Michael Johnston (Colorado legislator)

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Mike Johnston
Senator Mike Johnston.jpeg
Member of the Colorado Senate
from the 33rd district
Assumed office
May 29, 2009[1][2]
Preceded by Peter Groff
Personal details
Born (1974-11-17) November 17, 1974 (age 41)
Vail, Colorado
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Courtney Johnston (m. 2004)

Seamus (b. 2007)

Emmet (b. 2007)

Ava (b. 2011)
Alma mater Yale University (B.A.)
Harvard University (Ed.M.)
Yale University (J.D.)
Profession Politician
Website www.mikejohnston.org

Mike Johnston (born November 17, 1974) is a state legislator in the Colorado Senate representing Northeast Denver where he has successfully passed major legislation on education reform, economic development, immigration reform and criminal justice reform. Before entering the Senate, he spent six years as a high school principal, wrote a book about his experience as a Teach For America corps member in Mississippi entitled, In the Deep Heart’s Core, and served as a senior education advisor to President Obama.

Mike is also a small business owner who helps run his family business–The Christiania Lodge–and is a serial entrepreneur. He has co-founded non-profit and for-profit ventures across the country including New Leaders, a national principal training program for urban schools, the Urban Leaders Fellowship, which prepares young people to fight for social justice through courageous public leadership, and Traverse, a strategic consulting company focused on building policies, partnerships, and programs that transform communities.

Mike holds degrees from Yale College, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the Yale Law School and was named to Time Magazine’s list of “40 Under 40 Rising Stars in Politics” and Forbes’ list of “America's Seven Most Influential Educators.”


Born and raised in Vail, Colorado,[3] Johnston is the son of former Vail Mayor Paul Johnston.[4] After graduating from Vail Mountain School in 1993, he attended Yale University, earning his bachelor's degree in philosophy[3] in 1997.[4] During high school and college, Johnston became involved in community service activities, including volunteering at a Denver homeless shelter and mentoring youth in a New Haven housing project.[3]

After graduating from college, Johnston taught at a rural high school in Greenville, Mississippi for two years as part of the Teach For America program. Based on this experience, he wrote the book In the Deep Heart’s Core. After his program ended, Johnston enrolled in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, earning a master's degree in education policy. While at Harvard, Johnston worked with Al Gore education advisor John Schnur. With Schnur and others, Johnston helped to found New Leaders for New Schools, an organization dedicated to training and recruiting leaders for urban schools.[3]

After earning his master's degree, Johnston enrolled in Yale Law School, and became an education policy advisor to political candidates, including Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Tom Strickland in 2002.[3] After returning to Colorado in 2003, Johnston was hired as a principal by Joan Farley Academy, where he achieved an annual increase in the graduation rate. In 2004, he served as principal of the Marvin Foote Detention Center, which houses students in detention centers held in state custody, and organized the first high school graduation in the center's history.

In 2005, Johnston taught education law at the University of Denver Law School and became the founding principal of MESA (Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts), a public school in Thornton, Colorado.[5] As the school's principal, he helped to develop the school's curriculum and program as the school district shifted to developing smaller schools.[3][6] Johnston said that the students “made Colorado history by becoming the first public high school in which 100 percent of seniors were admitted to four-year colleges.” During his presidential candidacy, Barack Obama delivered a major address on education from the school in May 2008. The school's and Johnston's achievements were also highlighted in an October 2008 campaign advertisement.[7]

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Johnston helped lead an education summit in New Orleans and worked with U.S. Congressman George Miller on legislation to recruit and retain teachers.[3] Johnston joined the presidential campaign of Barack Obama as an informal advisor early in 2007;[4] by May 2008, he was regarded as one of Obama's key advisors on education issues.[6][8]

In 2010 Johnston was featured in Forbes magazine's "7 Most Powerful Educators"[9] and Time magazine's "40 under 40".[10]

In addition to his work in the Colorado Senate, Johnston sits on the board of local and national education and service organizations, including the "I Have A Dream" Foundation, the Urban League, City Year, New Leaders, America Achieves, and America Succeeds.

Legislative career[edit]


Senate President Peter Groff announced his resignation from the legislature in April 2008, effective the end of the 2009 legislative session, in order to accept an appointment in the Obama administration's Department of Education.[7]

Johnston announced his candidacy for the seat in late April, facing former Rep. Rosemary Marshall, Democratic National Committee member Anthony Graves and activist Renee Blanchard for the historically African-American legislative seat;[5] the district, spans northeastern Denver, Colorado.,[11] is roughly one-third white, one-third Latino, and one-third African-American.[12] Johnston cited education as the central motivation for his run, including the failure of a bill during the 2008 session granting instate tuition to undocumented immigrants.[5] During his campaign for the legislative appointment, Johnston met personally with almost all members of the vacancy committee.[13]

At the May 11 vacancy committee meeting, Johnston received 63 out of 126 votes on the first round of balloting to win the vacancy committee appointment.[7] Johnston was sworn into office on May 29, 2009;[2] his appointment extends through the 2010 legislative session and he will be eligible for re-election in November 2010 for the remaining two years of Groff's Senate term.[12]

Landmark Legislation[edit]

SB10-191: Great Teachers and Leaders

In 2010, Senator Johnston championed SB 10-191, landmark legislation that revolutionized teacher and principal accountability by measuring performance in part by student growth. The bill was signed into law by Governor Bill Ritter in May 2010. SB 191 takes a comprehensive view of education innovation, ensuring excellence in all facets of the education human capital process.

SB12-015: ASSET (Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow)

On March 8, 2012, after a ten year effort by countless stakeholders, Senator Johnston’s Colorado ASSET Bill passed the state legislature. The bill allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Colorado colleges and universities as long as they attend a Colorado high school for three years and graduate or earn a GED. Under previous law, undocumented students who had graduated from Colorado high schools and had benefited from the state’s investment in K-12 education were forced to pay out-of-state tuition, a prohibitive expense that most could not afford. This essentially meant that Coloradans were not receiving a return on their investment, because these students were not enrolling in college or were moving out-of-state.

As a high school principal, many of Senator Johnston’s students excelled in school, but then lost hope when they learned they would be required to pay the out-of-state tuition rate. Senator Johnston has introduced a version of ASSET each year since 2011. During his remarks in support of the bill, Senator Johnston said providing in-state tuition to undocumented students is an important step toward fairness and equality. “We come here today to close a chapter in American history, and to open a new one,” said Sen. Johnston.“For me personally, there’s no more significant bill that I’ve worked on that’s going to make an actual impact on human beings."

HB12-1238: Colorado READ Act (Reading to Ensure Academic Development)

In May 2012, the Colorado READ Act passed the General Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law. It provided districts resources to help K-3 students struggling to read by establishing a process for districts to identify K-3 students who read below grade level and work with their parents to provide extra reading support before students reach the fourth grade. The bill also created the Early Literacy Grant Program to provide funding to districts for literacy assessments, professional development, instructional support, and appropriate interventions, and would distribute approximately $16 million to districts for use in one of three literacy support programs: full day kindergarten, tutoring services, or summer school.

2012 Election[edit]

Johnston was re-elected in 2012; he ran unopposed. Due to term limits, this would be his final term in the State Senate.

Personal life[edit]

Mike lives with his wife Courtney, a Denver District Attorney who prosecutes crimes against children, and their three children – Seamus, Emmet, and Ava, who currently specialize in snakes, Legos and princesses.

External links[edit]