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In Memoriam: Gary K. Hart

Editor's note: In 2018, at the CSMP LeadLearn conference, Executive Director Claudia Martinez presented Gary K. Hart with a special award in recognition of his "many years of leadership, service and dedication to the California Subject Matter Project." With his passing on January 27, 2022, we wanted to share her comments as a way to say thank you again to Gary and to inspire others to continue his legacy of good work and public service.

"In 1988, Gary Hart, then a state senator, co-authored SB 1882, the bill that authorized the creation of the California Subject Matter Projects. 1882 envisioned a statewide network dedicated to the premise of teachers working collaboratively to improve classroom instruction and student learning. Thirty years and hundreds of thousands of teacher participants later, I'm honored to be able to say thank you to Gary for his work all those years ago and since, in service to public education in California.

"One of the questions we hope to explore in this two-day conference is what we can all do to promote student civic engagement. I think Gary's life and accomplishments can help us all keep in mind why this is important; his service to our state stands as a model for each of us.

"Born in San Diego, Gary came of age at Santa Barbara High School, serving as student body president and All-CIF football star. The following year, Gary attended Stanford University on a football scholarship, majoring in history, and in his last years there, working as a congressional intern in Washington, D.C.

"After graduating from Stanford, Gary earned an M.A. from the Harvard School of Education. In 1966, Gary moved to Mississippi to teach at a Black college under a Ford Foundation program, and then participated in numerous freedom marches and other civil rights activities throughout the state. He returned to his alma mater later in that same year and began teaching history at Santa Barbara High. In 1967 he became even more politically active, moving to New York City to work in the anti-Vietnam war effort and later the campaign of presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy. After a stint in Mexico, Gary moved back to Santa Barbara to teach history at Laguna Blanca School and soon after began his first campaign for public office.

"In 1973, Gary was appointed as one of the founding members of the California Coastal Commission, where he advocated for coastal protection and environmental quality. From 1975 until 1982, Gary served in the California Assembly, where he focused on education and environmental issues. In 1982, Gary was elected to the state senate and was immediately named Chair of the Education Committee. Gary served in the senate until 1994.

"During his tenure in the legislature, Gary was responsible for many important pieces of legislation, such as the Hughes-Hart Educational Reform Act of 1983, which addressed school finance, instructional programs, school discipline and employee provisions. He also authored the legislation creating charter schools, led numerous efforts to increase funding for higher education, and, as noted earlier, co-authored the bill, with Becky Morgan, that established the Subject Matter Projects. Recognized for his honesty and diligence, Gary was repeatedly ranked as the senator with the greatest integrity by the California Journal.

"In 1995, Gary was tapped to lead the CSU's new Institute for Educational Reform, and following his election in 1998, Governor Gray Davis named Gary Secretary of Education. In 2001, Gary returned to teaching, this time at Kennedy High School in Sacramento, establishing the Program in America and California Explorations, an academic honors program for students at Kennedy. Gary joined the board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California. And from 2012–17, he served as a member of the advisory board of the California History-Social Science Project, one of our nine disciplinary networks.

"And so, as we come together tonight to think collectively about the ways in which we can inspire and encourage our students to embrace their rights and responsibilities, I hope we'll all keep Gary's years of service in mind as a goal. His honesty, integrity and commitment to serve our state's children stands as a model for us all to follow as we consider the civic mission of schools."

Gary K. Hart speaking at LeadLearn 2018

Lead image photo credit: Paul Wellman, Santa Barbara Independent

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