Is Georgia’s school superintendent now a goodwill ambassador rather than policy leader?

In writing this week about a school visit, state school Superintendent Richard Woods called for a renewed focus on the fine arts. With the diminishment of arts education over the last decade, many parents will applaud Woods’ stand.

As the governor rolled out his plan to take over failing schools, Superintendent Richard Woods visited Trion City Schools. (DOE)

As the governor rolled out his plan to take over failing schools, Superintendent Richard Woods visited Trion City Schools. (DOE)

My colleagues and I discussed whether Woods ought to be more focused this week on what’s happening at the Statehouse; he says he supports local control and is wary of overreach by the state or the feds.

Yet, Woods has not issued any response to legislation released Wednesday by Gov. Nathan Deal calling for a constitutional amendment allowing the state to take over under performing schools.

It may be Woods saw what happened to predecessor John Barge when he crossed the governor; DOE became the Capitol’s version of Siberia.

The distance from the governor’s office to the superintendent’s has been growing since Zell Miller. Governors have pursued education reform without the assistance of the elected school chief.

By design, the relationship is strained. The governor controls education spending, but the superintendent runs the state agency that oversees the education bureaucracy that supports and assesses schools

With governors marginalizing DOE and establishing their own education fiefdoms within their offices, the school chief’s job may become decorative. The superintendent may be more goodwill ambassador than policy maker or change agent.

By Richard Woods

I know from my experience as a principal that the first things you see when you walk into a school give you a clear picture of where the school staff place their values. When I visited Trion Elementary recently, one of the first things the principal pointed out was the handprints that lined the school’s hallways – clay handprints that are created when a student enters kindergarten. The principal explained that many seniors and former graduates come back to the school and search the hallways to find their handprint, a symbol of the personalized education students at Trion City Schools receive. It’s an education that is focused on the whole child.

Access to the Arts

Arts are a critical part of the Trion City School System. Vibrant tiled portraits and landscapes fill the hallways, creating an inviting and engaging learning environment. Mastering key content and concepts helps ensure that our students live productive lives, but access to the arts reminds us what life is worth living for.

The Governor has made substantial progress toward restoring the cuts made to public education funding since the start of the Great Recession, and I applaud his commitment to the arts. However, arts programs at many of our schools are still out of reach. To address this issue, I will recommend that the State Board of Education approve a new Fine Arts director position under the umbrella of the Georgia Virtual School. Not only will this opportunity allow the creation of online arts-related courses – extending the opportunity of fine arts to every Georgia student – it will also make fine arts resources available to all Georgia teachers.

I am also committed to working closely with members of the Governor’s Arts Taskforce to ensure that one of its recommendations is a permanent Fine Arts director in the Georgia Department of Education’s Curriculum division. This person will be charged with creating tools and resources to infuse fine arts into all of the content areas, as well as forging partnerships with Georgia’s museums and nonprofits so resources and opportunities are made available across the state.

Personalizing Our Education System

Visiting classrooms in Trion, I witnessed dedicated teachers who worked hard to meet the individual needs of their students. Stations, small groups, one-on-one teaching, and technology were commonplace and blended together to maximize effectiveness. Trion teachers have also come together to develop and implement a literacy program that includes an emphasis on reading, writing, and spelling as well as identifying/remediating deficiencies early on.

We are poised to make a paradigm shift in education from an overemphasis on standardization to a greater emphasis on personalization. It’s a sentiment I focused on during my campaign and one the Governor echoed when he called for Computer Science courses to count as math and world language credit. I will focus on expanding core credit flexibility and will also push for multiple diploma seals to reward students for completing career and academic pathways. Diagnostic testing and parental resources are critical components of the personalization process.

Personalization cannot stop at the education of our students but must also include the personalization of the teaching profession. Professional development must be relevant and effective. Webinars have their place, but this has been the primary delivery system for too long. We need to expand the number of content-area and grade-level academies so teachers are able to meet regionally, share resources/ideas, troubleshoot, and share common challenges they face with GaDOE staff. Resources and professional development should be tailored to areas where a teacher chronically struggles. Ultimately, these opportunities must be viewed not as punitive measures but as guides to help teachers grow as professionals. In the area of evaluation, we don’t need a one-size-fits-all approach but a tiered approach that allows administrators time to focus on beginning and weak teachers, while freeing up our effective teachers so they can teach and develop as teacher leaders.

Trion City Schools is a small school system, so small that grades K-12 are housed under one roof.  However, this small system is offering some big things for their students by bringing together teachers and administrators to address challenges head-on.

