Richard Woods is Georgia’s school superintendent, the the highest-ranking elected educational officer. He’s said he’ll seek re-election, and several others also want the job. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Challengers for Georgia superintendent boast high-profile endorsements

Georgia’s elections are nearly a year away but several hopefuls are already lining up to challenge school Superintendent Richard Woods.

Though qualifying for candidacy isn’t until March, some are already touting big-name endorsements for the down-ballot race.

Otha Thornton, a former National PTA president, is backed by Arne Duncan, who was education secretary under President Barack Obama.

Duncan, who now leads a group dedicated to reducing Chicago gun violence by providing job training for men “at the highest risk of being shooters,” said in a letter that “Otha led outstanding advocacy efforts across the nation for children in rural districts, poverty-stricken districts and special needs. There is not a better candidate to fight for the needs of our rural communities and students … .”

A military contractor who lives in the Savannah area, Thornton registered with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission to run as a Democrat.

So did Sid Chapman, a teacher who is on leave while serving as president of the Georgia Association of Educators. The Griffin resident is endorsed by former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes and by his own association, which represents tens of thousands of teachers, school administrators and other educators.

A third Democrat, Samuel F. Mosteller, is a former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Georgia. The DeKalb County resident said he worked as a police chief, a criminal justice professor and a Christian school headmaster in DeKalb after service in the U.S. Army. He cited several endorsements from lawmakers, including Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain.

Mitchell said Mosteller, a minister, “has a long, distinguished career and involvement in civil rights and civic activism.”

A fourth challenger, Sonia Francis-Rolle, is the lone Republican looking to unseat Woods. The south Fulton resident is an educational consultant and former public school teacher. She said she was not ready to release endorsements.

Republican incumbent Woods, a former teacher and school administrator, won election to the statewide office in 2014. He announced on his blog in April that he planned to run for re-election, but the blog hasn’t been updated to reflect any endorsements.

The state superintendent, the highest-ranking elected educational officer, runs the state Department of Education, which measures school performance, assists lagging schools and distributes about $9 billion in state money to local school districts.