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The passing of Brian Whiston, Michigan’s superintendent of public instruction, at the youthful age of 56 is reason to give pause. Michigan has lost an advocate for children and quality public education.

At a time of hyper partisanship condolences and accolades for Whiston poured in from both sides of the political aisle.

Education in Michigan is at a critical juncture, and steady and bold leadership focused on teaching and learning is vital now more than ever.

While we mourn Whiston’s death we ought to honor his legacy by pledging to follow through on things he held dear.

A true tribute to Whiston would include:

Fully funding our public schools.

Focus on quality in all public schools. A lousy charter school is no better than a lousy traditional school and vice versa.

Invest more resources in early and preschool education.

Make Michigan the brain bank of the world where everyone wants to come for deposits and withdraws. Call on our universities to study how we can tap artificial intelligence to advance learning that prepares our students and workforce for their future and not our past.

Assure we are complying with the law and investing appropriate resources in special education.

Celebrate diversity by providing the necessary resources to school districts with populations where English is a second language.

Stop the ideological, partisan debates around education and invest in data-driven, educationally sound, research-proven educational programs that help teachers teach and children learn.

Carry through on his vision to make Michigan a Top 10 education state in 10 years.

The true Statue of Liberty of this great country of ours is neighborhood public schools. There is not another institution in America that takes the hungry, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, children that speak English as a second language, students with special needs and give them hope and opportunity.

We need political leaders to understand the critical role that public schools play in shaping our state and nation. Our public schools are the foundation on which our nation is built and our great teachers are the torch lighting the way for us all.

If Brian Whiston’s death were a turning point where we collectively pledged to invest in our children and our collective future by investing in our public schools, it would benefit us all.

Tom Watkins served as Michigan’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction 2001-05.

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