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15 battle for top education position

State school superintendent race draws crowded field

May 14, 2014

ATLANTA – The race to become Georgia's next superintendent of schools has drawn an unprecedented 15 candidates vying for the opportunity to direct public school education in the state for the next four years.

The field of candidates includes several career educators, along with those whose experience comes more from the business world and political arenas. The winner will take over for current Superintendent John Barge who is stepping down in January for a long-shot run at the governor's office.

The stakes are high for the next superintendent, who must field calls on both sides of the Common Core educational standards debate; from those looking to walk away from the national standards to those who wish to continue on the current path.

Appen Media sent a list of questions to all candidates to include in the candidate's profile. The following are excerpts taken from those who responded by press time.

Dr. Mary Kay Bacallao (R)


Seven years of experience as an educator in Florida; 16 years of experience as professor of education at St. Thomas University and Mercer University; served on the Fayette County Board of Education.

Why are you running for state school superintendent?

Academic freedom has been taken away from parents, teachers and locally elected officials. The people who care the most about the students no longer have any decision making authority over standards or testing. My comparison of the new math standards brought knowledge and truth to the complicated debate over Common Core. I could not stop the failed policies of our state and federal government as a Fayette County School Board member, so I plan to stop them with the authority of Georgia's state school superintendent. 

What sets you apart from the other candidates?

I am the only candidate who has the necessary understanding, background and credentials to get us out of the Common Core debacle and return authority to parents, teachers and locally elected officials. I am the only candidate with a plan to jump past all the other states that are bogged down with failed policies. I am the only candidate that has voted against Common Core implementation and worked with our state legislators to end Common Core here in Georgia. 

What do you see as the top issue in education today?

If we really want to measure student growth, we would select diagnostic tests that measure content over multiple grade bands – not the CRCTs. These tests narrowly focus on grade-specific expectations. There are many students who are not challenged by the grade level standards, and it is a waste of time for them. They will always "exceed expectations." Those are deceptive words. I will stop this nonsense and test only reading level, writing level, math level and verifiable science at the state level. 

If elected, what would you change immediately?

I will revise the state-run testing system so that districts are free to meet the needs of their students. We will use placement tests so that parents and teachers will have information on what students can do. Our tests will measure growth. Our Georgia students will be challenged and taught at the appropriate instructional level, not the government-dictated Common Core level.  Parents, teachers and locally elected officials will have the academic freedom they need to meet the needs of their students. School ratings will contain accurate information on student achievement. Our school rating scores will not be calculated by the U.S. Department of Education, but here in Georgia and based on actual student achievement. 

Denise Freeman (D)


Former educator and member of the Lincoln County Board of Education.

Why are you running for state school superintendent?

Many Georgians all over our state know me as a fighting advocate for children, teachers and parents. As a former teacher and school board member, I am proud to have earned the support and personal friendship of so many parents, educators and school board officials over the years. I will work hard for public education, to secure it, fully fund it, to reach the goals of treating teachers as professionals and providing a quality education for all students. I will strive to improve salary, comprehensive health care benefits and services for active and retired public education employees. I will continue to fight for public education.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?

I have worked with many counties around the state of Georgia on issues concerning public education for the last 27 years. I've taught in the public school system. I have served as a school board member for eight years. I know the ins and outs of public education. I am very familiar with the budget process as well as the classroom and the support staff such as teacher assistants, bus drivers, food service workers, custodians, maintenance, just to name a few.

What do you see as the top issue in education today?

1)    Fully funding Georgia's public education system to end furlough days and return to 180 days of instruction.

2)    Separating education funds from the general budget, and only allowing it to be used for public educational purposes.

3)    No more unfunded mandates and that every school which receives public education funds will be under local control.

If elected, what would you change immediately?

I will work with the governor and legislators to fully fund Georgia's public education system in order to end furlough days and also return to 180 days of instruction.

I will hold meetings in each congressional district and invite teachers, public education employees, parents, colleges and universities and other stakeholders to hear their views about public education in their area of the state. I want to know what they envision concerning education. I want to make sure that I work to get them what they need in order to provide a quality education to every student.

