Wilson takes Decatur Schools statewide
Valarie Wilson knew that running a statewide campaign for Georgia school superintendent wasn’t going to be like running for the Decatur school board.
“I knew campaigning at a statewide level would be grueling and demanding and fast-paced, which it was,” Wilson said. “It costs a lot of money. It costs way more money to run a statewide campaign than it does to run a local campaign, because you have to be everywhere. You have to make sure you’re getting information out to people and you’ve got to make sure you have professional staff running your campaign.”
Wilson emerged from six Democratic candidates working to earn the party nomination, advancing to the primary runoff on July 22. She faces Alisha Thomas Morgan, a state representative from Austell finishing up her sixth term in office. She was 23 when she was first elected.
The Republican primary also produced a runoff, pitting Michael “Mike” Buck against Richard Woods.
Morgan is the mother of a first grader and said she became passionate about the topic of education a few years ago when her daughter had a problem with stuttering in school. She got to experience education from the point of view of a mother, not an elected official.
“So I decided that the state school superintendent needs to be a champion for schools and for kids,” Morgan said.
Wilson’s facing a formidable political opponent, but she says she wasn’t totally unknown to voters before the May 20 primary.
Wilson served as president of the Georgia School Boards Association in 2012 and was part of a statewide campaign against a constitutional amendment that allowed the state to create a charter school commission. Voters approved the constitutional amendment, but Wilson thinks she became better known as the result of her time campaigning against it.
“I met with people and communities and neighborhoods all across the state (in 2012),” Wilson said. “I would like to believe that my advocacy on public education in that role was helpful to me. Local boards know who I am. Local teachers and communities know who I am.”
Wilson also said her time as a Decatur School Board member, where she served from 2002 to 2013, was helpful to her.
“At the debate the other night one of the questions that came to me in a backhanded way was talking about our pre-K program here,” Wilson said. “I’m very proud of that work and I’m very proud of the fact we have a local board that works with (Superintendent Phyllis) Edwards and staff.”
Morgan said her experience as a legislator would be an asset to her as state school superintendent.
“I’m the one who has that specific set of skills, knowledge and experience,” she said.
Wilson said she took a brief break the day after the election, but soon began discussing strategy and planning events, readying for another tour of the state.
“We have nine weeks,” she said. “We’ve already hit the ground running.”