It was clear the front-runner in the polls, Joe Martin, was the focus of his two Democratic opponents in tonight’s Atlanta Press Club school superintendent debates.
Given the opportunity to ask a question of another candidate, both retired Georgia State administrator and former teacher Beth Farokhi and Gwinnett high school teacher Brian Westlake chose to take on Martin, taking aim at his lack of classroom experience. Martin has a formal background in finance and economics rather than education, but has served on the Atlanta school board and headed up a statewide coalition to overhaul school funding.
With this being his third run for the school chief’s post, Martin knows how to turn a hostile question into a golden moment. When Farokhi pressed him on his three top qualification for the job, Martin told her commitment, experience and know-how.
When Westlake hit his standard theme in this contest — the job should go to someone with recent classroom experience — Martin parried, “We are not electing the best teacher. We are electing the person who can be the best advocate for students, parents and teachers.” And to Westlake’s mention of his earlier defeats for the office, Martin said the state would have been better off had he beaten out Linda Schrenko, who was an absolute disaster as superintendent and was eventually convicted of stealing federal education monies and sentenced to eight years in prison. (I think we all can agree with that.)
All the candidates agreed that there is too much testing, although Martin suggested that Farokhi’s notion of getting rid of all the state tests was unrealistic since there are federal requirements for annual assessments. She responded that growth-model assessments like those used in North Carolina could meet federal requirements rather than the rigid CRCTs.
In response to a question on whether CRCT cheating should be criminalized — asked by my AJC colleague Kristina Torres — the candidates were very careful not to come down hard on teachers.
Farokhi said she would not support criminalization and used the question to expound on her concerns that schools are holding pep rallies to push kids to perform better on the CRCT and starting test prep for the April tests in September.
Westlake also used the question to offer up a wider indictment of current DOE management, saying, “We need to empower people who are in the classroom who know exactly what is going on” The failure to seek advice and suggestions from the teachers has led to the “math curriculum debacle and a one-size-fits-all policy that moves people to the four-year traditional college route,” he said