Category Archives: Georgia State School Superintendent

Georgia state super intends to personalize education

ATLANTA — Georgia’s new state superintendent, Richard Woods, said the standardization of education was a misstep that hurt the state as a whole and he plans to implement more choices for students during his first four year term.

“If we were manufacturing machine parts, it would be great,” he said in a Thursday interview with the Marietta Daily Journal.

“But anyone who has been around children knows that … they’re individual works of art.”

Woods, who previously worked as a social studies teacher in Irwin County, was elected Nov. 4 after defeating Democrat Valarie Wilson, 55 to 45 percent. He was sworn into office Jan. 12 by Gov. Nathan Deal.

Woods said his priorities during his first term include the continued tweaking of Common Core and creating more choices for students, particularly at the high school level, so they can personalize their education.

LEGISLATION

Two bills — one in the House, one in the Senate — are expected to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes Monday that, if passed, would make the state superintendent position an appointed one, rather than elected as it is now. The Senate bill, sponsored by state Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna), would also switch how the state school board is determined, making it elected rather than appointed as it is now.

Woods said he would not support such a measure because he fears it would be taking power away from the people.

“I think anytime we look at our system of government, I prefer the representative form of government,” he said. “I think anytime you surrender a liberty, that’s a liberty lost. So I’m very hesitant to remove the voice of the people from any position.”

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has introduced a bill that would allow students who meet certain requirements to graduate high school in less than four years.

Woods said he is in favor of the idea because it would motivate students.

“They could actually, in some ways, determine when they possibly can graduate,” he said. “Going back to when I was in school, that was really an option. There was a time where I was able to graduate early if I wanted to. It does provide some intrinsic value there.”

Woods said he’d like to see students have the ability to graduate early and with job certifications in addition to a Georgia high school diploma.

“I think that a combination of things — whether they’re graduating early or graduating with something more than just a diploma — will go a long way in enhancing the educational experience for our kids,” Woods said.

He also said he supports the push for more dual enrollment programs, which allow students to take college-level courses while still in high school.

“With the dual enrollment, we’re not holding kids back,” he said. “That’s one of the things we do want to stress: We’re not only trying to reach those that perhaps are struggling some, but those kids who are academically strong and ready to move on and pursue things; I think that’s another option we have.”

Tippins said he is very much in favor of providing an educational system that trains students for a career.

“The needs of the workplace is what ought to be driving our education system,” he said. “We ought to be training our students for the jobs that are available. If you have a trained workforce, you’re more likely to attract business to come in.”

As for actively supporting legislation, Woods said he is more concerned about setting school board policy.

“I prefer to handle (things) through state board policy and not legislation because once it’s law, it’s hard to address anything,” he said. “If our issue is with policy, we can address (that). If our issue is with law, we have to wait an entire year until the General Assembly reconvenes.”

COMMON CORE

The state school board recently made some changes to the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, altering the language in most cases to provide clarity.

Woods said while he has problems with Common Core, he is in favor of tweaking the standards rather than a complete overhaul. He said he doesn’t want to completely throw out Common Core because it would just be replaced with another set of standards that would also need tweaking.

“(The state school board) wants to make sure it’s Georgia specific,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re looking at wholesale, ‘Let’s throw out the baby with the bathwater.’”

He said there are good standards in Common Core that are worth keeping — such as having a student be able to count to 100 in kindergarten — noting it’s important to keep the standards age-appropriate.

“Everything we do, I want to assure people it’ll be measured and it’ll be well thought out,” Woods said. “We’re not going to come in … and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to get rid of everything and start from scratch.’ We’re going to evaluate the merits of everything that’s out there. … I think looking at standards is going to be a continual process.”

Woods’ platform while running for state superintendent was decidedly anti-Common Core, and he said he wants to make sure the federal government isn’t calling all of the shots.

“I think, with the grant process, that was a big concern because we did have to agree to a lot of stipulations that were basically federal mandates once we agreed to take the grant money,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that Georgia maintains its autonomy.”

Right now, Georgia only has Common Core standards for math and English language arts. Woods said there are standards for science and social studies on the horizon and he plans to incorporate them into the Georgia Performance Standards.

“Those standards will be Georgia’s — there will be an adoption of the Common Core standards but they will be something we develop and work with here,” Woods said.

GRADUATION RATE

Georgia’s graduation rate continues to be on the lower end of the spectrum, coming in at 72.5 percent for the 2013-14 school year, compared to the national rate of 81 percent. While it is increasing — the state’s 2010-11 rate was 67 percent — it is still in need of improvement.

Cobb’s graduation rate for 2013-14 was 78.2 percent while Marietta High School’s graduation rate was 71.4 percent.

