Election 2022: Two metro ATL school board members vie to become state school chief
The Democratic school board members are aiming to challenge GOP incumbent Richard Woods
A pair of Democratic school board members from two of Georgia’s largest school districts are seeking to become Georgia’s next state school chief.
Democrat Jaha Howard formally announced in a Facebook post on Sunday that he will be running for state school superintendent. Howard, a pediatric dentist in Smyrna, was first elected to the Cobb County School Board in 2018.
He joins Gwinnett County School Board Chairman Everton Blair in the Democratic primary. Blair made history in 2018 when he became the first Black member in the history of the Gwinnett County School Board. He entered the race last week.
The state school superintendent serves as the head of the Georgia Department of Education, the body that oversees the state’s K-12 public education system.
Blair’s remarkable rise on the Gwinnett County School Board has had its fair share of ups and downs.
Shortly after he was elected, he made history once again by publicly coming out as gay. He started his tenure as the only Democrat on the school board, but Democrats have since taken control of the school board and other county offices in rapidly changing Gwinnett.
After the Democratic takeover, Blair ascended to chairman of the largest school district in Georgia, where has has overseen some very controversial and polarizing decisions. For example, the board voted last year to end the contract of longtime superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks.
He has also presided over the district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some school board meetings have gotten so contentious that attendees now have to walk through metal detectors before the meetings begin.
In recent months, polarizing issues have taken center stage at school board meetings across the country. It’s these issues that have thrusted Howard into the spotlight.
Howard, who filed paperwork to run for state school superintendent late last year, said that he was prompted to run because he was concerned about the safety of students in the era of COVID-19. He and his Democratic colleagues have been vocal in their opposition to the district’s mask-optional policy.
He also railed against what he called “manufactured CRT outrage,” referring to the debate over critical race theory — a curriculum that explores the history of racism in the United States. Though it is not currently taught in Cobb County, the school board voted last year to ban it from being taught in Cobb classrooms. All four of the board’s white members voted for the ban, while all three of its Black members (including Howard) abstained from the vote.
The winner of this Democratic primary will seek to challenge two-term Republican incumbent Richard Woods. But Woods will have a primary of his own: his predecessor, Republican John Barge, is running to win back his old job.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its toll on students, teachers and parents could transform this usually low-profile office into one of the most consequential statewide races in this year’s elections.
The issue of critical race theory will also be worth watching in this contest, especially since the Democratic nominee will almost certainly be African-American.
Both Howard and Blair bring more diversity to an already diverse slate of statewide Democratic candidates, which will be led by Stacey Abrams and Raphael Warnock.
In past cycles, when Georgia was a considered a red state, little-known Democrats would file for these types of races just to give voters a choice in the general election. That’s not the case in 2022: well-established Democrats like Howard and Blair are running not just so that voters can have a choice, but because they believe they can win.