Coffee with the Governor - National Council of Teachers of English
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Coffee with the Governor

This is a guest blog by Penny Kittle. 

Penny Kittle with Governor Maggie Hassen
Penny Kittle with Governor Maggie Hassen

On October 27, 2015, I met New Hampshire Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan in her office for coffee. She was elected governor in 2012 and easily won reelection in 2014. She has declared her intent to run for the United States Senate in 2016.

I received the privilege of spending time with her as a gift from my husband, Pat Kittle, a business owner who bid on time with our governor in an auction to raise funds for the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce. This is the second time he has supported my passion for public policy, as he calls it, with time to speak with the governor of our state. New Hampshire is a small state with a big heart for politics because of our first-in-the-nation primary, and our small population makes it possible for all citizens to speak to the governor. She has visited my high school; she has appeared in local restaurants and held town meetings nearby. Small states have challenges, but we also have great opportunities to connect with those in power.

My passion for public policy has deep roots: I almost majored in political science as an undergraduate. I’ve always believed that we can make lasting change through policies, and I want to have a voice in how those policies are formed. When I met with our previous governor, John Lynch, in 2011, it was to discuss his move to raise the high school dropout age from 16 to 18. I wanted to know why he supported that move yet still allowed kindergarten to be optional. We need both, I urged him.

When my husband bid on time with Governor Hassan, the New Hampshire Senate had just voted to swap the Common Core Smarter Balanced tests for the new SAT in high schools. I hoped to urge Governor Hassan to sign it into law. Before she could fit me into her calendar, she had done so. I still had plenty to speak with her about.

As I waited to meet with her, I listened as she spoke to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and took photos with children and families and advocates. Her calendar is full; her job holds so many expectations. Yet she welcomed me into her office, and we sat discussing education for 45 minutes that afternoon.

Governor Maggie Hassan comes from a long line of educators. She traces teachers back through generations, and one of her children is currently teaching in a charter school in New Orleans. We talked about the need to find passionate, smart teachers in all schools and the limitations—and possibilities—of charter schools. We talked about my high school’s progress from having the highest dropout rate in the state in 2006 to its status today, with less than one-quarter of one percent dropping out. She listened as I talked about government mandates that get in the way of good teaching and the challenges of finding resources to help every child.

On the urging of my principal, I brought her a copy of Book Love and told her about the Book Love Foundation. She was excited about connecting our work to the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and promised to help me connect with its president. Governor Hassan has always been a voracious reader and was thrilled with the work we are doing to bring books to teachers and students who need them.

Governor Hassan inspired me with her commitment to children, to teachers, and to all citizens in our state. My time with her was well worth the two-hour drive it took to get to the state capitol after school and the two-hour drive home, as I thought about ways we can all work to connect those in power with the experiences of local teachers.

What is the story of your school? Who needs to hear it? I urge you to write it. Share it. Join the conversations on local, state, and federal policies that impact our students. We must advocate for all we know they need.

Penny Kittle teaches high school English in North Conway, NH. She is the author of Book Love and Write Beside Them.