May 16 – THOMASVILLE – In the race for the Republican nomination for state superintendent of schools, Richard Woods wants to retain his seat. John Barge wants it back.
Woods, of Tifton, is seeking a third term as head of public schools. Barge, who recently retired from education and served as superintendent of public schools from 2011 to 2015, immediately preceded Woods.
“I think I can say I kept the promises I made,” Woods said recently at a Thomas County GOP forum. “I have fulfilled my obligations. I am the best candidate to ensure that we provide opportunities for our children and that we take care of our children.”
Woods pointed out that the state had its highest graduation rate and the state beat the national average in SAT and ACT scores.
Barge, however, countered that the state’s education system had receded under Woods’ tenure.
Barge said Education Week’s Quality Counts study ranked the state’s education system seventh in 2013. That same study, in 2020, ranked it 31st, he said.
Fourth-grade reading and math progress tests are the lowest in 15 years, Barge charged, and eighth-grade reading and math scores are the lowest in eight years.
“We’re falling back faster than we can pull ourselves together,” Barge said.
Woods asked if people remembered their favorite teacher.
“It’s not because they did great testing. It’s because they had a relationship with you,” he said. “That’s why we have to make sure our teachers have time to teach.
“When I came to power, we were only talking about testing. Right now, we’re talking about children. That’s where the proper role in education should be.”
Woods said the state has moved away from a “one size fits all” approach to education. It has now strengthened its career and professional training programs, he said.
“Four-year college is the worst mindset we’ve had, saying every kid has to go,” he said. “Creating pathways for that to happen. They’re getting industry referrals. We want to continue down that path to make sure we’re expanding the opportunities for our kids.”
The state is also pushing more STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – education and more STEAM – STEM and the arts.
“About half of our 2,300 schools are waiting to be STEM or STEAM certified,” Woods said. “We’ve developed robotics in our schools. You want to see Friday night football going inside a building, going to a robotics competition.”
Woods added that the state has expanded its United States history curriculum in elementary grades.
“Before it was two years. Now it’s three years,” he said. “We’ve sent tens of thousands of pocket constitutions to our fourth graders. We want to make sure our kids have those basics.”
Starting next year, students entering high school will be required to take a personal finance course.
“Our young people need to know how to handle money, and they know how to survive and thrive in a capitalist society,” Woods said. “We have a lot of broken homes in Georgia and that has a direct impact on education. It happens every day in our schools. I strongly believe that we are going to save families in Georgia. I’m thrilled about that.”
Woods said he is the first statewide candidate to oppose critical race theory and divisive language in schools, and supports parents’ rights in the education.
Barge said education helped shape his life. He recounted how he grew up poor in Cobb County with an alcoholic father and the family often slept on the floor of the neighbors’ house.
“I am passionate about education because I have personally experienced its ability to level the playing field,” he said. “Education is the only resource we have to break generational cycles of poverty. It changed my life, it changed my daughter’s life. It changed my grandchildren’s lives.”
Barge said the Liberal agenda is in full-strength public schools. As an example, he said, his grandson’s registration form for pre-kindergarten asked for three genders – male, female or other.
“My daughter said I wasn’t sending my child to be indoctrinated into that kind of thinking,” he said. “This agenda must be stopped or we will lose a generation of children. The left knows how to influence and they know how to win this battle. If they take this generation of children, they will be voters in 12-15 years and they will get everything agenda passed because they normalized that.”
Barge said he led the fight against a letter from the federal Department of Education demanding that school systems allow boys and girls to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. At the time, he was superintendent of schools for McIntosh County, a small system on the coast just north of Brunswick.
Barge said he sent a letter to all parents in the county stating that the directive was an opinion of the DoE’s Office of Civil Rights and did not have the weight of law. He called it excessive harm that put children at risk, but there was no guidance from the state on how to deal with it.
“We need leadership that will stand up and make these tough decisions,” he said.
Barge also said obscene material has made its way into school media centers because there is an exception for school libraries under the state’s obscenity clause.
“The left is trying to normalize this behavior without the knowledge of parents, and it has to stop,” he said.
Woods said he has no desire to run for another office, pointing to Barge’s attempts to run for the U.S. House and for governor.
“It’s important to have a person in this office who is willing to stay the course,” he said, “not to jump up and run for another office.”