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Michelle Obama to Career Staff: Thank You!

By Alyson Klein — February 02, 2009 2 min read
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First lady Michelle Obama dropped by the Department of Education this afternoon for a meet-and-greet/pep rally to honor career employees, the first in what’s supposed to be a series of such sessions at various cabinet agencies.

The roughly 350 employees who gathered for the event cheered, applauded, and used cellphone cameras to take pictures of the first lady. Seventeen of the agency’s longest-serving employees, some of whom have spent decades at the department, stood behind Obama as she spoke.

—Christopher Powers/Education Week

“I am a product of your work,” she told the crowd. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the public schools that nurtured me and helped me along. ... I’m going to be visiting agencies throughout this administration to do just something simple, and that’s to say thank you—thank you before we even begin the work, because so many of you have been here struggling and pushing for decades. ... The children of this country are counting on all of us.”

She also touted the economic stimulus package working its way through Congress, saying it would help avert teacher layoffs, and highlighted provisions to direct money for facilities, teacher training, and charter schools.

The first lady is planning to drop by a number of federal agencies and speak to employees, in part to get to know the folks living in her new hometown of Washington, D.C., a spokeswoman said.

In introducing Obama, the new secretary of education, Arne Duncan, said it’s “not a coincidence” that the department was Obama’s first stop.

Duncan reiterated remarks he made during his Senate confirmation hearing last month about the “Obama effect,” which he hopes will inspire schoolchildren across the country to get a good education.

—Christopher Powers/Education Week

“We have people saying not just I want to be the president or the first lady, but I want to be smart like the president, or smart like the first lady,” he said. “The Obama effect is going to be powerful.”

Education Department employees clapped and smiled and seemed genuinely jazzed.

Recognizing and commending the efforts of career staff was “really right on” said Karen Stratman-Krusemark, a career staff member who serves as a liaison between the department and professional associations in education field. She and other department employees also had glowing words for their new boss.

"[Mr. Duncan] has this great combination of smart and real,” Stratman-Krusemark said. “We were cheering at the staff meeting, we were all so excited to get to work. ... Right now, if you work at the Department of Ed, it’s like the coolest thing.”