Woods said he thinks Georgia’s low graduation rate is partially a result of No Child Left Behind and the overemphasis on testing.

“We put every kid in the same hole, the same format,” he said. “In my view, we were basically trying to manufacture machine parts. Everything was supposed to look the same. … I think that really did hurt us statewide.”

Woods said it’s impossible to really create an educational model that works for every single kid.

“That education light bulb, it would be nice if it all came on at the same time. It would make teaching a whole lot easier. But the reality is it’s just not that way,” he said. “Some kids, they can build Saturn V rockets. Some kids, you’d think they’ve barely been out of their diapers.”

Woods said the key is to go back to the K-5 years and work on the foundation of education.

“Literacy is something very key,” he said. “If you look at the data out there, there’s almost a one-to-one correlation between opportunity and educational success based on literacy.”

Woods said once students get to middle school and high school, they should be provided more choices in course offerings.

“One of the things we have found out, especially after No Child Left Behind, is we assumed every child is going to college,” Woods said. “Basically, we said every child will take the same math, they’ll take the same English, they’ll take the same science and it just went down the line.”

He said an example of course flexibility he’d like to see is allow students to take a computer science class that would count as a core math course.

He said with the emergence of more career-oriented high schools and academies, there should be more flexibility afforded to the students.

“I think allowing them to pursue things that actually build on their strengths and their desires will motivate them to come to school,” Woods said. “I look forward to working with the lieutenant governor (Casey Cagle), who’s done a lot of work with that.”

He also said he’d like to change the model from STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — to STEAM by adding an art component.

“These are areas that are so critical as far as developing thought processes, enhancing the academic mindset of our kids and critical thinking,” Woods said.

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Appoint or Elect Georgia’s State School Superintendent

On the eve of last month’s general election, state Rep. Mike Dudgeon, a Republican from Johns Creek, announced on Facebook that he would be pushing for a constitutional amendment that allows for an appointed – rather than elected – state school superintendent.

“This is not about who is or is not elected to the position tomorrow but about governance,” he wrote on Facebook.

In 38 states, the state school superintendent is appointed by either the governor or the state school board, Dudgeon said in an interview published Nov. 18.

It only makes sense that Georgia would follow the other states’ lead, he said.

PolitiFact decided Dudgeon’s claim merited a closer look.

First, a little background about the job of state school superintendent.

In Georgia, it’s an elected position paying $127,000 a year with largely administrative duties — mainly running the state Department of Education, which has 786 employees and a $9.6 billion annual budget. The superintendent also carries out policies set by lawmakers, the governor and the members of the state Board of Education who are appointed by the governor from the state’s 14 congressional districts.

Some of the more recent superintendents have made headlines, including Linda Schrenko, who went to prison for stealing federal funds, some of which she spent on a facelift; and Kathy Cox, who proposed striking the word “evolution” from the state science curriculum. Cox was back in the headlines in 2008 as a $1 million winner on the popular game show “Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader?” She promised her winnings to schools for the disabled, but creditors in a bankruptcy related to her husband’s failed home construction business had other ideas.

John Barge, the current Republican superintendent, sparred with Gov. Nathan Deal over a constitutional amendment on charter schools, then ran unsuccessfully against him. Barge made a rare cross-party endorsement of Democrat Valarie Wilson, who lost this year’s superintendent’s race to Richard Woods, a Republican and retired South Georgia teacher and school administrator.

Dudgeon’s proposed constitutional amendment would not affect Woods. It would require approval of two-thirds of the state House and Senate and could not go before voters until 2016, Dudgeon told PolitiFact.

But do most states really have appointed state superintendents? And is Georgia really in the minority with an elected one?

We reached out to the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Education Commission of the States, two groups that keep such data.

Their records show 37 states with appointed superintendents and 13 states with elected superintendents, including Georgia and Wyoming.

Wyoming was not counted in an ECS PowerPoint that Dudgeon relied on from earlier in the year that’s recently been updated, ECS staff told us.

Wyoming is currently debating whether to move from an appointed to an elected superintendent.

The outgoing superintendent there was threatened with impeachment and lawsuits and removed last year, though her duties were later reinstated by the state Supreme Court, according to news accounts.

Dudgeon said Georgia’s current system, with an elected state superintendent and an appointed state school board, doesn’t make sense.

“We are electing an administrator and appointing the people (the state school board) who make the policy,” he said. That’s opposite the way it normally works, Dudgeon said.

His constitutional amendment would change the method for selecting state school board members, though the specifics are still being developed.

“My preference is that they not all be appointed by the governor,” Dudgeon said.