In our pursuit of accountability, we cannot allow ourselves to dehumanize our students and teachers. The handprints on the walls of Trion City Schools serve as a constant reminder that students are individuals with individual hopes and dreams – and individual needs and challenges. Only working together can we achieve our goal of teaching each child based on their individual needs.

 

Reader Comments 0

23 comments
Cere
Cere

Geeeeeeeesh!  I can't believe this!! What state does Mr. Woods think he lives in? One that doesn't keep allowing general classes to creep up and up and up in size? One that enforces a high level of classroom spending? And one that enforces replacing teachers that quit, instead of allowing schools to burgeon due to 'attrition'? One that encourages hiring the most qualified teachers and paying them a good salary with full benefits including medical and pensions and Social Security? One that backs up teachers who try to maintain order and discipline? One that has a clue as to how a state should enact certain laws tied to education spending in order to ensure that funds are being spent on children and their teachers? 


Where exactly does this guy think he lives? Georgia can't even get reading, writing and arithmetic right in many schools. Please - focus on the everyday classrooms! There are ways to spend education dollars that lead to success - but Georgia schools squander and pilfer those tax dollars - long before they reach students. Why? Because they can and they know it! The state doesn't monitor one dollar that they send to schools. Fix what's wrong at the core before you go ranting about spending more on 'extras'...

Bernie31
Bernie31

Woods is in cahoots with the Status quo. He has already been told to keep his Mouth SHUT and KEEP his Head Down! Collect yer check , go home and be grateful he has a JOB!


There will be No Rocking of the Boat.....Do you understand!


Yes Sir, Governor Deal I hear ya Loud and Clear!


You can count on me to do my part....which is Nuthin but SMILE and No OFF COLOR JOKES! at least during working Hours. The Quiet rooms are fine. For this is what they are needed for. No use in upsetting dem Coloreds. They will be Angry enough as it is, when we GIT Through!

BKendall
BKendall

He appears to be doing what I would advise him to be doing if that was my job. Plus building up damage control points and praying the media is not smart enough to discover what he has inherited, and hopefully not brave enough to publish it if they do.

Paraphrasing a little Margaret Mitchell, “Super Woods has inherited the wind.”

Betsy Ross1776
Betsy Ross1776

This is a pretty sad article and statement. He focuses on handprints on the school walls.
Really?
Handprints?
Reading, writing and math.
Please focus on what's important.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

An additional point since I didn't read all of the comments below. I appreciate @DrMonicaHenson's comments about giving Woods a chance.   I'm glad she had an opportunity to meet him and some of this appointees.  First impressions are important.  However, I have learned that politics doesn't allow folks to listen too long.   Deal has proposed a major piece of education policy legislation, and Woods should not wait too long before making a statement about it.   Educators, parents and other stakeholders are awaiting his response.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

I agree 100% with @Maureen on this one. It is very interesting that Woods has been silent on such a major issue affecting public education in Georgia.   It comes back to what I've been saying on this blog for years now.   The State Superintendent should not be an elected position.  It should be appointed by the governor.   But then again, is anything ever done right in this state?


We elect idiots to represent our interests.   Perfect example is the State Senator who yesterday decided to waste taxpayer dollars and efforts to draft a piece of legislation that would seek to annex the land around the new Braves Stadium into the City of Atlanta.   Of course, no one is co-sponsoring the bill.   Just like what happened with the anti-common core bill last year which was authored by a legislator who didn't even take the time to research the Common Core and determine which standards he felt were inappropriate for Georgia to implement.

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@living-in-outdated-ed I agree that the state superintendent should be an appointed position. That would have cut through much of what we've been living through in recent years. 

BCW1
BCW1

Time will tell!!

Starik
Starik

I'm such a cynic.  The State pays for travel, mileage and per diem... and they make the office elected soon, and he's running. Can't blame him, but this is Georgia.

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

I had the opportunity to spend about twenty minutes in substantive conversation earlier this week with Supt. Woods at the Voices for Georgia's Children legislative reception. He's quite perceptive, and both his discussion with me that evening and my observation of his behaviors and reading his press releases since he took office strike me that he is someone with common sense, political acumen, and an education agenda with regard to early education/reading, online schooling, and personalized learning that will dovetail well with the Governor's and the First Lady’s. I also met this week for lunch with Jeremy Spencer, the new Associate Superintendent for Virtual Learning at GaDOE, a Woods appointee, and my discussion with Mr. Spencer reinforces my impression of Mr. Woods' vision. 

