Michael Johnston (Colorado legislator)

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Michael 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
Alma mater Yale University (B.A.)
Harvard University (Ed.M.)
Yale University (J.D.)
Profession Politician

Michael Johnston (born November 17, 1974) is a state legislator in the Colorado Senate and a policy adviser to New Leaders for New Schools, a national non-profit education organization. An educator and high school principal before entering politics, Johnston was appointed to State Senate in May 2009 to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Senate President Peter Groff. He was elected in 2010 to serve the remainder of Groff's term and reelected in 2012.

Johnston served as an informal adviser on education policy to the Obama presidential campaign in 2008. In 2011, Time magazine ranked Johnston as one of the "Top 40 Under 40" Rising Stars in Politics.


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 adviser 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 he “made Colorado history by becoming the first public high school in which 100 percent of seniors were admitted to four-year colleges.” However, according to teacher and education reformer Gary Rubinstein, who also trained in Teach for America, “There were actually 73 10th graders who had dwindled to 44 seniors — a pretty relevant detail.”[7] 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.[8]

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][9]

In 2010 Johnston was featured in Forbes magazine's "7 Most Powerful Educators"[10] and Time magazine's "40 under 40".[11]

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 and the Urban League.

Legislative career[edit]

2009 appointment[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.[8]

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.,[12] is roughly one-third white, one-third Latino, and one-third African-American.[13] 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.[14]

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.[8] 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.[13]

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.

External links[edit]