Georgia Department of Education superintendent Richard Woods was in Columbus on Thursday morning to visit Fox Elementary School, where GaDOE staff members brought donations of approximately 50 backpacks filled with school supplies.
Fox, Northside Primary School (Tift County), Screven County Elementary School and Jenkins White Elementary School (Richmond County) are the four schools the GaDOE selected to receive the donations this year, totaling nearly $3,000 for an estimated 170 filled backpacks from GaDOE staff and about 70 additional donors throughout the state, said GaDOE communications director Meghan Frick.
During his visit, Woods took time for a quick Q&A with the Ledger-Enquirer. Here is a transcript from that interview, edited for brevity and clarity:
As the school year has begun, what’s the best thing that’s going on in public education in Georgia that folks need to know about?
“The opportunities for kids are just far exceeding anything I’ve seen in my lifetime in education. This is a positive reflection that our teachers and administrators are really focusing on meeting the needs of children. It’s not so much just looking at the tests, but it’s looking at all aspects of the children, and that’s really exciting.”
With the Georgia Milestones results, what should we pay attention to that is most significant?
“The encouraging thing, especially, some of the reading scores are continuing to go up, which is exciting. We’re really focusing on that, especially in the K-5 area, and the emphasis on reading is really paying off. But Milestones is an extremely hard test. It’s largely based on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), which really is almost the gold standard when it comes to testing. So we’re hitting strides. We either met the bar or exceeded the bar in 18 out of 20-something tests, so I’m excited about the trends we see. You combine that with our rising graduation rate, test scores on the ACT and SAT again beating the national average, so great things are going on academically in Georgia.”
What are you most disappointed or concerned about, where Georgia needs to do better?
“As we continue to look at what we can improve, funding always continues to be an issue, and that’s because it can expand the opportunities for our children. But also I think the poverty rate, that is probably the biggest challenge we face within the state, but we are seeing a lot of our state agencies coming together. Economic development is partnering with us and other groups to be more focused on providing opportunities for communities throughout the state, instead of just the metro (Atlanta) area. So I hope we’ll see great benefits with that as well.”
You’ve differed with the governor about the structure of the turnaround initiative to help chronically failing schools. Do you still insist the Chief Turnaround Officer should report to you instead of the Georgia Board of Education, which the governor appoints?
“My position on that hasn’t changed, but the law is what it is. … Our mission has not changed. At the end of the day, we want all schools to succeed. Recently, we made a change within our school improvement team. We hired (2017 National Principal of the Year finalist) Stephanie Johnson out of Maynard Jackson (in Atlanta), who has a track record of turning around schools. She’s here with us in Columbus today. … (She is) an individual that brings instant credibility to what we’re trying to do, and that’s to make sure all our schools improve. … Our mission is to make sure schools don’t get on a (failing) list. That has not changed. Whoever that turnaround officer is, I hope to be the one that drives him out of a job.”
Talking about jobs, you’re reapplying for your job. Why do you think voters should re-elect you in 2018?
“Looking at the 2½ years, a lot of great things have been done. We’ve been able to put the focus back on our children. We’ve reduced the emphasis on the tests and really put the emphasis on getting our kids ready for life. We are seeing a lot of great trends. We have a focus now on literacy in K-5, which in my experience always has been something we’ve got a shortfall in within the state. We’re looking at opportunities with Move On When Ready (the Georgia program allowing high school students to earn college credit) that continue to expand. We’re working with business and industry to say, ‘What do you need? How can we support you in being able to provide our kids with good opportunities for employment later on?’ So, looking at the track record, I feel we’re heading in a great trend, and I would like to see the mission completed. If we get another six years total (the end of this term and possibly another four-year term), I think – well, I don’t think; I know – that we in Georgia will be very pleased.”