Barack Obama's shout-out to Michael Johnston and Mapleton

Michael Johnston at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts.

With less than a week before polling places close on November 4, the Barack Obama campaign spent more than $3 million on a thirty-minute prime-time infomercial last night. The feel-good address included moving clips of Obama’s speeches set to music and documentary-style footage of families struggling with health care and mortgage payments.

When the subject turned to education, a small public high school in Thornton, the Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts, suddenly took center stage. "Now is not the time for small plans," Obama proclaimed in a clip from his acceptance speech at Invesco Field at Mile High during the Democratic National Convention. "Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education…. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers and pay them higher salaries and give them more support, and in exchange I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability."

The piece then cut to Obama talking straight to the camera.

"We can create schools that work, because I’ve seen it," he said. "Three years ago, only half the high school seniors at the Mapleton school in Thornton, Colorado, were accepted to college. But after a rigorous school reform program this year, all 44 seniors were accepted. And under my education plan, those students could get a tax credit to cover their tuition at public colleges and universities, in exchange for serving their community or their country."

This wasn’t the first time Obama had elevated Mapleton to national prominence, as I reported in "Barack Obama Gives Principal Michael Johnston Extra Credit." This spring, his campaign named 33-year-old Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts principal Johnston one of the candidate’s three advisors on education. (Teacher recruitment, which Obama mentioned in his DNC speech, is a focus of Johnston’s work.) Then on May 28, Obama came to the Mapleton school to congratulate those seniors and unveil the details of his education plan to the media. At the time, he held MESA up "as an example of what’s possible in education if we’re willing to break free from the tired thinking and political stalemate that’s dominated Washington for decades."

That’s a lot for one school to live up to, but Obama actually understated Johnston’s achievement. Three years ago, it wasn’t just that fewer than half the kids at MESA were being accepted to college; only half of them were graduating from high school. – Jessica Centers