Tony Thurmond was sworn in Monday morning as state
superintendent of public instruction at a ceremony attended by several hundred
people in the auditorium of C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento.
After taking the oath of office administered by retired
Judge Gordon Baranco, Thurmond said in his inaugural speech, “I could have
ended up in state prison. Instead I ended up as state superintendent of public
instruction. That is why it is so important to break the school to prison
He reflected on the fact that the state schools chief does
not have direct responsibility for what happens in districts around the state
but is likely to get the blame for when things go wrong in those districts.
He also said that addressing the teacher shortage was
critical. “We can’t close the achievement gap unless we have quality teachers
in every classroom,” he said.
Thurmond, by profession a social worker who worked for many
years with marginalized young people, won the statewide position in a tough
race against Marshall Tuck. The race was only settled weeks after the Nov. 6
election based on millions of votes that had yet to be tallied after the
Election Day count.
He was endorsed by the California Teachers Association and
other labor unions, as well as by the California Democratic Party. He won
election by a narrow margin of 1.8 percentage points, but decisively in the
actual vote count – by 187,000 votes.
He acknowledged how tough the race was. “It took thirty years
off my life to get here,” he said.
Thurmond was introduced by the chairs of several Legislative
Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, the new chair of the Legislative
Black Caucus, said Thurmond “not only has the intellectual understanding but a
personal life understanding of the issues” faced by California’s children.
State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, the chair of
the Legislative Latino Caucus, told Thurmond in Spanish, “Remember your roots,”
a reference to Thurmond’s mother, who was an immigrant from Panama.
Thurmond’s mother, a single parent, died when he was 6 years
old. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg noted that Thurmond was the second
African-American state schools superintendent, after Wilson Riles, who served
three terms in the early 1970s.
Steinberg pointed out that like Thurmond, Riles was also an
orphan at an early age.
Dolores Huerta, the legendary leader of the United Farm
Workers, led the audience in a chant of “Que Viva Tony Thurmond.”
State Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, head of the Legislative
Women’s Caucus, quoted Nelson Mandela, saying, “Education is the most powerful
weapon we can use to change the world.”
Thurmond, she said, was born for the job of state
superintendent. “He may not have known that in his head, but he knew it in his
heart,” she said.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D- Oakland, said Thurmond’s election
represented a “dawn of a new day for our children.” She noted that both she and
Thurmond were both social workers, and that she shared with him a “devotion to
be an advocate for all of our children, especially the most vulnerable.”
“You are our hero,” she said. “As the millennials say in my district, you are going to stay woke for all of our children.”