Incumbents appear safe in Gwinnett, Clayton. So, are voters happy with direction of their schools?

The results of school board board elections show incumbents retaining their seats in Gwinnett and Clayton, suggesting that voters are not unhappy with the direction of their schools.

Or at least not unhappy enough to vote in change.

On the other hand, voters approved the controversial charter school amendment, which gives the state more power to get involved in local education decisions.

Clayton offers an interesting situation. In July,  dissatisfied Clayton residents voted out two incumbent county commissioners and the sheriff. So, you can’t argue that Clayton voters aren’t paying attention or willing to act. They have proven they will oust incumbents, who often retain their posts through Georgia due to voter inertia.

But Clayton school board members appear to be holding onto their seats based on current vote counts. Yet, the district is under a warning from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that its accreditation is being jeopardized by board feuding.

So, are folks happy with local control or not?

The inconsistencies may reflect the common survey phenomenon in which the majority of respondents praise their own schools, but say that schools elsewhere are not doing well.

According to the AJC:

Three veteran school board members from Gwinnett — including one with a near record 40 years of service — appeared headed Tuesday for re-election. But incumbency did not translate into wins for Cobb County school board member Alison Bartlett or Fayette County school board member Terri Smith, both of whom were defeated Tuesday by challengers.

In Gwinnett, with votes still being counted, school board chairwoman Louise Radloff, the state’s second longest-serving school board member, appeared to be headed for an 11th term. With two thirds of the votes counted, Radloff had about 75 percent. Re-election also looked likely for Mary Kay Murphy and Carole Boyce in the state’s largest school district.

Incumbents also appeared to have survived in Clayton County, despite renewed concerns about the school district’s ability to retain accreditation. Four of Clayton’s nine school board members faced opposition in the election. Early returns showed all four leading, though some by narrow margins. Candidates who do not receive more than 50 percent of the vote will face runoff elections.

In Clayton’s District 2, incumbent Wanda Smith had a slim lead over Mark Christmas. District 5 incumbent Ophelia Burroughs had a strong lead over Xavier Ross in early returns. The closest race was between incumbent Mary Baker and Janice Scott for the District 6 seat, while incumbent Trinia Garrett had a comfortable lead against her nearest challenger, Judy Johnson, in District 7.

In Gwinnett, the closest race was between Murphy, a 16-year veteran, and Jen Falk, an education advocate and political newcomer, for a seat in the Duluth area. Incumbent Boyce appeared headed for easy victory over Jennah Es-Sudan, a tax accountant, mother of two and grandmother of seven, in the other contested race.

In Fayette County, Republican Mary Kay Bacallao had 65 percent of the vote to Smith’s 35 percent with all ballots counted but the tally unofficial.

In Cobb County, Bartlett lost to Republican newcomer Brad Wheeler in a bid for the school board seat in the newly drawn and Republican-leaning Post 7. Unofficial totals showed Wheeler capturing 62 percent of the vote to Bartlett’s 38 percent.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

25 comments Add your comment

bootney farnsworth

November 7th, 2012
10:05 am

no. bigger issues to deal with at the moment.
and way too many races running unopposed


November 7th, 2012
10:09 am

Ms. Downey, thanks for at least the mention of the huge margin by which Georgia voters gave your previously most blogged about issue of Charter Schools.

Cobb, Cherokee, Gwinnett, Fulton, and Dekalb counties (only ones I looked at) overwhelmingly passed it. Now, lets work together to make it work in order to make ALL of our schools better. That’s the object, right?


November 7th, 2012
10:14 am

Is this charter amendment the beginning of the end for public schools and their federal government involvement?

