Tarece Johnson, candidate for for Gwinnett School Board District 5, recently participated in an online candidate forum sponored by the Gwinnett County Association of Educators.

Gwinnett school board seat pits longtime board member against activist

With three school board seats up for election in Gwinnett County, residents may show with their ballots whether they’re satisfied with how the district has handled the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other education issues.

The District Five seat will be decided before the November decision. It has two contenders for the Democratic ticket and no Republicans in the race. The race will see the longest-serving member of a board of education in Georgia running against a woman know for her activism and education background.

Not only has 84-year-old Louise Radloff served on the Gwinnett County Board of Education for 47 years, she has two public buildings named after her: Louise Radloff Middle School, which opened in 2004, and the Louise Radloff Administrative Health Complex, which opened in 2006.

Although she has said publicly this is her last run for elected office, she made it clear that she won’t be relinquishing her side gigs — overseeing an English for Speakers of Other Languages program on the weekends, advocating for special education in the realm of public education and serving on several state and local boards, to name a few.

District Five encompasses all or portions of the Berkmar, Duluth, Meadowcreek and Norcross clusters in addition to GIVE West, Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology, Maxwell High School of Technology and New Life Academy of Excellence.

In the past decade or two, there’s been a demographic shift to more Hispanic and lower-income students in that district. Radloff said she has seen a greater need for services that normally wouldn’t fall to school districts.

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“The role of the school board is policy making. We have to keep up to date with critical issues,” she said. “With issues of homelessness, I’ve worked with other agencies such as the Salvation Army to identify families in need.”

Radloff has also been an advocate for career and technical education pushing for programs that put many students into medical, construction, automotive and manufacturing fields.

Tarece Johnson, the 44-year-old candidate running against Radloff, comes from a different education perspective. She, too sees the need for leveling the playing field for all students. A self-described activist, she has founded schools, worked in afterschool programs, multilingual education, consulting, etc. With an education doctorate from Capella University she sees her mission as ensuring quality education for everyone.

“I want to make sure resources are allocated equitably,” she said. “There shouldn’t be a school on one side of the county that is consistently head and shoulders above the others. All schools should have a portion of the best and brightest.”

She said it appears that there’s a process in the county to skim the cream off the top and deposit it into one area. She’d like to see resources and talents more evenly distributed.

As a single mother of two, Johnson admits that, as a retiree, Radloff may have more time to devote to a wider variety of causes, but a laser focus may garner more results.

“I want to do whatever’s best for parents across all ZIP codes,” she said. “No matter what your property value is, it supports all the schools. I will fight for equity. It’s not just a slogan, it’s my life.”

As a leader in the Alliance for Black Lives, a social injustice activist group, she advocates for more teacher support, better education resources and better facilities to impact learning.

Political analyst Bill Crane has provided commentary on national, state and local politics for 15 years in metro Atlanta in print as well as television and radio. He’s seen how demographics can impact election outcomes more than the person running.

“Gwinnett is going through a lot of the same changes that DeKalb County experienced 20 years ago and Rockdale County about a decade ago,” he said. “As a minority-majority county, there will be a shift from Republicans to Democrats in elections.”

Although Radloff started out as a Republican candidate in 1972, in the past three races, she’s run on the Democratic ticket. She has said repeatedly that party politics don’t influence her decisions for the school district.

“The district should be run by the best people for the job,” she said. “It shouldn’t matter what party they belong to.”

But name recognition and experience may give Radloff the edge, Crane said.

As many as 25% of votes will be cast by mail, he said, which could prove to be a factor in the outcome.

“There are a lot of unknowns right now with absentee ballots,” said Crane. “Some consist of as many as 10 pages. And with local elections at the bottom, everyone might not get through the entire thing.”

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