State School Superintendent candidates speak


Schools need time, talent, resources

By Mike Buck
I have three children in public school. I want the same things for them that I want for every student — an outstanding education.
There are times when I believe we over-complicate what it takes to improve student achievement. At least three things are instrumental in making that happen: Time, talent, and resources.
Due to persistent economic challenges facing our local school districts, many have operated less than the required 180 days. No matter how strong an instructional program may be, or how hard our educators work, we cannot continue to overcome the loss of instructional time. We must restore the 180 instructional days and professional learning days for teachers. It is nothing short of a miracle that our teachers have been able to move the needle on student achievement while facing such extreme challenges.
We know that the strength of the classroom teacher is instrumental in how far a child will advance during the school year. We must continue to attract the most-talented teachers into the profession.
We need to partner with our university system to ensure that teacher education programs are producing first-class educators. Then we must mentor these new teachers by pairing them with master teachers and giving them professional learning opportunities. In addition to attracting new classroom talent, we must support, celebrate and retain talented veteran teachers!
Instructional resources for teachers and parents will play a significant role in improving student achievement. We must harness the power of technology to help our young people succeed. We are greatly expanding high-speed Internet access to all schools.
Improving the number and quality of high school graduates in Georgia is of paramount importance. We must focus on early literacy, where our students are learning to read, and then transition to teaching them how to read to learn. This is a process that begins well before most children enter into public education.
By partnering with Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning and other state agencies, we can work to compensate for what has been called the 30 million-word gap between children living in poverty and their more-affluent peers during the first three years of life.
Career pathways are another pivotal piece to improving our graduation rate. Partnering with the university system, the technical college system, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders across Georgia, we have designed career pathways that have rigorous and relevant content to give our graduates the knowledge and skills they need.
I also talk about the curriculum of life. Do the boys and girls who spend 12 years with us become the kind of adults we want leading our country, living in our neighborhoods, dating our sons and daughters?
Yes, we are responsible for helping students perform well in the classroom, but I also want to grow the character and soft skills of our young people because those skills can really help set them apart.

Mike Buck is a Republican candidate for state school superintendent.


Choice, innovation needed

By Alisha Thomas Morgan
Nearly 30 percent of our children aren’t graduating from high school on time. The rate is even higher for children from underserved communities. Just as troubling, many of those receiving a diploma still need remedial courses in college or lack basic skills to succeed in today’s workforce.
In the real world, 42 percent of new applicants at Georgia Power fail the company’s pre-employment assessment. Neither our kids nor our state economy can survive at this pace.
Ask any parent or educator in Georgia and they will tell you we are at a critical moment, one which requires the urgency and courage to tackle our state’s challenges head-on. I am the proud mom of a second-grader in Cobb County Public Schools, and my desire to become Georgia’s next state school superintendent is about the world-class public education I want for my daughter and Georgia’s 1.6 million kids.
I believe all of Georgia’s children deserve a high-quality education, regardless of their  ZIP code. Our children deserve educational opportunities that have no geographic, racial or economic boundaries. Our educators are frustrated with the constant changes thrown at them. They deserve a leader they can trust — one who will listen, and will stay the course.
My work with the U.S. Education Department and my 12 years serving in the state Legislature on both the education and appropriation committees, coupled with my legislative track record, demonstrate why I am the most qualified candidate.
As a mom and a proven leader, I am uniquely qualified with the skill, experience and relationships to effectively lead our state Department of Education. Without the knowledge and savvy to effectively navigate the legislative and political process, the state school superintendent simply cannot be effective in this leadership and policymaking position.
To make sure our children are ready to meet the challenges of higher learning and an ever-changing workforce, we have to re-imagine our education system. We have to balance the rigor of an academic education with the development of necessary life and soft skills — like financial literacy, critical thinking and problem solving — to ensure that our children have the tools to succeed both in and out of the classroom.
We have to improve our graduation rate by making education more relevant and rigorous. Leveraging students’ career interests and incorporating new innovations and technology can put students in the drivers’ seat of their own education. We must create a pipeline for education talent in our state that will ensure there is an effective teacher in every classroom and a well-prepared principal leading every school. And we must engage parents and community to play active roles in our schools to support the work of our educators.
While it is clear that we have obstacles to overcome, I am excited about the opportunities ahead. This election is about the future and moving Georgia forward. It is a choice between staying where we’ve been — at the bottom — or harnessing our collective power and ingenuity to strive for where we want our state to be.

Alisha Thomas Morgan is a Democrat running for state school superintendent.


