George W. Bush in Denver: Yes to educational excellence, no to politics and Gadhafi questions

President George W. Bush was in Denver this morning, talking education with a group of political and business leaders at the brick headquarters of Get Smart Schools, an organization that trains principals for charter and innovation schools. Afterward, Bush made a brief (less than two minutes!) statement to the media, brushing off a question about Moammar Gadhafi.

Bush had said he would not take questions from reporters, but that didn't stop someone in the scrum of television cameras and boom microphones from shouting out, "What do you think of the death of Moammar Gadhafi?"

"I think we're going to have great schools in Denver!" he said, inciting laughter.

Bush was here because his George W. Bush Institute is providing networking support (but not financial assistance) to Get Smart Schools through the institute's Alliance to Reform Educational Leadership (AREL). In all, AREL is partnering with sixteen similar organizations nationwide and will bring them together three times a year to share ideas.

"One of the things we've been doing with the Bush Institute... is to work with groups such as Get Smart and set up a collaborative effort of educational entrepreneurs," Bush said. "We believe that an excellent school must first of all have an excellent leader."

Bush also emphasized that his mission is not political. "Post-presidency is an interesting period for Laura and me," he said. "I'm out of politics." But that didn't stop him from heaping love on Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who sat near him at the table.

"Mr. Mayor, I'm thrilled you're here," he said, turning toward Hancock. "I appreciate the example you set... You're often going to get dealt a hand you don't want to play in life. It's going to happen to us all, one way or another.

"Mayor, you got dealt a tough hand but you played it with class. And now you have a chance to lead and you are."

"Thank you very much, Mr. President," Hancock said.

Afterward, Hancock and Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg answered questions from reporters, many of whom asked about No Child Left Behind, the sweeping yet controversial education legislation Bush championed while president. Congress is currently debating how to revise the unpopular law.

Hancock said Bush didn't talk much about No Child Left Behind, other than to explain that its purpose was to hold schools accountable for what students are, or aren't, learning. "It's about measuring whether our third and fourth graders can read," Hancock said. "There's no sexiness about that other than, Can they read?"

Of Bush, he added, "He didn't talk about Washington, he didn't talk about Congress, he didn't talk about the president, he didn't talk about Moammar Gadhafi. He talked about education and caring enough to send the very best to our schools."

Hancock said Bush admitted that he followed the Denver mayor's race and that he's watching the city's school system. "We have been at the forefront of a conversation about how we reform our schools and present the very best opportunities for our young people in our city," Hancock said. "He's following Denver, which is good."

When it was his turn to speak, Boasberg highlighted Denver's receipt this summer of a $12 million grant from the Wallace Foundation to help recruit, prepare and mentor new principals. With the help of Get Smart Schools, that work has already begun. Amy Slothower, Get Smart Schools's executive director, said 23 people have completed the organization's year-long fellowship program, which provides training and mentoring to teachers, business leaders and others on the track to become principals.

"Get Smart Schools was so honored to have President Bush here today, shining a spotlight on the work that we're doing," she said. "We really share his opinion that school leaders hold the key to transforming public education."

More from our Education archives: "Jennifer Draper Carson, Arturo Jimenez's stand-in clash at DPS board candidates forum."