ROSWELL, Ga. – Roswell educator Kira Willis has announced her candidacy for state school superintendent, running on a platform of increased flexibility for local schools and a “just say no” stance when it comes to federal funding and oversight.
This is Willis’ second run at the state’s top education job, having run in 2010 as the Libertarian candidate when she garnered 125,000 votes statewide. Despite the Libertarian banner three years ago, Willis said her views on education remain aligned with the conservative majority in Georgia.
“I was conservative in 2010, and I’m even more convinced that conservative values of increasing school choice and prioritizing spending are the keys to improving Georgia’s education system,” said Willis, who will run in the Republican primary in May 2014.
A new superintendent will replace current officeholder John Barge, who surprised many when he opted to run for governor instead of seeking re-election.
Willis has been an educator in the Fulton County School System for nearly two decades and is currently the graduation coach and response to intervention (RTI) coordinator at North Springs Charter High School. She previously taught at Woodland Middle School, Centennial High School and Roswell High School.
Though the election is more than a year away, Willis has very clear ideas of what is working, and what is not, in Georgia education. She dislikes the limited options for parents when it comes to school choice based on street address alone, believes there is too much control from the federal government over local schools and supports allowing kids to test out of courses once they have mastered the material.
The state is, however, moving in the right direction when it comes to some aspects of education reform, said Willis.
“We are finally moving away from the excessive testing that we have had in the past, [and] the class of 2014 is the last class to sit for the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT),” said Willis.
She also supports the new Teacher Keys (TKES), which provides a mechanism to evaluate the effectiveness of classroom teachers.
“Although I believe it needs a bit of work, as the implementation seems to be more punitive than it should be, teachers want the chance to shine,” said Willis.
What she would seek to jettison, if elected, is the relatively small percentage of federal education funds that come to the state, yet bring with it significant intervention in local school operation.
“It’s a very simple plan: Say no to federal money,” she said. “With federal money come federal mandates that far outweigh the amount ‘awarded’ to Georgia.”
She cites the $40 million awarded to Georgia to implement the Common Core Curriculum and the assessments (PARCC) that came along with the curriculum. In comparison, the state outlay for education is more than $7 billion annually.
Willis believes she brings a parent and teacher perspective to a political position, and can build bridges between the Department of Education and elected officials.
“I am not a seasoned politician, and I think that is one of the reasons why I am a candidate who [can] go to the state department and talk about education from a practical and level-headed standpoint,” she said. “We must keep the children in the forefront of our mind when making any educational decisions.”
Willis, 45, is certified as an educational specialist in curriculum and instruction and has a master’s degree in education leadership from Kennesaw State University. She and her husband, Todd, an assistant principal at Elkins Pointe Middle School in Roswell, have two children.