking CDE staff, teachers, administrators, classified employees, board members, and community leaders, make up a “Dream Team” for education.

Why do I call you a “Dream Team?” Because you are helping our students achieve their dreams. You have them set goals, have them see their future, and give them the confidence to grow and move forward. As a coach, teacher, and superintendent, I know it takes team work to accomplish great things.

My road to a second term was not an easy one, as you might have heard. I want to recognize and thank my outstanding campaign team: Paul Hefner, Becca Barrett, and Connie Sanders Emerson.

And thanks for the tens of thousands of phone calls by teachers, classified employees, nurses, labor councils in each county, the labor federations and the building trades, the firefighters, and the police officers. Thanks also for the “million miles” of precinct and neighborhood walking.

“Agenda for Excellence”

I see my election as an endorsement by voters of what we have accomplished and their trust that we will accomplish even more in the next four years.

Together, we have begun transforming education in California. During my first term we set out a mission of providing a “world-class education for all students from early childhood to adulthood.”

We are seeing signs of progress. Our high school graduation rate of 80 percent is at an all-time high, and for those in career-preparation programs it is an astounding 95 percent. As I visit schools throughout the state, I’ve seen a new sense of hope and optimism among parents, students, teachers, classified staff, administrators, and community leaders.

For my second term, I want more. I believe we can transform our system to one known far and wide for its excellence.

How do we get there?

First, teamwork: How do you spell Team? T-E-A-M. And what does that stand for? Together Everyone Accomplishes More. Every day and every way.

And stay tuned. We are working on two special team-building approaches that we will be announcing in more detail in the weeks ahead. One is between labor and management—bringing teachers and administrators together. It is the “Labor-Management Initiative.” The other is between state and local levels. We have a program launching in February known as the State Local Collaborative.

“Updating our Blueprint”

To achieve excellence, we have to have excellent plans. Four years ago, I convened a remarkably talented group of leaders to advise me on how to remodel education. They came up with an outstanding plan, “Blueprint for Great Schools.” It provided us with a direction and roadmap for my first term as well as many recommendations we have already implemented.

Now I want to update that road map and the priorities that must be defined and addressed. I am very pleased to announce that Chris Steinhauser, Superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District; David Rattray, Senior Vice President of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce; and outstanding Los Angeles teacher Martha Infante will co-chair this effort. Linda Darling-Hammond also will be deeply involved.

“Supporting Teachers”

Next, supporting teachers: I will strongly support additional professional development for teachers so they can continually improve their skills throughout their career. I will work with educators and community leaders throughout the state to implement the recommendations in Greatness by Design.


Developing an accountability system that works for Californians—we have a wonderful opportunity to develop a groundbreaking accountability system. A new system will meet California’s needs by looking at a broad range of measures defining student and school success, rather than one test. This will give us a complete picture of our students’ progress instead of a narrow view.

It won’t be easy to develop this system. But one great advantage we have is our cooperative relationships with the Governor, the State Board of Education, the Legislature, educators, parents, and community and business leaders.

“Local Funding, New Standards”

California does things differently. One difference is our unique new local control funding system. Another is the broad base of support we have built for the rigorous new California standards in math, English, and science. That is a lot different than in some states, where those standards are controversial. One of our most important jobs in the next four years is helping educators implement both of these remarkable changes as well as administering a new assessment system.

Our dedicated and helpful CDE employees will work closely with educators, parents, students, and community leaders throughout the state to make sure these reforms work as intended.

I’m excited to see the Local Control Funding Formula put most spending decisions right where they ought to be: in the hands of local educators, parents, and teachers. I’m also pleased with the new standards. These are standards that teach problem solving and critical-thinking skills that prepare students for 21st century jobs.

As you know, the new assessment system will test students on their analytical skills rather than just requiring them to fill in the bubbles and test rote memorization skills.

“Educating the Whole Child”

We must focus on educating the whole child, making sure each student is prepared to learn and succeed. We must reach and teach the whole child. That means ensuring a child gets a good start in life that allows him or her to be prepared for reading and learning. That means providing access to health care and mental health services. That means reducing absences.

During my second term, I will continue to advocate for expanding access to prekindergarten education for all students, especially those from low-income families; expanding access to high-quality after school programs that can engage students. In addition, we will continue to encourage students to eat healthy foods and enjoy regular exercise.

“Expanding Career Education”

During my first term, we invested in hands-on and real-world learning and launched the California Career Pathways Trust. It creates programs that link academic subjects with internships in areas such as health care, manufacturing, engineering, and computer science. Our CDE Team developed grant guidelines and have distributed the first $250 million. Because of the success of creative partnerships from the first $250 million, the legislature allotted another $250 million, which we are now distributing.

These programs bring together high schools, community colleges, and businesses to provide learning with a purpose that engages students, gives them new hope, and prepares them for college and careers. So far, 1,500 businesses have contributed by providing internships and mentorships. We see high school graduation rates of 90 percent or more. I will strongly advocate additional funding to expand these remarkable programs.

“Investing in Our Future”

Investing in our schools is investing in our future. Maintaining and increasing our investment is my top priority. It is simply unacceptable that the most recent survey by Education Week Quality Counts ranked California 46th in the nation in per-pupil spending.

The economic recovery and Proposition 30 have helped schools improve. We know we have a long way to go, but so far we have seen some terrific results. We see class sizes getting smaller. We see many programs coming back even better than before, including fun and rigorous science and math programs, and arts, music, drama, and civics classes.

I ask for your help in spreading the word about the ways that increased investments help students, schools, and districts succeed. Isn’t it essential to keep funds flowing to schools, even after Proposition 30 expires?

Shouldn’t we let California voters decide whether or not they want to invest more or not? Let’s tell friends and neighbors about the great things going on in California public schools. Let’s link arms with city and county leaders like Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and work together to persuade voters, the Legislature, and the Governor to maintain our investments.

In addition to a successor measure to Proposition 30, I will work for funds to repair and modernize our school facilities. I have seen firsthand outdated facilities and facilities in disrepair. We have a serious need to provide modern schools and build the bandwidth and internet access, new science labs, and career technical education facilities.

I will also advocate in this year’s budget for another $1.5 billion block grant to help our schools implement the rigorous new state standards and the new assessments, and provide more education technology and professional development for teachers.


As I said before, California does things differently. We work with everybody, but do not hesitate to go our own way when we need to. Last year, for example, we successfully fought the federal government’s attempts to force us to do expensive double-testing.
In the next four years, with your help, I will exert the same strong leadership to make sure we do what’s best for California schools, California students, California teachers, and California communities.

“And in Conclusion”

As you can see, I have an ambitious agenda for the next term. It involves supporting teachers, developing a new accountability system, implementing local control and new standards, and ensuring that we maintain our investment in schools.

So I ask your help—as we start this second term with optimism and high energy. We need the strongest dream team possible.

Transforming our schools isn’t easy, but it is essential to meet the needs of our 21st century economy and to help our students realize their dreams and do their part to make the California dream come true.

And I believe—with our high hopes and high expectations—combined with California creativity and determination, we can and will significantly narrow the achievement gap, bring graduation rates to the highest ever—and bring our state to the top ranks of the nation in funding and education success.

Are you ready to be this strong “dream team”? Are you ready to move forward? Let’s go.

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