Politics

Everton Blair launches historic campaign for Georgia school superintendent, joining Stacey Abrams on ballot

(Photo: Everton Blair, Facebook)

Fighting the pandemic inside schools has become all the more complicated as politically-motivated social wars have taken over the nation’s classrooms. What’s more, developing a well-rounded curriculum inclusive of diverse perspectives, has become increasingly rife with accusations of exposing youth to critical race theory with mal-intent.

These herculean challenges that have become a sign of the times nationwide, including in Georgia where the state’s Board of Education passed a resolution taking aim at critical race theory and some districts have clashed over mask mandates.

Everton Blair, who announced his campaign for Georgia State School Superintendent on Thursday, is hoping to to bring solutions to the Peach State’s largest school system.

In an exclusive interview with theGrio, the chairman of the Gwinnett County School Board said he is up to the task. If elected, Everton would be the first Black, youngest-ever and first openly gay school superintendent in Georgia. 

“I look forward to bringing the work that we’ve done successfully in Gwinnett to a greater level at a much important time for our state to focus on the needs of students and invest in our schools,” Blair told theGrio. “I’m a big supporter and fan of Stacey Abrams and was fortunate to be on the ballot with her in 2018. I look forward to being on the ballot with her again this year.”

Stacey Abrams
US politician and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams arrives to meet with US President Joe Biden at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia on March 19, 2021. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo by ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)

While the national debate over safely reopening public schools continues, so does the debate over kids being exposed to critical race theory in school. In his State of the State speech last Thursday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp pledged to work with lawmakers to stop what he called the “divisive ideology” of critical race theory in schools. Days later in Virginia, newly sworn-in Gov. Glenn Youngkin similarly targeted CRT, outright banning it through executive order on his first day in office.

“I look forward to supporting legislation to keep CRT out of our schools, ensure fairness in school sports, establish a parental bill of rights in education, and address obscene materials online and in our school libraries,” said Governor Kemp. 

As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported, by the time Governor Kemp finished the State of the State Address, Rep. Brad Thomas (R-Holly Springs) had already introduced House Bill 888 doing exactly what the governor laid out in his address.   

However, Blair, a former policy fellow for former President Barack Obama‘s White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans, hopes to turn the page on the division being fomented by the Georgia governor. 

“It’s an opportunity to not focus on these ridiculous social wars that the right is propping up and really creating division around in our community,” said Blair. “We should instead look at our budget to figure out ways that we can invest in resources that will help students. I cannot think of a more important time for us not to be fighting the adults in the room, but for us to be focusing on what kids need at this moment.”

(Photo: Facebook/Everton Blair)

When asked to reflect on the successes and lessons he’s most proud of during his tenure starting with his move back home to Gwinnett County in 2017, Blair said teacher-parent student engagement appeared to be central to the progress he’s delivered while at the helm of the largest school system in Georgia. 

“I came back home in 2017 and ran for school board at a time when folks were not paying anywhere close to as much attention to school boards as they are today,” said Blair, a former 10th and 12th grade math teacher. 

“I remember canvassing and really just having more of an education campaign around the fact that we have a school board, they are elected, it is partisan, these are the rules, these are the things that we can do together, and these are the issues I think we need to be focused on.”

He added, “It was a very equity focused campaign. It was a student-centered campaign. It was a teacher voice campaign and it has continued to be throughout my term as board member and now board chairman.”

If it’s true that budgets are a statement of values, Blair hopes the budget priorities of the Gwinnett County school system can be a model for the state.  

“I’m really proud we passed the largest budget in the history of any school system in Georgia, and it retained all of our staff. We didn’t have to furlough anybody and we gave our teachers their much deserved raises. We created an equity department that allowed us to focus on student needs and supports,” said Blair.

He added, “We increased the number of counselors, social workers, mental health professionals and paraprofessionals in our schools to really meet the needs of students. That’s work that I’ve been proud to support and work with  leaders at the local level to enact.”

To the surprise of some given this laundry list of accomplishments for a first-term school board member, the Gwinnett County School Board chairman decided not to seek re-election. Instead he believes the opportunity to influence the trajectory of public education in a full-time policy role, with discretion to add supplementary funds to support local schools, offers a ripe opportunity to scale his lessons learned in Gwinnett County across his home state. 

“Our future hinges on getting our students ready for tomorrow,” said Blair. “I’ll bring visionary, forward-thinking leadership to the challenges our students and teachers are facing right now, and make every decision with their best interest in mind.”

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