My staff and I will begin to make changes to the BOE website to make it easier to navigate.

Mike Buck (R)


Currently serves as the chief academic officer for the Georgia Department of Education. Has had a 30-year career in education, with experience in Oglethorpe County, Columbia County and Rome City Schools.

Why are you running for state school superintendent? 

I did a lot of contemplating before I decided to enter this race. I heard what people were running against, but I didn't hear what people were running for. I will be a champion for our students, educators, parents and communities. My platform is the "3 C's." First is character, both my own personal character and the character we must develop in our young people. Second is credentials. Look at my credentials as if you were about to employ somebody. Finally, is commitment. I have devoted 31 years of my life as a servant leader in education.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?

For the past three years, I have worked side by side with the current superintendent. I have seen how to carry out the duties and the responsibilities of the job. I will be an advocate for the children, first and foremost. The litmus test for every decision will be is it good for the children? I am for school choice. I have three children, and I want to choose where they go to school. As state school superintendent, I want to make public schools great so they are THE choice of parents across Georgia.

What do you see as the top issue in education today?    

First, our graduation rate is a significant issue. Most students do not drop out because of a lack of aptitude. They drop out because they do not see the relevance of what they are learning. We must help students discover their passion. Second is the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers. We must restore pride in the education profession. We must draw top talent into our classrooms. Last, funding continues to be a real challenge for education. We need to view education as an investment, not an expense and we must give districts more flexibility to utilize their resources.

If elected, what would you change immediately?

I have been a bridge builder my entire career. You can expect to see a renewed emphasis on building bridges between the superintendent's office, the Georgia State Board of Education, the governor's office and the legislature. In addition, I will work diligently to include all stakeholders on the front side of major decisions. In my administration, there will be a strong emphasis on the Georgia Department of Education being a service agency designed to support our local districts as they serve Georgia's 1.7 million students.

Richard Woods (R)


Coach and teacher at Irwin County School System for 22 years; 14 years as an administrator at all levels; responsibilities included improvement plan development, staff development, facilities, transportation, testing and purchasing.

Why are you running for state school superintendent?

Georgia education is at a crossroads. I believe that I have the education wisdom, experience, leadership and personal skills needed regain our state's focus. We must look to provide our students with the opportunity to continue their education, become productive employees and business leaders and live successful lives. Georgia's students deserve the very best education, and I will work tirelessly to ensure that commitment is met.


What sets you apart from the other candidates?

I have the educational and business [experience] needed to lead Georgia schools. I have worked in public education for over 22 years; 14 of those years as a high school social studies teacher and eight years as an administrator and school leader. I was a department chairperson and Teacher of the Year nominee.

I also have business experience, managing multi-million dollar budgets for private corporations with experience in using funds efficiently and effectively. I also currently own and operate a small business.

What do you see as the top issue in education today?

Prioritize the classroom. Remove unnecessary data collection, meaningless paperwork and repetitive documentation. Reduce class sizes. Use a diagnostic approach to standardized testing. Education must be personalized and not standardized.

Prioritize the standards. Provide students with mastery of reading, math and writing prior to leaving fifth grade. Emphasize our nation's history, the Constitution, political system and personal finance. Consider moving toward a skill-based promotion system. Offer electives that provide real world application and apprenticeship opportunities with businesses.

Protect governance. Allocate needed flexibility to Georgia's local school systems to more properly address the educational needs of their students.

If elected, what would you change immediately?

Within my first days in office, I will conduct meetings with all of the state's education stakeholders. I will listen to their concerns but also challenge them to present solutions. I plan to go beyond the photo ops that have been the staple of past state superintendents and find out what's working and what's not in education. I believe that we have lacked a vision for education that is shaped by the input of Georgians.

As state school superintendent, I will conduct a full audit (both of personnel and finances) of the Georgia Department of Education.

I will meet my campaign promise by beginning to implement my C4 Solutions Plan that is "Child Focused, Classroom Centered, Common Sense Over Common Core and Cost Effective."

RN 05-15-14

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