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Education of over 1.6 million students at stake as candidates debate in Macon

Candidates for Georgia school superintendent, from left: Democrat Otha Thornton and Republican incumbent Richard Woods
Candidates for Georgia school superintendent, from left: Democrat Otha Thornton and Republican incumbent Richard Woods mlee@macon.com

Georgia’s school superintendent oversees the education of about 1.6 million students. Republican Richard Woods is looking for four more years of that work, while Democrat Otha Thornton is looking to take over the office in this year’s election.

Woods spent more than two decades in schools, as a teacher, department chair and teacher mentor. He’s campaigned heavily on his record in office, which includes moving away from standardized tests. In a recent debate, as he put it, it’s an approach that prepares students for life, seeing them not as test scores, but as individuals.

Woods has said that in a second term, he’d look to offering more of the kinds of things that are already going on but that can help expand students’ horizons further. That includes things such as dual-enrollment classes; science, technology, engineering and math education and fine arts opportunities.

Thornton’s education resume is built in large part on his time with the Parent Teacher Association, first as a parent member and later as the first black male president of the National PTA. Retired from the U.S. Army, he’s said that the state needs to work on more “wraparound” services to for students’ social, medical and mental health needs outside of school hours.

Thornton has said he’d work with private corporations to help pay for those wraparound services.

Both Woods and Thorton have said that it would be good to pay teachers more and to sweeten the financial deal for them in other ways, like giving student loan forgiveness.

Diplomacy and lobbying on the part of the schools boss will be part of delivering on those promises. The state Department of Education doesn’t raise its own money. Funding for schools is set and raised by the federal government, local property taxes and, on the state level, the Georgia Legislature and the governor.

Election Day is Nov. 6. Early voting begins Monday. Check the Georgia Secretary of State’s website for early voting times and locations in each county.

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