Surprise! Obama shows up at Sasha's parent-teacher conference

Behind the scenes Monday, presidential advisers focused on US policy in Afghanistan and efforts to meld multiple healthcare reform bills into a single version for each chamber. But President Obama was making two surprise visits to Maryland schools, chatting about his daughter and playing book critic with grade-schoolers.

Mr. Obama’s day began with an early morning motorcade to the private Sidwell Friends School in nearby Bethesda, Md., for a parent-teacher conference for daughter Sasha. The school had been told Michelle Obama would be on hand, but the president’s presence was a surprise, the White House press office said. The half hour trip was not accompanied by the usual sirens and blocked intersections, with the first family stopping at red lights along the route.

Later in the morning the president headed to Viers Mill Elementary School in suburban Silver Spring, Md., for an unannounced visit with third and fourth graders at lunch. Press assistant Ben Finkenbinder told the travel pool that the school was picked because it was the first school with a large concentration of low income students in Montgomery County to win the National Blue Ribbon for significantly closing the achievement gap. It won the award in 2005.

For this jaunt, the president’s trip through Washington traffic was speeded along by police cars blocking intersections, keeping other drivers away from the president.

Presidential book reviews

Pool reporter George Condon of Congress Daily said the president asked each student what he or she was reading. One student said “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” The president said, “Sasha and Malia loved that. They think it is hilarious.”

When another student said “Goosebumps,” Mr. Obama said a couple of other kids had said that was good. “I haven’t read it,” the president admitted. One student was reading Harry Potter. The president said, “Malia and I read the Harry Potter books. We thought those were pretty good.” As he left each table, the president said, “You guys keep on reading, alright?”

At one point, the president noted that just yesterday he had seen Spike Jonze’s movie adaptation of the classic children’s book, “Where the Wild Things Are.” The First Movie Critic said, “That’s a great book” and proclaimed of the movie, “It’s worth seeing.” The White House has its own movie theater, off of a ground floor walkway near the East Wing.

Saving jobs in education

While the president was chatting up third and fourth graders on the value of reading, in the press room his aides were pitching reporters on how the $787 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act was saving education jobs around the country.

Jared Bernstein, chief economist and economic policy adviser to the vice president, said that preliminary data from states showed that 250,000 education jobs were saved or created as a result of Recovery Act spending. “This is a subset of the 1 million jobs saved or created thus far through the act, leaving us solidly on track to accomplish our stated goal of saving or creating 3-1/2 million jobs by later next year," Mr. Bernstein said.

Melody Barnes, the president’s domestic policy adviser, argued that “we were able to avert massive class expansion, class size expansion, something that we've been concerned about in the educational context, for quite some time, and also to provide needed services when it comes to math and literacy.”

She said some $39.8 billion in recovery act funds have been earmarked for K through 12 education. The number of jobs saved so far ranges from 4,000 in New York City to 1,944 in Miami-Dade County to 242 in Indianapolis, she said.


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