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State Superintendent Brad Smith penned an open letter to Utah's educators Monday, apologizing for critical remarks he made two weeks ago to The Salt Lake Tribune.
On the final day of the 2015 legislative session, Smith said he regretted the negative tone of a rally where teachers called on lawmakers to increase public school funding.
"It reminded me of when my kid was 3 years old and they started crying on Christmas morning because they didn't get one more thing," he said.
Many teachers objected to the comment, prompting Smith to issue an apology on the State Office of Education website, describing his statement as "unacceptable." He said it was made late in the legislative session when he was tired and frustrated.
"Although I think we do need substantially more funding in Utah's education system and worked hard to achieve that goal this session my statement led teachers to suppose that I think the opposite," he said in his letter to teachers. "I do think we need to change and reform, but I just indulged myself in the old rhetoric of criticism and blame.
"I sincerely apologize for my comment and will try to heal the wound it has caused," Smith continued. "I hope that people will recognize I made a mistake and see I completely own it."
In a recent interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah Education Association President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh said she had "little patience for that kind of dialogue," and that statements like Smith's Christmas-morning comparison do little to move Utah's schools in the direction they need to go.
"Teachers are working very hard in Utah with the lowest per-pupil spending in the country and we're getting amazing results," she said.
In the statement posted Monday, Smith said that blame and criticism are not the tools needed to address the needs of Utah's students.
"Our educators are diligent and conscientious people. We need to look creatively at ways to pay them better and to think about redesigning our system in a way that favors the sorts of changes we need," he said. "We need to learn from one another; I hope you will allow me to engage with you and learn from you, notwithstanding my recent gaffe."
Smith will speak with Tribune reporter Jennifer Napier-Pearce Tuesday at 12:15 p.m. for Trib Talk. Tune in to hear him talk teacher competency and school accountability.