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Laura Bush Advocates for Public Education

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    Over the course of a remarkable life, Laura Bush has been a teacher, librarian and book author and has launched education and health-care programs in the United States and abroad. And education issues remain a top priority.

    Bush, former First Lady of the United States, shared parts of her life story and thoughts on the challenges facing public education with Michael Hinojosa, superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District. The interview was conducted at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas and shared virtually at the Council of the Great City Schools’ 64th Annual Fall Conference.

    “Like many, many teachers, I had a teacher that I loved--my second-grade teacher--so I made a very mature decision in the second grade to be a teacher,” Bush said. “There’s one thing really great about teaching. It may be very difficult, and it is, but it is never boring with all those little personalities.” Laura Bush

    Hinojosa gave a nod to the school board members, superintendents and senior staff making up the audience for this virtual event, spurring Bush to discuss the goals of The Bush Institute’s Education Reform Initiative in Dallas and its focus on building leadership skills in principals.

    “We know that if schools have good principals, good leaders, they’re likely to be more successful,” she said.

    Public education is “so important,” Bush said. “We’re so fortunate in our country to have great public schools everywhere that welcome every student.” Her own experience was quite the opposite – her school was not integrated and the new high school in Midland, Texas, was named for Robert E. Lee. [The local school board changed that name to Legacy High School in October 2020.]

    The country’s history of segregation “is so recent,” Bush said, “that it’s really important for all of us now to think about every student and how we can reach every one of them, and that’s what public schools do.”

    Bush drew on the experiences of herself and her husband, former President George W. Bush, in the White House in considering the situation school leaders now face in the current COVID-19 epidemic: “You have to cope. … George and I just kept going, we went ahead, one step forward. And I think that’s what school districts and teachers are doing,” she said.

    “I really want to congratulate school districts on opening when it is very, very difficult,” she said. “It’s unprecedented to be living during a pandemic, and especially for faculties. They want to educate children, they want children to be able to go back to school, but at the same time they want to make sure that everyone is safe.”

    She shared the story of how she responded to the terror attack on Sept. 11, 2001. A reporter asked her, What do we say to the children? “And that’s when I realized there was a role for me,” Bush said. “I could talk about what parents should say, and how they should turn off the TV and not let their little children watch that plane fly into that tower over and over.”

    After 9/11, when the spotlight shone on Afghanistan, “we saw a country where women were left out … and weren’t allowed to be educated. And what we saw, really, was a failed country,” Bush said. “That’s when I became interested, particularly in the rights of Afghan women but also in the rights of women everywhere. A strong country has strong men and women who have every right to build the kind of lives that they want.”

    She has remained involved in efforts in support of Afghan women, and The First Ladies Initiative at the Bush Center supports efforts to improve the lives of women and children across the world.  The center also supports the Laura Bush Center for America’s Libraries.

    And she briefly discussed the No Child Left Behind Act, which was signed into law by President Bush in January 2002. The Council supported its passage at the time.

    “I think accountability is important,” said Bush. “That’s what teachers do when they give a test—they’re wondering whether students get what I taught. And we want that same sort of accountability for schools. If we don’t have accountability, we know who gets left out are the ones who have the most difficult home lives, the children who come to school with a lot of problems.”

    In closing, Bush acknowledged the important work of educators. “You are especially important now for students in the time of this pandemic,” she said. “I want to thank teachers and principals and all of you superintendents for the good work that you do.”