Richard Woods wants Georgia’s educational system to be like the Empire State Building – tall and grand with a solid foundation that runs deep underground, invisible to the naked eye.
That’s what the State Superintendent of Schools told Republicans at Forsyth County’s monthly Republican Party meeting Thursday evening.
The party’s guest speaker, Woods spent the earlier part of his day visiting Mashburn Elementary and meeting with Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden as well as Board of Education members.
The Mashburn stop was Woods’ first school visit of the year.
At the GOP meeting, Woods outlined his goals for the future of Georgia students and the state’s school system.
A self-proclaimed foundationalist, he emphasized the importance kindergarten through fifth grade has in preparing students for successful higher education.
“If you want to build a skyscraper, the most important part is what you don’t see – the foundation,” Woods said. “If you don’t have that deep foundation, it will limit the height of what you hope to achieve. I don’t want a leaning tower of Pisa-type education system.”
To ensure Georgia students will reach great heights, Woods is focusing on literacy programs in elementary schools – something he said is key to a child’s future.
“The most important skill our children can do and take with them is to be able to read,” he said. “I don‘t care what you go into, what aspect of life you [pursue]; you have to read.”
By third grade, Woods said, research shows literacy is of utmost importance. He did add, however, that other skills, such as math, are also important for children to have a grasp on before they enter middle school.
“By year five — 5th grade — [students] need to have those basic skills in math. Those two things open up doors to possibility and opportunity for kids in middle school, high school and beyond.”
But the fine arts, such as music, dance, visual arts and languages, also cannot be overlooked, Woods said.
“For the first time in 23 years, we have a person at the [Department of Education] that is working on fine arts,” he said. “Across the state, one of the big initiatives is STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — but we’re also looking to be STEAM certified: science, technology, engineering arts and math. There’s a race across the state to see who becomes the first STEAM certified school.”
So far, only about 30-40 schools are STEM certified, Woods said. However, about 1,000 schools — nearly half of all schools in Georgia — are looking to become STEM certified.
Woods said the students in the STEM certified schools are already doing great things.
“They are working with schools across Georgia – some are flagship universities, I think UGA and Tech are involved – but we have kids who are talking and working with people across the world,” Woods said. “Last year, a group [of students] was doing research with someone in New Zealand. That is what technology, and the power of what we’re able to do today with that, [allows.]”
Woods also recognized the fundamental role Georgia teachers play and commended educators for their work.
“I [enjoy] getting out of Atlanta so see the staff and teachers for who they really are,” Woods said. “I assure you, every now and then, you might find one who’s a dud. But when I look at our teacher core, they are individuals that care. They have heart when caring for our kids. I appreciate the work of our teachers and what they do, and I thank you again for the opportunity to represent you as state school superintendent.”
And although an education system can’t be perfected overnight, Woods is confident about the future of Georgia schools.
“Yeah, maybe we’re not there, but I think we’re beginning to change the conversation to talk about the child. That’s where it has to be – we’re here to serve the child, we’re here to serve you, Forsyth County.”