Gwinnett County school board candidates face off at forum

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

All seven candidates running for two seats participated.

Two Gwinnett County school board candidates described the district as a ship off course at a forum on Wednesday.

But Steve Knudsen, the only incumbent running in the May 24 elections, said that the ship is still “ahead of the pack” and needs experienced leadership to continue making progress. He’s running against Michael Rudnick in District 2.

Seven candidates running for two seats participated in the forum at the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce offices in Duluth.

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

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The five candidates running in District 4 are Kelly Kautz, Tony Sellers, Adrienne Simmons, Matt Sones and Alexis Williams. That seat is current held by Everton Blair, who is not running for reelection.

Williams and Rudnick were the most critical of the district, saying it has taken a turn for the worse.

“If we continue the route we’re going, Gwinnett County is not going to be the place that we all know and remember,” Rudnick said. He said he moved to the district specifically for the special education program his son needs.

“The good news is, it’s not too late for us to change captains and to make a course correction that we so desperately need,” Williams said.

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Knudsen, the school board’s current vice chair, described the district’s successes, including innovative programs such as the opportunity to get medical field training and certifications at McClure Health Science High School.

“We’re not perfect, but we’re definitely ahead of the pack,” he said. “And we need to keep moving and look for ways to close those gaps and continue to pursue excellence.”

Sellers, a former teacher, said he wanted to address issues he saw working at Berkmar High School, including crowded classrooms and the amount of standardized tests. He also suggested the district rethink how it funds schools.

Multiple questions focused on the connection between school and workforce. All candidates agreed on the value of the district’s partnerships with the business community and local colleges.

Simmons and Sones drew attention to basic math and literacy as the foundation for future job or academic skills.

“About half of all GCPS middle school students and half of all GCPS high school students are not proficient in math,” said Sones, a policy analyst. “We can’t send kids who are struggling in these areas into the workforce or into colleges.”

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Simmons, a Georgia Department of Education assessment specialist, said college and career readiness starts in early learning. “We need to make sure students are learning to read in the early grades,” she said.

Kautz, a juvenile court attorney and former mayor of Snellville, said counselors are carrying a heavy load, helping students with career and college choices as well as other issues. She suggested hiring staff to assist with those duties.

The May elections will be the first with ballots that do not identify candidates’ political parties. A bill backed by Republicans made school board elections in Gwinnett, Georgia’s largest school district, nonpartisan and eliminated the need for primaries.