Oct 14, 2022 - Politics

Georgia school superintendent race heats up

Searcy and Woods

Democrat Alisha Thomas Searcy, left, is challenging incumbent Republican Richard Woods for the state school superintendent seat. Credit: campaigns of Searcy and Woods

Down-ballot races rarely capture voters' attention, but the two candidates running for Georgia school superintendent hope to disrupt that narrative.

What's happening: Voters on Nov. 8 will decide whether to re-elect incumbent Republican Richard Woods or give his Democratic opponent, Alisha Thomas Searcy, a shot at the office.

Why it matters: The state school superintendent acts as the chief executive officer of the Georgia Department of Education and implements policy decisions approved by the State Board of Education.

What they're saying: Woods told Axios he's running for another term because he wants to offer additional graduation pathways for students, revamp the teacher and leader evaluation system, push for improved school safety and address students' mental health.

  • Woods said he's heard from superintendents around the state who say they are seeing a rise in suicide attempts or tendencies among students.
  • "It's really unfortunate how that has really stretched down to some of our younger grades," he said.

The other side: Searcy told Axios she's running to unseat Woods because she has the "experience, background [and] preparation to take on what I believe is the most difficult time in public education."

  • Searcy, a former state legislator and superintendent of schools at Ivy Preparatory Academies, also wants to address school safety and mental health issues, as well as increasing the starting pay for teachers, change the state's funding formula for education and improving reading scores among students.
  • "It is just unacceptable to me that we don't take care of the people who take care of our children," she said.

Both candidates traded barbs over whether their opponent is the right person for the job. Searcy, 44, said Woods has been "asleep at the wheel" for the last eight years and has done nothing to support districts during the pandemic.

  • "We could have been addressing mental health issues, we could have been doing significant work to fill learning gaps, but nothing has been done from the superintendent," she said.

Woods, 60, told Axios that Searcy has never been a classroom teacher, which is "very important when you're having to make decisions that largely have an impact on the people that reach our kids."

  • He also said while Searcy was a state legislator, she voted for a teacher evaluation system that would have evaluated educators six times a year.
  • "I think we have to recognize that uniqueness in our workforce and utilize them in a way which benefits them professionally," he said of teachers.

Context: The race for state school superintendent competes for attention with more high-profile races, but some developments have been noteworthy.

  • Woods gained an endorsement from the Georgia Association of Educators, which has been critical of Searcy's support of charter schools and a policy that funnels millions of dollars to private schools through scholarships paid for with tax credits, according to the AJC.
  • Searcy recently mentioned on social media that she felt "ostracized and excluded" by other Democratic candidates. On her website, she lists dozens of endorsements from community members and elected officials.

Be smart: The Atlanta Press Club will host a debate for state school superintendent candidates at 12:15pm Monday. You can watch the debate live on GPB.org or on the press club's Facebook page.


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