A similar constitutional amendment was filed but not pursued in the General Assembly in 2001 by Phil Gingrey, then a state senator and now a member of the U.S. House.

Georgia’s local school districts were traditionally run by elected superintendents, but that changed as of 1996.

The Georgia School Boards Association is on record in support of an appointed state superintendent and nonpartisan state board with one member elected from each of the state’s 14 congressional districts.

Our ruling: Dudgeon’s on target with his claim that the vast majority of states have an appointed state school superintendent. We rate his statement True.

Nancy Badertscher
AJC

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I Pretty Much Just Voted Republican

Republican Woods built big lead in superintendent race

Richard Woods, a South Georgia Republican with a dislike of federal education programming and student testing, defeated Democrat Valarie Wilson on Tuesday in the race for state school superintendent.

Woods spent a quiet evening at his South Georgia home with family and a few friends watching election results.

“I’m excited,” he said. “I am looking forward to putting into practice what we’ve been talking about.”

Unofficial votes show Woods winning the race with 1,388,255 votes to Wilson’s 1,128,163 votes. Woods succeeds Republican Superintendent John Barge, who ran unsuccessfully for governor and endorsed Wilson in the race. Provisional ballots were not included, the Secretary of State’s website said early Wednesday.

Wilson conceded after midnight as the final votes were being counted. “We have gone to work and gone to bat for the 1.7 million children in this state,” she said.

Though she said, “We didn’t have the outcome that we wanted to have tonight,” she urged her supporters to “hold their feet to the fire and make sure they do right by these babies.”

Woods, who said he drove 46,000 miles across Georgia while campaigning, was outspent by Wilson by more than 2-to-1.

He is a 52-year-old retired Irwin County teacher and school administrator and favorite of conservatives and tea party activists with his criticism of state and federal education policies and standards such as Race to the Top and Common Core. Woods has also said he wanted to delay the state’s new standardized test, called Georgia Milestones, because he said it wasn’t “fully field tested.”

Instead, Woods has said he wants students to be proficient in reading, writing and math by the fifth grade and wants to encourage teachers to consider innovative approaches. He has suggested, for instance, allowing students to take accounting to earn math credits or a journalism class to get English credits.

Wilson, 56, a public-sector administrator, campaigned on restoring the money school districts are supposed to get under the state’s complicated funding formula. She predicted Woods’ win would leave districts across Georgia struggling with teacher furloughs and shortened school-year calendars.

Woods has said he wants to audit, rather than augment, the education budget, she noted. “So I don’t think he sees the funding gap that I see.”

The superintendent race did not attract the attention most statewide races did. Many voters said they knew little or nothing about the candidates. Gwinnett County resident Randall Starkey, 64, wearing a T-shirt supporting conservative Ben Carson’s candidacy for president in 2016, said he voted for Woods. “I pretty much voted Republican straight down the line,” he said.

Tameka Truitt, 35, left a Decatur polling place with her middle school-age son in tow. “I don’t remember,” she admitted when asked about her choice for superintendent. After hearing the candidates’ names, she said she voted for Wilson.

Awaiting the new superintendent will be a robust debate on and possible changes to the Quality Basic Education formula, which state lawmakers use to determine how much money to give local school districts; continued implementation of Common Core standards and the roll-out of the new teacher evaluation system, which will link student test scores to personnel decisions such as hiring, firing, promotions and pay.

Another issue will be improving graduation rates, which increased slightly last spring but not as much as in prior years. Georgia has one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation, and education officials attribute it to tougher requirements.

By Eric Stirgus and Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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An Ignominious End to John Barge’s Political Career

GaPundit.com was exceptionally good today.  (Sign up for their daily email updates)

By | Oct 23, 2014 | GaPundit Daily, Georgia Politics

It is being widely reported that Republican (in name only) State School Superintendent John Barge will endorse Democrat Valarie Wilson today in a campaign event.

Sitting State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge (R) will join State School Superintendent Candidate Valarie Wilson (D) to make a special announcement and host a press conference on Thursday at 12 p.m. in front of Tucker High, 5036 LaVista Road, Tucker.

This brings Republican State School Superintendents who ended their political careers at their own hands to three. If you recall, Linda Schrenko ran for Governor in 2002 and was later convicted of embezzlement; Kathy Cox filed for personal bankruptcy in 2008 and resigned in 2010 to take a job in the private sector. Now Barge, who ran for Governor this year and appears to have spent the rest of his time seeking employment elsewhere without much success.

