By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
State superintendent race offers choices
0709SUPERBrian Westlake
Brian Westlake

School Superintendent candidates
(primary winners face Libertarian Kevin Cherry and Independent incumbent Brad Bryant in November)


Beth Farokhi
Age: 62
Residence: Marietta
Experience:Former teacher in Cobb County schools. Administrator at Georgia State University’s College of Education

What she’ll do if elected:
Be an advocate for children, parents and teachers. Provide leadership and vision to create confidence in public schools. Improve early childhood education; stop teaching to the test; create a balanced curriculum for the whole child-the physical, the intellectual, the emotional, and the creative; focus on respecting educators, acknowledging their expertise.


Joe Martin
Age: 67
Experience: U.S. Army veteran, served in Vietnam. Businessman, former president of Atlanta School Board. Democratic nominee for post in 1998, lost general election to Linda Schrenko.

What he’ll do if elected:
Work to improve financing of schools, enhance teaching profession, raise academic performances. Insist on a functioning student information system. Reduce time spent on state tests. Increase range of alternatives for students in public schools. Improve relationship between state, local systems. Expand opportunities for all students. Involve parents and broader community.


Brian Westlake
Age: 40
Residence: Decatur
Experience: Public school teacher, former U.S. Marine.

What he’ll do if elected:
Begin hard work of coalition building to create a culture that is more supportive of the necessary investments in public education. Believes we need to create a culture in this state that will not allow any future politician to consider balancing the budget on the backs of our school children.



John D. Barge
Age: 43
Residence: Rome
Experience: Director of Bartow County School System, former principal of Chestatee High School.

What he’ll do if elected:
Return the high school math curriculum from an experimental, failed program to a more traditional program. Create multiple exit points for graduation from Georgia’s public schools. Eliminate waste and help reallocate funding to protect the integrity of Georgia’s public schools. Return common sense to testing and assessment in Georgia.


Richard Woods
Age: 47
Residence: Tifton
Experience: Former teacher and principal, now curriculum director of Irwin County Elementary School, PAGE representative.

What he’ll do if elected:
Offer students a superior educational experience that will provide the widest range of opportunities possible in their post-secondary experiences. To accomplish, plans to use a common-sense approach and apply what we know works in education to develop a solid educational foundation and protect the integrity of the classroom.

With an independent incumbent, Libertarian, two Republicans and three Democrats, the race for state school superintendent is shaping up to be an interesting race.

Kathy Cox, the Republican superintendent who helped implement the Georgia Performance Standards, raise test scores and increase the graduation rate for Georgia, left July 1 to head a new education nonprofit group in Washington, D.C.

Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed Republican Brad Bryant as the superintendent until November, reportedly passing over Republican candidates John Barge and Richard Woods because he disagrees with some of their ideas. To join the ballot in November, Bryant must seek thousands of signatures by next week to run as an independent. With an incumbent facing the primary winners in November, a general election runoff could be on the horizon in December.

Despite the politics at play, the role of the superintendent remains the most important aspect for local superintendents.

“Constitutionally, the superintendent role should be a support position to help the 180 local systems to help boys and girls,” said Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield. “The recent movement has assumed the superintendent is in the position of leading education, and I would like to see the return to a service mentality to support local systems. There are so many different districts across Georgia, and I hope we’ve gotten beyond the belief that one size fits all.”

The new superintendent already faces a few specific questions, including the budget, the Race to the Top grant application and Common Core State Standards approved Thursday.

“We say the budget is a grim reality for schools, and it’s going to become a more grim reality,” said Steve Dolinger, director of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, a nonpartisan group that helps educators across Georgia understand current issues.

“The revenue projections keep falling below the governor’s even modest projections, and when 90 percent of the budget is salary and benefits, there’s not a whole lot left.”

Under the Race to the Top application, funding also plays a huge rule. The grant, part of a $4 billion effort by the federal government to help struggling schools, requires districts to explain standards and assessment, track student achievement through data, employ certified teachers and leaders, and turn around the lowest-achieving schools. Georgia took third place in the first round of the grant and missed the funding opportunity by mere points. Perdue announced a shot for the second round in June, and a list of winners is expected in September.

“If we win, that’s good news and a lot of work in those areas,” Dolinger said. “If we don’t, it’s still a lot of work to be done but less money to do it with.”

Barge and Woods both favor cutting ties with the federal government, citing federal standards as the reason for “testing mania” in schools and pitting them against Race to the Top. Many have guessed this is why Perdue passed over them to support Bryant as the next leader.

Barge, a school system administrator and past high school principal, touts his credentials as the only candidate with experience in rural, urban and suburban school system.

Woods, an educator for 22 years, sees the federal department of education as “unconstitutional” and seeks to give local school systems as much autonomy as possible.

The Democrats are seeking different ideals. Teacher Brian Westlake is looking for more teacher input across the board while Georgia State University administrator Beth Farokhi hopes to change the testing system to focus on “real learning.” Atlanta board of education member Joe Martin plans to use his experience in the business world to change how education is funded in the state.

The next superintendent will also head up the implementation of Common Core State Standards, which is a state-led initiative to establish nationwide standards for students in each grade. The state Board of Education approved the standards on Thursday, and the new curriculum will roll out in fall 2011.

New requirements under Race to the Top and Common Core link directly back to the budget, which must remain the top focus, said Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer.

“Instructional and curricular implementation will go on, however, when these guidelines are given, they often involve services delivered by personnel,” she said. “The reality of the budget and what they are able to fund and not fund will precede everything else.”

How the superintendent works with the new governor on issues of school choice, school vouchers and charter schools also links back to budget questions, Dyer added.

“Students have the right to transfer back and forth, but where they’re sitting on certain days in October and March is who gets the money for the students,” she explained. “If you don’t have them sitting there, you don’t get the funding for them, and that falls down to everything else, such as funding for curriculum, instruction and capital outlay. I’m not against parents having choice, but there need to be controls on the budget aspect and how it impacts the local public school system.”