08/22/2015 03:04 pm ET Updated Aug 22, 2016

Today's Kids, Tomorrow's Leaders

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Chris Christie credits his fifth grade teacher for developing his writing skills - and his work ethic - after she gave this straight-A student his first-ever C on a paper.

Carly Fiorina remembers the college professor who ignited such an interest in medieval philosophy that she chose the obscure subject as her major.

Jeb Bush recalls his feeling of pride and accomplishment when a tough high school Spanish teacher pushed him to work harder than he ever had.

And I remember Mrs. Hollister, my fifth grade teacher, who was considered very strict and certainly set a high bar. I worked so hard in her class and had tons of homework. But when she reviewed a student's work and said, "well done," there was an amazing warmth in her eyes. I never wanted to disappoint her.

Did these teachers see in their students' eyes a future Governor or CEO, perhaps even a future U.S. President? Was it something they did or said that lit a spark in their young students and inspired the leaders we became?

This week I listened to six candidates for President share their perspectives at an Education Summit in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Moderator Campbell Brown, a former White House correspondent and network news anchor, challenged each candidate in individual, 45-minute interviews. Amid tough questions on Common Core, alternative standards, and teacher tenure, it became clear that education policy will be a factor in the 2016 race for the White House.

One of the issues most important to me is the question of school choice.

I believe all children deserve teachers who will spark their passions, who will encourage them, who will refuse to let them settle for adequate when they have potential to be great. Too often, kids most in need of a teacher - a role model - to believe in them, to challenge them and to inspire them are stuck in failing schools that do not meet their needs; schools without libraries full of books, shelves stacked with art supplies, or classrooms decorated with cheerful posters that foster a positive environment for learning. Parents should be able to choose the schools they believe can best educate their kids, whether they are neighborhood schools, private schools, religious schools or charter schools.

I support charter schools because I have seen the great work they do, especially in disadvantaged urban areas where kids often have challenges far beyond a weekly spelling test. Charter schools have high standards. Students often outscore their peers in standardized tests. The secret: teachers, kids and parents are all involved, and ALL are held accountable. Charters are community-based public/private schools that receive part of their funding from the private sector. I don't believe charter schools take anything away from traditional public schools; rather, I think they can be centers for innovation and models for best practices.

Choice and competition do not kill public schools, as some have feared; rather, they push all schools to be better. If parents are choosing the alternatives over failing neighborhood schools, those schools should recognize something needs to change. Every school should be a great school.

I have such a commitment to education and respect for teachers. I graduated from college certified to teach and thought my own career would be spent leading a classroom. I served on the Connecticut Board of Education in 2009 and have served on the board of Sacred Heart University for nearly a decade. Education matters, even to those of us who are not students, parents or teachers. Our economy depends on having graduates well prepared for college, careers, and hopefully life.

All of us have a teacher who changed the course of our lives, who inspired a career or a passion or simply kept us out of trouble.

At this week's Education Summit, Chris Christie told the audience that when he was elected Governor of New Jersey, that teacher who had given him his first C on a paper 29 years earlier wrote a letter telling him how proud she was. Isn't that what we all want? Teachers who are committed to our kids, who will challenge them to do better, and who will build their confidence with their praise. A good education is the foundation for success, and the only way today's kids can become tomorrow's leaders.