State Superintendent Richard Woods spoke on his support for local control, including on trade-oriented classes and school start dates, during a Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce luncheon Sept. 14.
Woods, who took office in 2015 and is running for re-election this year against Democrat Otha Thornton, has focused his platform on decentralizing control, saying he thinks local districts should make the big decisions for their schools, including school schedules.
Legislation was introduced in the General Assembly’s last session that would prohibit schools from starting prior to the third week in August. A state Senate study committee is researching how changing the school schedule could affect the travel and hospitality industries.
Woods said he understands some industries could be helped by a longer summer, but the school calendar would have to be made up somewhere, either by ending later or cutting mid-year breaks, he said. He also believes the start date should not be mandated by the state.
“I really believe in local control and I think they know what is best for their kids,” said Woods, who oversees 1.8 million students across 180 districts.
About 90 percent of Georgia children attend public schools, he said.
He also believes the importance of tests should be de-emphasized, Woods said at the luncheon, which was held in the City Springs Studio Theatre.
“Success is not measured by test scores,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure our kids are ready for life.”
Encouraging every student to pursue a college degree from a four-year university is also unnecessary, he said. There is a shortage of employees to fill manual labor jobs, including electrician and contractor positions, he said.
“Those are good and honorable trades. They are things that we need,” he said.
Shop classes have upgraded dramatically to fill that need in recent years, he said.
Increasing local district decisions also includes creating programs focused on trades, Woods said.
He has encouraged prominent industries to partner with their local districts to create coursework that could support that business, such as mining in north Georgia or entertainment industry needs. One of the major missing pieces in Georgia needed for the entertainment industry is people who write scripts, so they created new coursework for that, he said.
“We want to make sure that we are listening to businesses throughout the state,” he said.
Agriculture remains the largest industry in the state, he said, but entertainment jobs have grown rapidly as a state tax credit and other incentives draw film and TV productions to Georgia.
“Opportunities like we have never seen are at the doorstep for our children,” Woods said.
Large school districts in the north metro area should be leaders for smaller districts in the state, Woods said.
“You are great incubators of innovation,” he said of Fulton County and other large districts in the area.