Republican Woods built big lead in superintendent race

Richard Woods, a South Georgia Republican with a dislike of federal education programming and student testing, defeated Democrat Valarie Wilson on Tuesday in the race for state school superintendent.

Woods spent a quiet evening at his South Georgia home with family and a few friends watching election results.

“I’m excited,” he said. “I am looking forward to putting into practice what we’ve been talking about.”

Unofficial votes show Woods winning the race with 1,388,255 votes to Wilson’s 1,128,163 votes. Woods succeeds Republican Superintendent John Barge, who ran unsuccessfully for governor and endorsed Wilson in the race. Provisional ballots were not included, the Secretary of State’s website said early Wednesday.

Wilson conceded after midnight as the final votes were being counted. “We have gone to work and gone to bat for the 1.7 million children in this state,” she said.

Though she said, “We didn’t have the outcome that we wanted to have tonight,” she urged her supporters to “hold their feet to the fire and make sure they do right by these babies.”

Woods, who said he drove 46,000 miles across Georgia while campaigning, was outspent by Wilson by more than 2-to-1.

He is a 52-year-old retired Irwin County teacher and school administrator and favorite of conservatives and tea party activists with his criticism of state and federal education policies and standards such as Race to the Top and Common Core. Woods has also said he wanted to delay the state’s new standardized test, called Georgia Milestones, because he said it wasn’t “fully field tested.”

Instead, Woods has said he wants students to be proficient in reading, writing and math by the fifth grade and wants to encourage teachers to consider innovative approaches. He has suggested, for instance, allowing students to take accounting to earn math credits or a journalism class to get English credits.

Wilson, 56, a public-sector administrator, campaigned on restoring the money school districts are supposed to get under the state’s complicated funding formula. She predicted Woods’ win would leave districts across Georgia struggling with teacher furloughs and shortened school-year calendars.

Woods has said he wants to audit, rather than augment, the education budget, she noted. “So I don’t think he sees the funding gap that I see.”

The superintendent race did not attract the attention most statewide races did. Many voters said they knew little or nothing about the candidates. Gwinnett County resident Randall Starkey, 64, wearing a T-shirt supporting conservative Ben Carson’s candidacy for president in 2016, said he voted for Woods. “I pretty much voted Republican straight down the line,” he said.

Tameka Truitt, 35, left a Decatur polling place with her middle school-age son in tow. “I don’t remember,” she admitted when asked about her choice for superintendent. After hearing the candidates’ names, she said she voted for Wilson.

Awaiting the new superintendent will be a robust debate on and possible changes to the Quality Basic Education formula, which state lawmakers use to determine how much money to give local school districts; continued implementation of Common Core standards and the roll-out of the new teacher evaluation system, which will link student test scores to personnel decisions such as hiring, firing, promotions and pay.

Another issue will be improving graduation rates, which increased slightly last spring but not as much as in prior years. Georgia has one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation, and education officials attribute it to tougher requirements.

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