Two things about this. First is it shows that the election for State School Superintendent is not about who is the best candidate – it’s about the bureaucratic educational establishment retaining control of the Georgia Department of Education. The term “bureaucrats” does not include teachers, though many will follow the lead of the administrators who are supporting the Democratic candidate – by bureaucrat, we mean primarily people who draw a check from the Department of Education or a local school system and do not teach students.

It is the bureaucrats who are threatened by a candidate who will take a carefull look at how much money is spent by DOE outside the classrooms and seek to move more of that spending toward classrooms.

It is within the very large Department of Education, which educates exactly zero students, that Democratic activists will be hired and burrow in to career positions where they will outlast any State School Superintendent and affect education outcomes for years into the future.

It is the state’s educational bureaucracy that has delivered the results we have gotten for our tax dollars. Electing yet another bureaucrat like Valarie Wilson will mean that Georgians continue to get more of the same results.

The second issue is that the State School Superintendency has become a stepping stone – from Schrenko who sought the Governor’s Office, to Cox who left to work in the private sector, and now John Barge, who has spent the better part of at least this year seeking higher employment.

It is well-known that John Barge has been an absentee Superintendent for months, turning the office into a mobile campaign, and now seeking out-of-state employment and holding press conferences with other politicians in the middle of the day on a Thursday, when he should be at work.

So I have two questions for Dr. Barge.

First, what kind of deal did you cut with Valarie Wilson to help her win election as Georgia State School Superintendent. Since your job search appears to be going nowhere – either in Cobb County or in Utah –the most-likely scenario, in my opinion, for your endorsement, is that you cut a deal.

If no deal has been cut, will Barge and Wilson both pledge that Barge will neither be offered nor accept, a position as an employee, consultant, or contractor, with the Georgia Department of Education if Valarie Wilson is elected?

Second, will John Barge reimburse the taxpayers the cost of his job search, including his absences during the Gubernatorial campaign, and the time he’s spent on his job search instead of performing the job he has?

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Looking for a Democratic upset?

Looking for a Democratic upset? The race for school superintendent has possibilities.
Todd Rehm writes the blog known as GeorgiaPundit.com and is a Republican consultant who sometimes joins me in front of a TV camera. Michael Thurmond is the DeKalb County school superintendent and owner of a long Democratic resume.

The two men live in separate worlds and have never met, so far as I know. But they agree on at least one thing:

If you want to lay a wager on the Democrat who might be celebrating election to a statewide office on the first Tuesday in November, don’t place your money on Michelle Nunn or Jason Carter.

It will be difficult for either to escape a runoff.

Instead, bet on Valarie Wilson of DeKalb County, the down-ballot candidate for state school superintendent who is locked in a tight, two-person race with Republican Richard Woods of Tifton.

Wilson, an African-American, is a former president of the Georgia School Boards Association, and a former member of the Decatur city school board. Woods, who is white, is a former teacher and administrator from Irwin County who has emphasized his opposition to new Common Core standards for k-12 public school students.

A SurveyUSA poll commissioned by 11Alive this week had Wilson and Woods locked in a dead heat, 46 to 46 percent.

Obviously, Rehm and Thurmond come at the possibility of a Wilson win from two different directions. The Republican is warning that it could put an end to a long GOP winning streak. The Democrat, meanwhile, embraces it as a sign that a 12-year exile from power may be coming to a close.

We’ll deal with the pessimist first. It is entirely possible, Rehm argues, that Republicans could win the larger stampede to the ballot box on Nov. 4 – but forfeit the contest for state school superintendent out of pure laziness.

Voters leak from a general election ballot like air from a pin-holed tire. But peculiarly, Republican voters are more likely to drop away than Democrats.

In 2008, U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss was thrown into a runoff against Democrat Jim Martin because he received 181,662 fewer votes than Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who took Georgia. The Democratic drop-off was less than half that.

In 2010, Republican newcomer John Barge won the race for school superintendent with 8 percent fewer votes than Johnny Isakson, the GOP senator seeking re-election.

Democrats had a down-ballot increase that year. The Democratic candidate for school superintendent, Joe Martin, actually won more votes than the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate – the aforementioned Michael Thurmond.

“Traditionally, I think Democrats have done a better job of urging their voters to vote the entire ticket,” Rehm said. “If it’s going to be close enough to drive a runoff in either of the top-of-the-ticket races, we could easily give that one back.”

Thurmond comes at the school superintendent’s race not as a number-cruncher, but as a political historian. In 1998, by winning election as labor commissioner, Thurmond became the first African-American in Georgia to win a statewide election to an open office. There has not been another since.

Wilson could become the second – and a rallying point for African-Americans who are being asked to back white Democrats for governor and U.S. Senate. “This race is not important just in a racial sense, it’s important strategically,” Thurmond said.

