Gwinnett school board candidates differ on equity, parents’ rights law

Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Nick Masino speaks during a candidate forum for Gwinnett County School Board at the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in Duluth, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Nick Masino speaks during a candidate forum for Gwinnett County School Board at the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in Duluth, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Seven candidates vying for two seats on Gwinnett County’s school board differ on hot-button issues in the district, such as the effectiveness of equity in its schools.

In responses to questionnaires provided by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, they also revealed contrasting viewpoints on legislative bills Gov. Brian Kemp recently signed into law, including limiting discussions on race and racism in classroom as well as a parents’ bill of rights.

This year’s election is the first nonpartisan school board election in the county, meaning candidates will appear on ballots without party designations. The winners of these races would not begin their terms until the start of 2023.

District 2 voters will decide between incumbent Steve Knudsen, president of a metal manufacturing company, and challenger Michael Rudnick, fleet director for the city of Lawrenceville.

District 4 will get a new representative from a field of five candidates — Kelly Kautz, Tony Sellers, Adrienne Simmons, Matt Sones and Alexis Williams. They’re looking to replace Everton Blair, who’s not seeking reelection.

Sellers, a former teacher who recently retired from the district, said Superintendent Calvin Watts “has mentioned moving toward educating the whole child, including social-emotional learning.”

“We need to move more swiftly in this direction so that students are better equipped to meet their own goals and dreams,” Sellers said.

He criticized the amount of testing, class sizes and a high-stakes teaching environment that he experienced firsthand.

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The candidates’ views differ on equity, a frequent topic at school board meetings. The district’s equity policy describes it as a commitment to educating all students and providing resources to support high-quality teaching and learning.

Simmons, a Georgia Department of Education assessment specialist, said: “The needs of learners are not the same from school to school. Instead of providing all schools with equal resources, it makes more sense to personalize resource allocation.”

Sones, a policy analyst, said equity is important to closing achievement gaps and improving “the educational experience and, more importantly, the educational outcomes of students and schools that are struggling to succeed.”

“Not every student will be a 4.0 student regardless of how much we try to level the playing field, just as not every student will be the star quarterback,” said Kautz, an attorney working in juvenile courts. “I believe that our focus as a school system must be that each student is given the same opportunity to succeed. Equality should be the guiding principle as required by the law.”

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Williams and Rudnick were the only candidates supportive of the parents’ bill of rights that gives access to classroom materials. The other candidates said the bill was unnecessary because parents are able to be involved in their children’s education.

Williams, an attorney, said the recent legislation to limit discussion of divisive concepts will “protect our children from political propaganda that seeks to promote lies that would be detrimental and harmful.” She argued against tenets of critical race theory, saying they are damaging to children.

Knudsen said educators should not avoid difficult topics or disagreement. He argued, however, that a “one-sided approach” brings controversy because it “pits certain groups of students against each other.”