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Secretary of Education Talks to Scholastic News Online
By Alonzo Webb, Scholastic Kids Press Corps

Margaret Spellings
Caption: Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Scholastic Kid Reporter Alonzo Webb, 11, of Maryland, in Spellings' D.C. office.
(Photo: Suzanne Freeman)
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is a working mom from Texas with a lot of work to do. I went to her office in Washington, D.C., last week to interview her. We talked about three topics: leadership, being a part of the President's Cabinet, and the policies of the Department of Education.

I asked her what she does in a typical work day and what a Cabinet meeting is like. She said that the days are never the same, and that the Cabinet meetings are interesting because you learn about other important areas of the government.

"[Cabinet meetings] give you an opportunity to get a bigger picture than just the things that I'm working on every day," said Spellings. "We've talked a lot about Medicaid and Social Security. And of course the war in Iraq, and homeland security."

Secretary Spellings said that her job is a big responsibility, and that she loves it because education policy has been her passion for a long time.

"I worked with the President for 11 years," Spellings said. "I worked with him on education policies when he was the Governor of Texas and then at the White House, so I have a good sense of what his priorities are in terms of education."

Staying Healthy

We spoke about was the new law in New Jersey that bans junk food in schools. Secretary Spelling said that that is a state decision, but she supports it because everyone wants children to be healthy. Also, on the subject of childhood obesity, she said that some of the states are restoring gym programs, which had been cut to save money.

Spellings follows her own advice: She exercises every morning before work.

"That's the only way you can do it," said this mother of two. "That's my advice for working moms: Get it in early because when you go home in the evening you've got homework to deal with, you've got dinner, and you've got all sorts of things you have to do."

The No Child Left Behind Act

Spellings was appointed to her position in January by President Bush. She testified before a Senate committee, which then had to vote on her before she could begin the job. Since she took over the office a few months ago, she has focused on expanding the No Child Left Behind Act from grades three through eight to the high school level. The No Child Left Behind Act, which Spellings helped to write, is President Bush's education reform policy. The new law was one of his first accomplishments as President.

"One of the things we need to do now is pay more attention to our high school grades," Spellings said. "We have to get more people out of high school and the people we get out of high school have to have much higher levels of skill, so that they can go to college or directly into the work place."

Secretary Spellings says she, too, benefits from the No Child Left Behind Act. Both of her children are in public schools, so she sees the nation's education policies affects her children's classrooms.

"I think it kind of gives me a perspective," she said.

When I asked her why we need a Department of Education, she said, "Our commitment has always been to our neediest children—poor kids, and special-ed kids—and I think that it's important that government have a big picture about the needs of our country in educating every child."