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www.gae.org | 9 Q: Do you miss being in the classroom? A: Oh yes! I’ve always said that I would enjoy going back to teaching in the classroom. And I hope as State School Superintendent that I’ll perhaps be able to go in and teach some classes in the future. As a teacher, I know that you hate to give up your class – but I certainly would love to teach. Q: In being State School Superintendent what skill set from your previous work experience do you draw from the most? A: I really look at my entire education and work history. Right after high school I attended what would today be considered vocational school for air-conditioning and refrigeration. I worked at a carpet mill, a peanut mill, and was also a purchasing agent for a national and international laser company. I pursued an engineering degree but ended up with an undergraduate degree in secondary education social studies and a graduate degree in administration. For 22 years I worked day in and day out at the school level and worked with parents, teachers, and students. I do have Pre-K through 12th grade work experience, and I think working in a smaller school system allowed me to wear probably as many different hats as could be worn. So with any issue, I feel comfortable talking with someone about it. Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing you as state school superintendent and the Department of Education as whole? A: For myself, I think it’s making sure that we prioritize what is actually needed. In Georgia education, two things that go hand in hand are communication and vision. We as a department need to do a better job of communication with education stakeholders and let them know what we’re doing and what we plan on doing so we can get feedback. The other is really just listening. It’s something that many people overlook in the area of communication. And I think that for us in education, we talk about communicating but that means speaking a common language. With us in education, sometimes we just tend to speak in our own dialect and that sometimes prevents us from being on the same page as our stakeholders. Secondly, I think we need to have a vision for Georgia education and definitely we have to have to have the buy-in from all individuals who play a part in the education process. It’s a complex issue in some areas, but in some ways I think it’s also very simplistic – and we’ve made it difficult at times. Where do we go from here? I think holding meetings with our educational partners, holding town hall meetings, teacher focus groups – these are things we can do to listen to these stakeholder groups to find out what’s going on. We have to take into account that each system and each school is very unique and even when you’re trying to evaluate schools and various programs, you have to take into account the environment. So sometimes you have to really get in there and roll up your sleeves and take it a day at a time. And that’s what we’re doing. So, communicate better and have vision – one that everyone can take part in. Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing educators and administrators today? A: In talking specifically with educators, I think that removing educational barriers between the teacher and the students. Teachers just want to close their doors and teach and want to get to know their students better so they can address their educational needs. In looking at some of the things that we are doing, I ask, are we allowing our teachers to spend their time as efficiently as we possibly can? Time is essential. And I think allowing our teachers’ to actually do the job so they can focus on student achievement and making sure that our kids are really where they need to be is top priority. It’s the biggest obstacle we face right now. Q: How do you think Georgia can keep more seasoned and veteran teachers in the classroom and in the teaching profession? A: We have to create an environment that encourages them to stay. I’ve taken notice of how many of our veteran teachers are considering leaving the profession and some are encouraging our young people not to get into the profession. Based on what they’ve told me, I think we test too much – and the tests we use may not allow us to get the full measure of what our kids know and also doesn’t allow our teachers to address the time. We need more of a diagnostic type test. Essentially, our teachers have become data collectors and compliance officers – and by definition, that’s what teachers are not. We have got to allow them to teach without barriers and do the job. Teaching is not a profession you get into for the money, but we get more of a satisfactory reward from seeing young people reach their potential – seeing them succeed. Q: Where do you stand on students needing 180 Days of instruction? And do you think it’s reasonable for the state to fund what has become the national standard for days of instruction? A: I think so. You know, we have a limited amount of time, and 180 days has become somewhat of the national standard. And for every day a child is not in class that basically means it’s a day a child’s not learning. So each day is something that we need to strive for to have a full calendar year. There again, we look at what is a prioritization. And I think within education, prioritizing a full calendar year for education is definitely necessary and needed. Many people feel the number of tests given to students is counterintuitive to providing a quality education. How can the DOE address this issue without undermining an effective way to gauge student progress? I think we look at what we’re trying to actually measure and then move to more of a diagnostic approach to testing; smaller tests that prioritize what actually needs to be focused on for student success and achievement. Reading on grade level by 3rd grade or having a grasp on math by


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