Five weeks is a very short time in a four-year term, and I think it is quite premature to judge his platform at this point, and to take the lack of an immediate and public response to the announcement of an Opportunity School District initiative as not being “focused this week on what’s happening at the Statehouse.” He’s doing a lot of listening and a lot of reviewing, which is the mark of an effective educational leader new to a high-profile role. Let’s give him some time to establish his agenda and take some actions (which I expect will be both thoughtful and measured) before deciding. 

Bernie31
Bernie31

@DrMonicaHenson - Did the good ole boy share with you with his Favorite Past time? He has a great passion and very fond of telling Jokes about Colored People.  If he did not..Next time you have a little chat with him ask him about it. They say he is pretty Good. I am sure you will find them enjoyable as well.  uh..huh

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@Bernie31 @DrMonicaHenson You are making disgusting allegations that are libelous. I object, Maureen, to an anonymous poster on this blog being permitted to make these types of statements. 

Bernie31
Bernie31

@DrMonicaHenson @Bernie31  - This is widely known information that was discussed during the campaign season run up to the election for office, when Woods made the public aware of his penchant for such humor at a luncheon in Cobb County with area Republicans. The issue was brought forward by a African American Woman of republican leaning, who found such humor offensive. Even Woods himself apologized for such insensitive and offensive remarks of a Racial Nature.  That particular reference was then about the African Americans and their fondness of the Movie "The Color Purple." The story was even reported by the AJC. I  stand By my comment 100%!

This no secret to anyone, But YOU! 

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@Bernie31 @DrMonicaHenson  You have zero idea what I do or don't know about what you allege. "I am sure you will find them enjoyable as well" was referencing me. You imply that I would approve of that type of storytelling--libeling me while hiding behind a cowardly pseudonym. You don't know me, you know nothing about me besides what you speculate, and you have no standing to insinuate that I am a racist or would make jokes of a racial nature, which I do not and never have done. You are ruining this blog for educated readers with your stupidity, and your baseless, slanderous characterization of me is potentially legally actionable. I suggest you get your keyboard under control before you make this type of insinuation against me again. A retraction is in order. 

Bernie31
Bernie31

@DrMonicaHenson @Bernie31 - Don't hold yer Breath!
 You reeally have High opinion of yer self don't you? Sometimes that kind of opinion will prevent you fer seeing de forrest an not de Trees.  uh..huh

Astropig
Astropig

 Richard Woods is not John Barge. He could spend all day,every day at the capitol but that's not going to do much.The job he holds was so diminished by its former occupant that there are precious few real powers still attached to it.He could  try to curry favor with the press and the eduacracy by tilting at a few windmills in Atlanta. But as we've seen with Barge,the boss is not always right,but he's always the boss.


Maybe Woods thinks that the constitutional amendment proposal is the right thing to do.Maybe he is just a lot smarter than Barge (but then,a one celled amoeba can make that claim).Maybe he's doing his job and doesn't want to get caught up in the day to day under the dome...Maybe a lot of things,but since he's only been on the job about five weeks,who knows?


By the way, did Barge ever land any kind of job? He seems to have become invisible.

EdUktr
EdUktr

Maureen's determined to foment opposition to education reform. Even in the opposite political party, if possible.

But I'm guessing Mr. Woods has been around the block.

Astropig
Astropig

@EdUktr


"But I'm guessing Mr. Woods has been around the block."


Really,he has. The guy ran in 2010 (and lost to Barge) and had to win three elections last year to get the job. One of those elections was a serious cliffhanger. I think that he's smarter than to start a silly little spitting contest this early in his term with a governor that he's simpatico with anyway and has already shown that he isn't afraid to play hardball. I say give the man time-let him get his feet under him. 

Dismuke
Dismuke

@EdUktr I agree, EduCrater.  That Maureen is always trying to foment opposition.  Her radical centrist agenda is way too far left for this state.  I really hate it when she gives voice to *both* sides on an issue--how dare she!  Absolute insanity, if you ask me.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"In our pursuit of accountability, we cannot allow ourselves to dehumanize our students and teachers. The handprints on the walls of Trion City Schools serve as a constant reminder that students are individuals with individual hopes and dreams – and individual needs and challenges. Only working together can we achieve our goal of teaching each child based on their individual needs"

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Beautifully stated by State Superintendent of Schools Woods.


Yes, "in our pursuit of accountability, we cannot allow ourselves to dehumanize our students and teachers."  I will go further to state that, if we ever do that to students and teachers, we will have crushed the very raison d'etre of education, itself.


I must repost my post from the last thread here:


"Profit-making has NO place in public education.  Whenever profit is the main focus, then there will be too much priority on competition, not cooperation.  Whenever profit is the main focus, and competition is the outcome, then cut-throat tactics surface. Cut-throat tactics have NO place in the public education of children."