Education

State Superintendent Candidates Debate Issues

Former Georgia School Boards Association President Valarie Wilson and Irwin County educator Richard Woods debated each other in the race for state schools superintendent.
Former Georgia School Boards Association President Valarie Wilson and Irwin County educator Richard Woods debated each other in the race for state schools superintendent.
Credit Martha Dalton/WABE News

Georgia students are back in class and whether they know it or not, they’ll have a new leader in January. In November, voters will elect a new state schools superintendent. Tuesday, the two candidates vying for that post debated each other for the first time at a forum hosted by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

Hear the broadcast version of this story.

Democrat Valarie Wilson and Republican Richard Woods debated topics from budgets to teacher evaluations to the Common Core standards. Wilson said the standards should stay.

“I think that our Common Core standards are strong standards,” she said. “I think that our teachers are excited about them. I think that if anything else, if nothing else, we have to get to standards that we stay with.”

Before the Common Core came along in 2012, schools used the Georgia Performance Standards. The GPS were first implemented  in 2005. Before GPS, it was the Quality Core Curriculum. Teachers have said switching so much hasn’t been good for instruction or students.

Woods said he didn’t agree with the state board of education’s decision to adopt the standards in 2010. But now that they’re here, he said, teachers should be able to review them and make changes if needed.

“I want to make sure that we, as a state, have the flexibility to move and control education in Georgia, and that’s specifically at the local level because all schools are different,” Woods said.  

Woods also called for a two-year moratorium on the state’s new testing system, Georgia Milestones. The Common Core-aligned tests are currently being developed. Woods said officials need to take a cautious approach.

“Unfortunately, I just feel like we’re just jumping too fast into something, and especially if it’s tied to teacher accountability,” he said after the debate. “We’ve never field-tested the test. We have nothing in terms of looking at the test questions, they’re even in development as we talk.”

The tests will be issued this year. Scores will be included in new teacher and principal evaluations. Wilson says the state should proceed with Georgia Milestones carefully.

“I wouldn’t necessarily call for a moratorium,” Wilson said. “But I think that we need to be sensitive to the testing that we are doing and make sure it’s not done in a manner that makes kids feel bad about what they’re doing or makes teachers feel bad about what they’re able to do.”

Woods and Wilson both said they support charter schools, although Wilson is not a fan of privately run charters.

They took different positions on budgeting. Wilson supports a separate education budget. Woods proposed auditing the education department before making other monetary decisions. 

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