Maureen Downey

November 7th, 2012
10:21 am

@To all, Look at post I just put up as it will take you to a great map of where amendment passed and failed and reaffirm that there are two Georgias when it comes to some issues:


November 7th, 2012
10:32 am

NO! The reelection of Radloff clearly shows that Gwinnett parents are not pounding the doors of the school district in any effort to fight for the rights of their children. What is needed is an all new school board with the interest of the students as their mantra. The current school board only goes along with the superintendent on every idea that comes his way. The teachers are fed up with the way education is going, and has been going in the past. The support of teachers’ ideas in never evident in anything Gwinnett County does, only the support of the random ideas of the superintendent. Public education has become the joke of the state, teachers are over-burdened and underpaid, and education is becoming more homogenized on a daily basis. No one is standing up for the teachers nor the gifted students. Teacher morale is at its lowest I have seen in the past 22 years. But, who cares?

Somebody truly needs to pull in the reigns of public education. The “one size fits all” approach to education hurts every single student in this state. The drive to end the gifted programs around the state is an even greater threat to Georgia’s education. Parents of gifted students need to flex their muscles in an effort to do what is right for gifted students. Regardless of what the institution is telling you, gifted students deserve just as much emphasis as the learning disabled. They must be pushed to achieve higher goals than regular education and special education students. These are the “movers and shakers” of Georgian and American societies. They cannot be neglected as they are being at the present time. The Common Core movement is wonderful, but teachers must be given the opportunity to teach their students in the best way for each group of students. Enforcing a requirement to teach exactly the same way, on exactly the same schedule, and with exactly the same tests on the same days of the calendar all go towards “dumbing down” the curriculum for those on the fringes of our society. Why can’t the leaders of education understand that?


November 7th, 2012
10:38 am

Well, we are at least now talking about the biggest school issue, even though its passing is not popular with most AJC folks.

The map does not represent population – it passed by a VERY wide margin. It passed all around the metro Atlanta area where the AJC is based, even though the AJC bias against it was blatant.

The rural areas where it did not pass is probably because they rightly don’t see a need locally. Parents at least in the most concentrated populous Atlanta area saw a need, and easily overcame the administrators and liberals who turn a blind eye to so many failing schools.

Maureen Downey

November 7th, 2012
10:46 am

@Centrist, Not sure about your “not seeing a need” argument for why rural areas voted “no” on the charter school amendment. Georgia’s SAT scores are depressed by the performance of inner city and rural students. There is compelling data on the under performance of rural Georgia schools. And many of the counties that passed the amendment have few, if any, failing schools, including Forsyth and Fayette.
I think a driving issue, exemplified in these voting patterns, was that middle-class voters want greater school choice. I think rural Georgia probably understood that this amendment will not expand their choices as much as it will for metro Atlanta where charter management companies are very eager to enter the market.

Mountain Man

November 7th, 2012
10:46 am

It was interesting to see black voters quoted on TV last night as being FOR the amendment. So much for the “resegregation” argument.


November 7th, 2012
11:09 am

Ms. Downey, I think you answered your own argument. Rural areas are not nearly as concerned with SAT scores. Many of those students work/inherit small businesses and concentrate on the basics and learning a trade. You are quite right in posting this: “I think rural Georgia probably understood that this amendment will not expand their choices as much as it will for metro Atlanta.

We have an underclass in the U.S. where education is not important to them, and it perpetuates from generation to generation. Once schools reach a certain point with their lack of attention, it drags down the whole school and students who would otherwise learn. Many parents want an option other than moving – especially those who can’t afford to move. They may now get it.

Pride and Joy

November 7th, 2012
11:23 am

Of course voters are not happy with their schools. The amendment one pro charter landslide was proof.
Local board of education elections are about race, not schools.

Pride and Joy

November 7th, 2012
11:25 am

But seriously, haven’t we beaten this poor old dead amendment one charter bill to into hamburger meat already?
Isn’t there something else Get Schooled can blog about?

Maureen Downey

November 7th, 2012
11:27 am

@Pride, I try, but I can tell you by daily reader numbers that people still care a lot about the charter school amendment issue. I probably have nearly 50 commentaries from readers both for and against the amendment in my emails. I was not able to publish them because there were so many folks writing about this and I figured Get Schooled readers could only take so much.


