Buck, a Republican, said his inspiration to run came after injuring himself during an ice skating trip to Augusta. While laying in a hospital bed, he said none of the candidates were running for anything, namely children in the school system and their parents.
“If I am elected state school superintendent, you will see a renewed emphasis on the Department of Education being a service industry. Customer service will be a huge priority for us because the point of the spear obviously is the classroom teacher with those 25 to 30, unfortunately 35, youngsters in the classrooms, so we have got to support them and our local districts,” Buck said. “You will see a renewed interest in building those bridges that I described, bridges between us and the local districts. We want to inspire confidence in what we’re doing as a department, but also among the governor’s office and the Legislature, because, quite frankly, we’ve got to work hand in glove together to move education forward.”
On Common Core, which has become an election-year issue in a number of states, Buck said he supports the standards and is open to reviewing the methodology to meet those standards. However, he believes his personal opinions are not important.
“I strongly support our current standards for a wide variety of reasons, but my opinion, frankly, is not the most important,” he said. “The Legislature has set forth how we’re going to go about this. The governor’s office has supported it. The state board of education has mandated it. But also the PTA, the chambers of commerce, our military leaders all support these standards for a wide variety of reasons.
“Also we’ve invested millions of dollars at the local and at the state level to rolls these standards out. It would be blatantly unfair to our kids and to our teachers to change the standards for the fourth time in a decade. We have got to stay the course and give these initiatives time to see what works and what doesn’t.”
While in support of the standards, Buck said he was in favor of reviewing the standards once feedback from educators can be obtained. He then cited a Georgia survey saying 70 to 75 percent of teachers in the state supported the Common Core standards. Concerns relating to Common Core, he continued, are instead focused on issues outside of the standards themselves.
“There are two issues. One, the standards themselves are very good and I would say the standards are the what: here are the things we want students to know and be able to do. The methodology for instruction, the how, is a local decision. It’s up to the local districts to choose the resources they use and the methodology they use to provide the instruction to meet the standards,” Buck said. “Most of the complaints I hear regarding Common Core, people haven’t really reviewed the standards. ... The other issue is the Common Core, as we call it, got associated with other things, and really there’s just a lot of misinformation about it. The governors that got together and decided that we needed some commonality. Every state needed some rigorous high standards, and frankly, we needed portability.”
Portability, Buck explained, is the ability for standards and grades to be shared across district and state lines. When children — such as those in military families — move, having the same standards would not penalize the children for being educated in a different school system, he said.
Buck said other important issues included upcoming teacher review methods, which he said “creates a requirement for more conversations between the administrators and the teacher,” as well as graduation rates, which he called “one of the biggest issues we are facing.”
“What we’ve got is not acceptable across the country,” he said of the rates. “Roughly three out of 10 young people do not walk across the stage. That’s simply not good enough. My goal is for every student to graduate prepared for college and career. But there are underlying issues that cause that graduation rate to be where it is. We’ve got to attract and maintain top-flight teachers in the classroom. The single most important variable of student achievement, once children enter the classroom, it’s the skill of that classroom teacher. We’ve got to quit treating them as second-class citizens. We’ve got to restore pride in the profession.”
Increasing funding for school districts so they may have a full school year of instruction and increasing teacher salaries were among the suggestions Buck had for restoring pride in the teaching profession. To increase graduation rates, he believed it is necessary to make classroom learning relevant to students.
“So we have got to have more passion in our young people. We have got to make learning relevant. Our career pathways help young people discover their passion and the relevance for what they’re doing. Most of them drop out not because of a lack of aptitude, but because they don’t see the relevance. They’re bored. But having them discover a passion is much more likely to keep them engaged in school and seeing it through to graduation. So partnering with businesses and industry to make sure we’re getting it right [is] vitally important. We ride this out and we will see great improvement in our graduation rate, both the number and the quality of our students,” he said.
Claiming more than 31 years of experience in education, having been a past principal at Rome High School and lower positions in the Georgia Department of Education, Buck believes he has experience that sets him apart from other candidates.
“I feel good about the base, because educators know me. They trust me. I’ve got credibility in the field, and there’s just a chasm between having worked as a volunteer for a couple of handfuls of young people and serving as a volunteer on a board and having 31 years of experience at every level, including the last three near the very top of the organization that is responsible for a $7.4 billion budget, 1.7 million students and 125,000 educators,” Buck said. “That is a huge responsibility, and I’m praying people will take a real candid look at true qualifications. Look through the rhetoric and evaluate the resumes of the people involved.
“I’m personally convinced that the single best predictor of future success is past performance, and I want people to take a hard look at my proven record of success.”