Mr. Otha Thornton (D) and incumbent Mr. Richard Woods (R) are running for the office of Georgia State School Superintendent and one will be elected on November 6. GAGC asked each candidate about their commitment to gifted education, and their responses are below:
From Mr. Otha Thornton: As the State School Superintendent, I will thoroughly look at Special Education and Gifted Education, in addition to other services which will raise the standard of education in Georgia for all students. I firmly believe every child deserves a world-class education. Once in office, I will be forming committees from all around the state to review all aspects of public education. We need to meet each child where they are. That means I will ensure our schools are provided with the resources and staffing they need to serve our children well.
From Mr. Richard Woods: Since taking office, I have been strongly committed to expanding opportunities and pathways for success for Georgia’s nearly 1.8 million students. Though the policy pendulum has shifted from a four-year college focus to a technical school focus and from AP focus to a dual enrollment focus, I have stood firm in protecting all of our pathways for our kids. They deserve a myriad of strong, vibrant pathways for success that are positioned around their passions, talents, and potential.
From the beginning, the strategic focus I have brought to the Georgia Department of Education has been on the ‘whole child’ and ensuring a balanced education – a strong gifted education program is a key part of ensuring that mission is met. By working together to enact state policy changes to crafting and delivering a long-term plan for our gifted and talented students and educators, I am confident that we can not only accelerate opportunity, but also sustain and strengthen the success of our gifted programs across the state.
I do support the requirement that those teaching gifted students and in charge of gifted education programs hold an endorsement, but I do not have the authority to alter the guidelines in state law. Stakeholders of the gifted education community – including teachers and students – have two avenues to address this pressing issue: 1) that the state legislature support and pass legislation that specifically includes language that gifted certification cannot be waived or 2) federal statute and guidelines are expanded to include an non-waivable gifted education requirement for educators.
There were efforts from the Governor and some members of the State Board of Education to strip AP and IB opportunities from the state’s accountability system, which would have led to a narrowing of opportunities for our gifted community. I stood firm and ensured those programs were protected.When members of the legislature moved to narrow AP exam reimbursements to just STEM areas, I pushed pack to ensure that decision was reversed and student choice of AP options were not narrowed or eliminated. Currently, the Department of Education is finalizing funds allocated for rural areas that how limited or zero AP programing.
Outlined in our approved state ESSA plan, we have convened a group of stakeholders from the gifted community to craft a set of recommendations to move this issue forward: On page 73: GaDOE will convene a meeting of Georgia’s gifted community, representing students, parents, organizations, and educators, to develop a plan to provide creative solutions to best serve Georgia’s gifted students. This plan with recommendations will be shared with members of the state legislature. In addition, GaDOE will include gifted related resources, tools, district best practices, etc. in the online “toolbox” that will be developed and made available to districts.
As state school superintendent, it is my commitment that I advocate that those recommendations be addressed during the upcoming legislative session and that additional resources are allocated for the Department of Education to expand quality professional development opportunities for gifted educators.