November 7th, 2012
12:35 pm

@ Pride and Joy.

I think that this entire issue is about a great deal more than whether it’s a good thing or not to have more charter schools. I am not personally affected by it at all, but have been quite drawn to the blogs about it because of the larger issues involved and the knowledgeable people blogging.

To me, it’s about the much larger issue of political power, particularly in Georgia at this time. Everyone seems to assume that future state-approved charters will be the result of locals who couldn’t get charter schools approved because of the opposition of the local BOE. Possibly. However, the commission board members are quite free to approve charters that mainly exist as a way for foreign nationals to get green cards (is happening with China and see the recent example of FSA in DeKalb County), or involves some money-making scheme for the directors’ board of the charter school–or the charter management companies– to get huge salaries, or that only appeals to a very small number of local citizens (such as the present Tybee Island Charter School that is only for Tybee residents who happen to be mainly white and live on that resort island). And they all will get state funds because they are public schools, and possibly federal funds. These state funds will come out of the larger educational budget shared by the public schools.

And to me, it also is about the much larger national picture involving ALEC and the privatizing of public education… This Amendment is a portent of disturbing things to come.

Tonya C.

November 7th, 2012
3:41 pm

I did NOT vote for the incumbent for my school board seat in Gwinnett. But many folks here are sheep, and as long their kid is doing okay the see no need to look at the bigger picture. I also agree with Michele, but too many people are okay with the way things are.

Pride and Joy

November 7th, 2012
4:13 pm

I understand what amendment one is about for you. I trust that what you say is true; however, you are out of step with the amendment one supporters.
We are the tax paying parents. We have the most important thing in the world at stake — the future of our children. There is nothing more important and precious to me than my kids. I sacrifice. I am emptying my 401K to put them in a private school while the city and county bleed me of my tax money and give me a lousy public school. This is personal to me. My money and my children. It cannot get any more important than that. That’s the way millions of parents like me feel and we voted.
Until the educrats understand what is really at stake here, and why we feel the way we do, they are in jeopardy of losing their jobs and power and money.
The time for a lousy public monopoly strangle-hold is over.
Teachers, schools, administrators and politicians need to know:
Improve or — we’ll move — and take our children and our state tax dollars with us.

Pride and Joy

November 7th, 2012
4:20 pm

Maureen — your readers blog about the topic you put out here.
If you choose another topic, I guarantee you I will read it ;)
If people want to continue blogging about a topic and you feel obligated, how about taking a different approach?
Go visit Charles R. Drew charter and interview some folks. Look around.
Report on what you find. take some pictures too.
Seek out other charter schools. Maybe interview some folks who used to attend Toomer ande Coan and now attend Drew.
get a different perspective.
When everyone was reporting on the royal wedding (di and chuck), it was done to death for sure but one creative reporter reported on the smells of the royal wedding — interesting.
If you have to do the dead horse again, please get a different angle on the dead animal.
P and J

Pride and Joy

November 7th, 2012
4:22 pm

Maureen — here is an idea for your next blog — the Decatur city schools.
The district is well regarded and it is a CHARTER district. Write a blog about what a charter district is – and how it is that Decatur city is a mecca within a wasteland.

GT Alum

November 7th, 2012
4:32 pm

Michele -

I am not highly informed on the current state of Georgia schools as I have no children and don’t even really have any close friends or family with school age children, but I have to agree with you about the importance of gifted education. I took honors classes pretty much whenever they were available and took almost every AP class my school offered. By my senior year, I had exhausted all of these classes I was interested in and took advantage of the joint enrollment program by taking some classes at a local college. My school was pretty poor overall, but there was a quality education available there for those who were capable and willing to take advantage of it, and the counselors helped students find options that would provide a better fit for their educational needs. We also had a college prep curriculum path and a vocational path so that students could get an education that would be more relevant to their life after high school.