He sees another parallel. Like other lesser statewide races, the contest for state school superintendent is a cash-starved affair. As of Sept. 30, Wilson had raised a total of $147,414. Woods had raised $42,720.

In the absence of large sums of money, something else is needed. In 1998, Thurmond had just left his job as head of the state Department of Family and Children Services – a thankless position, but one that had him supervising field offices scattered across the state.

Wilson has “something similar,” Thurmond said – a network of Georgia school board members across the state. “Unless you come to the table with some sort of organization, you can’t survive. That’s how you beat the down-ballot drop off,” he said.

Already, Wilson has the support of Alvin Wilbanks, the longtime superintendent of public schools in the GOP-haven of Gwinnett County. More Republican supporters have been hinted at.

Other factors could benefit Wilson. Or rather, maneuvers intended to benefit a Republican nominee have not played out.

Our GOP-led Legislature has tacked to the end of the November ballot a proposed constitutional amendment that would cap the state income tax at 6 percent. But as an invitation for Republicans to stay engaged as they plow through the ballot, the referendum has failed to stir excitement.

Possibly because the Legislature hasn’t tampered with the state income tax rate since 1955.

Then there is Common Core, the multi-state effort to set grade-by-grade bars for elementary and high school students. Woods won his GOP primary contest in large part by emphasizing his wariness of Common Core – which many Republicans believe amounts to the federalization of education.

But a spring fever over Common Core hasn’t carried into November. That SurveyUSA poll we mentioned earlier? Thirty-five percent of Georgia voters surveyed said they opposed Common Core. Sixty-five percent said they favored it, or didn’t know enough about it to care one way or another.

Major political shifts don’t always start off with a bang. The rise of Georgia Republicans began in 1992 when Bobby Baker won a seat on the state Public Service Commission; two years, later Linda Schrenko followed with a victory in the contest for state school superintendent.

Democrats will want to avoid following the model too closely. Schrenko was only released from prison last year, completing an eight-year sentence for embezzlement of federal funds.

By Political Insider – Jim Galloway
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Georgia State Superintendent Race – Who Cares?

Is anybody paying attention to the Georgia State Superintendent race? Does anybody care? Does anybody know that both candidates were against Amendment 1, which was passed overwhelmingly by the voters and changed the Georgia constitution to make sure the state can approve charter schools?

Sunday was the Atlanta Press Club Debate between the two candidates for Georgia State school Superintendent (can you name either of them without looking?). Maureen Downey wrote an article on Get Schooled, Anyone watch school chief debate? I did. Candidates need to toss scripts.

Downey was bored to tears like the rest of us. Where are the fireworks for education which is over half the state budget? Deal says “Recovery District” and half the state gets its panties in a wad.

No surprise that the Republican candidate for State Superintendent isn’t supporting Deal’s education initiatives. What’s the Republican candidate’s name … John Barge 2.0?

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State school superintendent candidates split on Common Core in first debate

The candidates vying to lead Georgia’s K-12 education agency split on a set of national academic standards the state is implementing and tried to appeal to teachers Tuesday during their first debate of the general election.


Democrat Valarie Wilson and Republican Richard Woods didn’t directly address each other during the 90-minute talk in Atlanta, answering questions from a panel and some written by audience members.

Common Core, the tougher academic standards developed by the National Governors Association and adopted by Georgia lawmakers, have been delayed or halted in several states. Some Georgia Republican lawmakers pushed for the state to withdraw from using them, but agreed to a legislative review committee after backlash from business interests and educators.

Some Georgia schools began rolling out the standards several years ago, and the state has contracted a publisher to develop a new test students will take this school year in line with the requirements.

Wilson, a former chair of the Decatur School Board and former president of the Georgia School Boards Association, said she would continue implementing those. Georgia students have to complete in the state, region and internationally, she said.

“I would propose that we continue to move forward but that we work closely with districts across the state,” Wilson said.

Woods said Georgia districts need more flexibility than the standards allow. In an interview after the debate, Woods stopped short of saying Georgia should withdraw from using Common Core.

But he said the department should review and control the standards. He also said the state is too dependent on testing and suggested the timeline should be changed so students take exams earlier in the school year to guide teachers in the classroom.

“We need to take stock and make sure we’re getting what we really want our kids to learn,” said Woods, a former Irwin County teacher and administrator.

Common Core hasn’t been a strictly party-line issue in Georgia. Gov. Nathan Deal has expressed some support, and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue was one of the governors leading the effort to create a set of national standards.

The Georgia standards remain under review by the state Board of Education and a legislative committee.

By Kathleen Foody
The Florida Times-Union

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