BOE candidates look for student opportunities

LAWRENCEVILLE - The candidates running in the Democratic primary race for the Gwinnett County Board of Education's District 5 are both seeking to improve education in the state's largest school system.

Ravindra Kumar, a researcher and teacher at the Morehouse School of Medicine, said he wants to increase after-school program opportunities, especially for students who are economically disadvantaged.

Children who are left home alone after school while their parents work are more likely to become involved with gangs or drugs, Kumar said. An after-school program would keep the students safe and provide an extended learning opportunity, which could translate into higher test scores, he said.

Kumar said he would also focus on strengthening the district's elementary schools.

"You need a good foundation to build a good building," he said. "If the foundation is bad, it's hard to build up anything on top."

Kumar, whose 17-year-old son, Ratesh, attends Berkmar High and 16-year-old son, Saket, attends the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, said he would also look for ways to promote parental involvement in the schools and put more emphasis on science and math classes.

His opponent, Ralph Villani, is a lawyer and former teacher whose priority would be to put more dollars into the classroom.

Villani said he would question any of the district's spending unless officials could show how the money would benefit children. He said, for example, he would fight spending millions of dollars each year on new textbooks.

"That money belongs in the classroom, not in publishers' pockets," Villani said. "Tell me what has changed in math that we need a new textbook."

Villani said he would also work to create more support for teachers, whom he called some of the lowest-paid and least-appreciated professionals. He said teaching is one of the most important professions because anyone who achieves something had a teacher.

Villani, who is raising a granddaughter he and his wife adopted after one of his daughters died, said he's running in the election because he loves children.

"Who's there to raise a voice for the children?" he said. "Right now, I don't hear anyone raising voices for children."

The winner of the primary election will face longtime school board member Louise Radloff, the Republican incumbent, in November.

SideBar: Board of Education District 5

Ravindra Kumar

Party: Democrat

Age: 47

Residence: Lilburn

Education: Master's degree in chemistry; master's in medical biochemistry; Ph.D. in biochemistry

Occupation: Research and teaching at the Morehouse School of Medicine

Political experience: None

Family: Wife Mina; children Ritesh and Saket

Ralph Villani

Party: Democrat

Age: 66

Residence: Lawrenceville

Education: Juris doctorate from John Marshall Law School; specialist's degree in math education from Georgia State University

Occupation: Lawyer, former teacher

Political experience: Ran for office twice in New Jersey

Family: Wife Elizabeth; three children, four grandchildren