However, I also remember being bored out of my mind when some of my AP classes were required to teach to the graduation exam, as the topics we covered were topics I (and the rest of the class) had mastered years before. If the schools are moving to force gifted students to learn at the same pace as other students, it will either hold these gifted students back or drive their test scores down because the students who had previously buoyed their scores will flee to other school districts or private schools if they can.

And it’s not just a matter of whether a student is gifted, “normal” or has special needs. Different people have different abilities. Some people excel in math and science, others in writing, others in music or theater, others at working with their hands, etc. Schools need to help students explore and develop their individual abilities so that they can reach their potential. A one size fits all approach really is just turning out industry fodder.

I have to wonder if this is happening primarily because of budget cuts, or if someone thinks this is actually a good idea.

Just Sayin.....

November 7th, 2012
4:51 pm

Incumbents feel appear safe in Clayton. Does anyone need any further reason why the charter school amendment passed?

GT Alum

November 7th, 2012
6:16 pm

Just Sayin….. -

Well, I think that’s the point of this blog entry. If people are so disappointed with the way the board is being run, why don’t they “vote the bums out”? Do the opponents not seem to be any better?

Private Citizen

November 7th, 2012
6:31 pm

GT Alum Good point. It would be interesting to know more about charter schools and curriculum. Is it tied-to / required to follow the state specifications and pacing clock, identical to the government schools? You seem to indicate it is. Certainly the remediation type academies for home / computer study for kids who are out of grade level do not follow a strict system, are more geared per students. Can a charter school teach a subject outside of the state specifications? Such as Latin, which is good for pre-med, or industrial trades? or autocad? Anyway, I wonder what the curriculum specifications are for charter schools, even the requirements per subject for teacher. Could a metro charter school have a GaTech student or assistant professor come and teach a class two or three days a week? Or an agriculture person? Or a machinist? Etc. How is the circumference circle drawn? What is the law on this?

Dr. Monica Henson

November 7th, 2012
11:54 pm

Private Citizen, charter and district schools can adopt pretty much any school curriculum and instructional methods they choose, as long as their students meet stated achievement goals as measured by the state’s End of Course Tests for high schoolers and Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests for lower grades. There is no state-prescribed pacing clock. The Common Core Georgia Performance Standards outline what students should know and be able to do, and the state tests measure those things.

When a charter school founding board submits its petition, the document must contain a detailed description of the curriculum and instructional methods that have been selected for the school.

Charter schools are permitted to hire noncertificated teachers if they choose as part of their flexibility waiver. However, they are required under Title II-A (a federal law) to notify parents if their children are being taught by a teacher who is not “highly qualified”–that is, who does not hold a teaching certificate, or whose certificate is not in the field being taught. This same restriction applies to district public schools if they employ teachers who are not highly qualified.

Former Ivy Prep Mom - now GSMST Mom

November 9th, 2012
9:08 am

If you want the see the curriculum for a high school charter school, go to GSMST’’s website. They have the curriculum spelled out by grade level. You can probably go to one of the other Gwinnett county high schools, like Peachtree Ridge to see a typical high school’s curriculum. I think you will be surprised at the difference. My daughter is a freshman at GSMST and is taking: Spanish, Algebra, Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Language Arts and Debate this year.


November 9th, 2012
9:19 am

If I lived in Clayton County I would be moving out as fast as my legs would work.


November 9th, 2012
6:13 pm

Because someone votes on an incumbent it does not mean he/she doesn’t want improvement in schools. But, the three incumbents in GC have a track record that is indisuptable. They listen to their constituents and have maintained laser focus on improvement. The people who want change want it for a reason unrelated to student achievement. When an agenda is focused on the wrong thing, it should fail…and it did. Eventually we will have different board members in GC. I pray they will be as honest and forthright as the five we have now. This is one voter who says “Thank you” for giving yourselves to our students and serving all students equally.