Resources, respect needed

By Valarie Wilson
For a decade, the state’s education headlines have offered bad news. Budget cuts. Turf battles. Poor test scores.
Yet, in many communities, parents, students and educators have come together to improve schools. Despite terrible obstacles often put in their path by Georgia legislators, they have fought for children.
I have helped lead one of our state’s most notable education success stories in Decatur. I served for 12 years on the board of City Schools of Decatur and was board chair for seven of those years.
When I joined the board in 2002, our student population had shrunk substantially. Maintaining schools stretched funds to a dangerous level. Morale was low.
But we owed the children of Decatur more than defeat. Reform was painful and difficult, but did not require a magic formula. We concentrated on the basics and a fundamental principle: Regardless of the politics, economic status or ethnic backgrounds, every child deserved a first-class education.
We made tough choices and strategic investments. We brought teachers and parents and neighbors together. In partnership, we built a new school system that served every student. No excuses. No winners and losers.
While Decatur schools enjoyed a remarkable turnaround, that’s not where we began. Georgia’s children should have the same commitment and leadership. Funding cuts have crippled schools, increased class sizes and lowered education outcomes. Because of decisions beneath the Gold Dome, school systems across Georgia were forced to furlough educators and shorten school years. This is unacceptable.
Georgia is a complicated state with an incredible array of students and education reform must reflect this diversity. What works for a large suburban system like Gwinnett might not work in poor rural systems .
Decatur’s experience can be modeled across the state. Turning things around requires a team effort, and Georgia must have a strong state school superintendent to lead the way.
My plan calls for:
–A modern school funding formula. I will work with students, parents and teachers to develop one.
–Clear, consistent guidelines for what every student should know: Georgia must continue its commitment to the Common Core, and we must equip our teachers and our students to meet these rigorous standards.
–I will work with Georgia’s lawmakers and school boards to better manage district funding so leaders can reduce class sizes, improve teaching outcomes and raise student achievement.
–Georgia must have a teacher evaluation system that not only helps teachers, but reaches children where they are. I will work with our colleges and universities, and the business community, to improve teacher performance and incentivize the best educators.
–We must be open to new ideas, but stick to the core principle that children come first. Effective change requires that we treat students, parents, and teachers with respect.

Valarie Wilson is in the Democratic primary runoff on July 22  for state school superintendent.



D.C. priorities will fail Georgians

By Richard Woods
This election is about pursuing and promoting policies that support our students and teachers instead of  current practices  that micromanage our classrooms and further the top-down model being promoted by Washington.
We must involve those who are  affected directly — students, parents and teachers. They know what works in Georgia’s classrooms.
In 2010, I shared the view common to many of my fellow educators that the acceptance of federal Race to the Top monies would be disastrous for Georgia’s students. We knew  this would lock us into harmful policies developed without crucial input from Georgia’s teachers and parents. A striking example is  Common Core standards. When combined with the arbitrary deadlines and unfunded mandates that came with these federal dollars, it is clear  the long-term interest of our students was overridden by the short-term infusion of  dollars during an economic recession.
Since then, our students and teachers have endured the botched rollout of both Common Core and a new teacher evaluation system. Now we face   the continuation of that pattern with the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) announcing a new testing system and within the month instituting a name change for this new system. This rushed approach  is hardly the measured approach we should expect from an effective administration. How can an effective testing model be rolled out when the standards haven’t even been thoroughly vetted by Georgians? How can an effective teacher evaluation model be rolled out when the new tests haven’t  been written, let alone field tested?
These failed policies remind too many of us veteran educators of No Child Left Behind.  I decided to run because I wanted to ensure that Georgia’s teachers and parents are not forced to sit on the sidelines of education reform any longer.
Many recent education successes fall solely on the quality of our communities and  teachers. They have  made the best  of a difficult situation and have done so without the support they need from  GaDOE’s leadership .
We need a fair instrument for evaluating teachers, a diagnostic approach to standardized testing, and standards that are Georgia-grown and Georgia-owned.
We’ve seen the leadership at GaDOE view teacher surveys and public comment as an afterthought . During my years as a teacher, I learned  you had to have buy-in from students, parents and the community to truly see student achievement soar. As a small-business owner,  I have to listen to what my customers want to see my business grow and succeed. Organizing community listening sessions and scheduling regular meetings with education groups will be key to get buy-in and move achievement forward. These sessions must include local legislative delegations.
Experience without learning and growing from that experience is just passing time.
Georgia’s path forward cannot be charted by looking through the rearview mirror, nor can we get there with Washington bureaucrats in the driver’s seat.

Richard Woods is in the Republican primary runoff  July 22 for  state school superintendent.

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