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Torlakson: I believe in building our schools up, not tearing them down

At today's Democratic Party Convention, California Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson discussed his work to empower teachers, parents and communities to make their own education decisions, to help students graduate with real-world skills, and to keep children safe.

Here's the full text of his prepared remarks:

Thank you, Dean Vogel. Thank you, John Burton. Thank you, Democrats. And a special thanks to my fellow teachers, the classified school employees, the principals, school librarians, counselors and nurses. We're a great team - working together.

You are my inspiration. You - and the 6 million students we serve - make this the best job I've ever had. You are the unsung heroes of California schools. You are why graduation rates are rising, and dropout rates are dropping. You helped us stop the budget cuts - and put control over education dollars back where it belongs: in the hands of teachers, parents and schools.

You deserve our thanks. But this is an election year, which means people who have never done your job will be telling you how to do your job. Telling you our schools are failing. Telling you that you're the problem. And telling you the way to make our schools great is for you to give up your seniority, or your right to a fair hearing.

Where does that come from? It's straight out of the Wall Street playbook. It's not about making schools better - it's about making them easy pickings. It's about buying low and selling high. Hanging a "failure" sign across a school is like putting a foreclosure sign on a house - it lowers the price, and opens the door for private interests.

Now don't get me wrong. I believe in private enterprise. But public schools are no place for Wall Street speculation...and the trading desk at Salomon Brothers is no training ground for California's next superintendent.

As a teacher and a coach, I believe in building our schools up - not tearing them down.

I believe in empowering teachers, parents and communities to make their own decisions.

I believe in partnerships that bring people together - not misguided policies designed to tear us apart.

Besides, there's plenty of work to see our schools through the historic transformation that's already underway:

We've rejected top-down micro-management of our education system - whether it comes from Washington, Sacramento or Wall Street.

We've stopped the outdated bubble tests.

We've taken $13 billion earmarked for 37 separate red-tape ridden programs and turned those dollars back over to our schools and districts.

We're implementing the Governor's local control funding formula - which means more help for English learners and children in poverty - and more power over education dollars for parents, teachers and schools. More dollars with each passing year.

We're also doing more than ever to give students a taste of the working world before they graduate - because we know all students need skills they can use in the real-world of careers and college.

We've got a long way to go, but we're going to bring back arts, music and drama to our schools.

We're working hard to expand early learning - because nothing helps children succeed in school like a good start.

And we're determined to keep all kids safe, with after-school programs that keep students away from gangs, drugs and guns - and laws to be sure all students are safe from bullying, protected from discrimination and afforded the respect and dignity they deserve.

Education takes teamwork. We know that. We know our students succeed when parents, teachers and communities come together.

We've built a strong team - we are led by a Governor dedicated to our public schools, and to standing with us to build a smarter and stronger California.

We have Democratic majorities in the Legislature - led by Speaker John Perez and Senate President Darrell Steinberg - who have put education first. And we have a new generation of rising stars, including our next Senate President, Kevin DeLeon, and our next Assembly Speaker, Toni Atkins.

Do we have a strong team? A team ready to lead California into the future? Yes, and it's a good thing we do. Take it from a teacher, Democrats. 2014 will be a test - and this is no fire drill.

The forces opposing us are real. The stakes are high. The test is whether we will stand strong together, for our values, for our public schools and for our children. That test starts now. Who's done their homework? Who's ready? And most important of all, who's with us?

Thank you, Democrats!

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