School pick blurs party lines in Georgia superintendent race as teachers union aims to oust Democrat – The 74

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Of the six candidates the Georgia Educators Association endorsed for statewide office, all were Democrats except one: Republican Schools Superintendent Richard Woods.

The two-term holder’s support for a controversial new ‘divisive concepts’ law that limits what teachers can say about race and diversity in the classroom was apparently less of a concern for the union than Alisha’s platform Thomas Searcy, his Democratic challenger.

“His opponent, unfortunately, has a long history of advocating for taxpayer funding of private schools that we cannot ignore,” President Lisa Morgan said when announcing the union’s slate of candidates.

Searcy was elected to the State House at just 23 years old and consistently advocated for school choice legislation during her 12 years in office. She co-wrote legislation that allows students to transfer to other schools in their district, voted in favor of the state’s tax credit scholarship program, and championed a constitutional amendment creating the Schools Commission. state charter. Groups looking to start a new charter school can apply directly to the commission instead of their local district.

“It opens up opportunities within public education for literally hundreds of thousands of children,” Searcy said, noting that his views are likely to earn him Republican votes. “I’m used to working across the aisle and having bipartisan relationships.”

Woods also supports charter schools, but expanding choice has not been a focus of his campaign.

The matchup between Woods and Searcy is taking place in the shadow of two high-profile contests in Georgia — the rematch between Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and suffrage lawyer Stacey Abrams, and the U.S. Senate race between the Rev. incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and former Republican football star Herschel Walker. But with growing concerns about the use of federal relief funds to boost student success and support a beleaguered teaching workforce, schools across the state are facing a critical moment.

The contestants “don’t have traditional platforms that are what you’d expect,” said Mikayla Arciaga, a former Atlanta Public Schools teacher and education advocate. “It’s a real test of voter education and whether people are really weighing what’s most important.”

Searcy won the primary with 57% of the vote, avoiding a runoff. She recently complained on Facebook that Abrams and Democratic groups shunned her, likely because of her focus on school choice. But she told 74 that she thinks these groups have since “changed course.”

“There may have been a problem with the establishment, not with the voters,” she said. “I’m optimistic about being included in everything and moving forward.”

“I can’t ride in the middle”

Woods and Searcy have pledged to increase support for teachers. A former teacher and administrator, Woods reduced the number of annual teacher evaluations and cut standardized tests. Now he would like the federal government to require testing only every two years and districts to reduce local assessments.

Woods also called for a teacher burnout report — a set of recommendations to protect teachers’ planning and teaching time, remove “unrealistic expectations” and increase mental health support. Hailing from a central Georgia county, Woods might appeal to rural voters who often feel out of touch with the laws and policies dictated by Atlanta.

“He did things that helped, but you can’t unequivocally say he’s a champion for teachers,” Arciaga said. “He can’t ride in the middle anymore.”

Outgoing Superintendent Richard Woods said he has the classroom experience to understand the challenges Georgia teachers face. (Courtesy Superintendent Richard Woods)

At a recent candidate forum hosted by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education and Learn4Life, Searcy attempted to critique Wood’s record on teachers, contrasting it with her own experience as a former superintendent of a small network of all-girls charter schools.

“I didn’t just listen and report. I acted because that’s what strong superintendents do,” she said. She said she made sure the teachers had enough school supplies, gave them $500 for training opportunities, and held celebrations when the teachers signed contracts to return the following year. During her tenure at Ivy Preparatory Academy, from 2015 to 2018, she said she increased teacher retention from 25% to 75%.

Searcy, who lost in a Democratic primary for state superintendent in 2014, argued the incumbent hadn’t done enough to push for a teacher pay raise. According to the National Education Association, the state’s starting teacher salary of $38,692 ranks 35th and the average salary of $60,553 ranks 21st.

Professional respect

The election also comes as the state implements a new “divisive concepts” law that many say is vaguely worded and undermines teacher professionalism. Some districts have been reluctant to adopt local policies that would allow parents or others to file complaints about a teacher’s comments. The DeKalb County District School Board initially resisted for two months but then backtracked, adopting its policy last week.

Searcy said she supports those districts’ positions on the issue and that if elected, she would make sure the guidelines for teachers are clear and protect them from consequences as long as they teach state standards. .

“Teachers fear that the state does not respect them as professionals for knowing what to teach and how to teach it,” she said.

A former history teacher, Woods told The 74 there was nothing in the law “that would stop me from being a great teacher.” But he said districts that don’t adopt a complaints policy could risk their accreditation or status as “chartered” districts shielded from certain state regulations.

Democrat Alisha Thomas Searcy met with voters in Bryan County near Savannah. (Courtesy of Alisha Thomas Searcy)

For voters, the decision may depend on their experience. Woods said his 25 years in K-12 schools gave him an edge over Searcy, who hasn’t been a teacher.

But some of his supporters say it’s time for a fresh perspective.

“We need a leader who has experience in 21st century schools,” said Jason B. Allen, an educator who served on the Ivy Prep board and ran unsuccessfully last year for the Atlanta School Board.

Ultimately, voters can make their decisions based on who they support for governor, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. In that case, Democrats opposed to expanding school choice might be surprised if they pick Searcy, he said.

He added that some of the disgruntled parents expressed at local school board meetings over the past year have not reached the state level enough to generate more interest in the superintendent’s race.
“Even if one of these candidates wins the lottery,” he said, “there’s so much noise around the Senate and gubernatorial contests that it’s hard to get people’s attention. “.


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