The last time Richard Woods spoke at the Georgia Association of Educational Leadership conference was the summer of 2014 and he was facing a tense run-off with then Chief Academic Officer Mike Buck. Woods beat Buck even after a recount and went on to defeat Democrat Val Wilson despite Wilson outspending Woods by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Speaking to superintendents, principals, and other administrators in Athens at the GAEL Winter conference, Woods showed them they have an ally at the state level whether they voted for him or not.
“We’ve got to work together and that’s my commitment, to work together. Our kids do not gain if we are at divisive ends,” Woods said.
Those assembled in Athens had a strong understanding that this man from Tift County who spent most of his educational in rural county is committed to working with every school from the top of Georgia down to Camden County on the Georgia coast. Woods, because of his years in the classroom as a history teacher and on the sidelines as a football coach in Irwin County certainly brings a positive light and more accessibility than the previous administration.
“I believe that the standards and values of our state must be Georgia grown and Georgia owned,” Woods said.
In the same vein, as one of his political heroes, Woods has stayed on message, just like Ronald Reagan did in his mission to peacefully end the Cold War with the United States victorious. With less than a month on the job Woods has continued to advocate less testing and more teaching and opposing federal involvement in Georgia’s education.
He made his first official visit to some Athens areas schools as the state’s new superintendent. Woods choose to visit Cedar Shoals High School and Gaines Elementary because of scores in the low 50’s on the states CCGRPI (Georgia College Career Ready Performance Index).
Admittedly, Woods at first thought, like most, that it could be lack of strong teaching or leadership that created those low scores but when he put a human face with the problem he found out that wasn’t so.
Eating lunch with the teachers and administration he found out that the problem is a direct result of how the federal government continues to totally ignore the 10th Amendment.
Cedar Shoals Principal Tony Price pointed to the IB curriculum which is one of the most focused and rigorous in the country. While other state superintendents have paid mere lip service to cutting the federal intrusion in education, Woods is committed to returning Georgia education to Georgia. Currently most new teachers leave the classroom within five years because of the strangling bureaucratic control and lower pay.
Right now I think we are giving them shackles and anchors,” Woods said. “I think you have been given too much at one time, and you are overloaded. I don’t want you to be data collectors. I don’t want you to be compliance officers. I want you to be teachers.”
Before Woods went to Athens to lay out his goals for Georgia education he penned a letter to United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan vehemently opposing the increased testing that is accompanying the reauthorization and rewriting of No Child Left Behind.
“Georgia recently entered into a $108 million contract to deliver federally mandated standardized tests to our students. That figure does not include the millions of dollars spent to develop and validate test questions and inform the public about the new tests. This adds to the need for an audit to provide information on the number of tests and loss of instructional time our children endure, as well as a cost/benefit analysis on our current national testing model…teachers should not view tests as tools that tie their hands as professionals, but as tools that help them grow in their profession. Students should not view tests as tools that can strengthen barriers to be promoted or to graduate, but as tools that help them overcome those barriers. Schools should not view tests as tools that can doom them to failure, but as tools that serve as a compass pointing them down the path of success. Testing must be a tool in our toolbox, but we need more rulers and fewer hammers.”
Nationally, Woods’ “more teaching, less testing” is picking up some support from some key individuals, such as school reform guru Dianne Ravitch.
“Superintendent Woods sounds like a veteran educator, which he is. He pulls no punches” wrote Ravitch.
Georgia's State School Superintendent
Richard Woods has over 25 years of pre-k through 12th grade experience in public education. > Read Full Bio