Political newcomer and former teacher Jason Williams appeared on the road to victory Tuesday night, as he led the Democratic primary for state superintendent of public instruction in all of the state’s counties except Maricopa.
Williams, 29, spent the past five years serving as executive director of the state’s Teach for America program, which places top university graduates as teachers in the toughest schools.
In early unofficial results, Williams led every county except Maricopa, which he said was a direct result of his campaigning — in a big yellow school bus — in the state’s rural areas.
“I wanted to run this with a very grass-roots campaign, in the spirit of the Democratic party,” he said. “We went and I pounded the pavement in every single corner of the state.”
The state’s largest teachers union, the Arizona Education Association, had backed his opponent, Phoenix father and former state lawmaker Slade Mead, 44.
Williams said building up name recognition to fight Mead’s was a challenge.
“But that can be a positive or a negative thing, depending on what you brought to the table. I didn’t have to worry about that, I just had to get out with my own campaign,” he said.
Mead could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Williams’ campaign has focused on raising literacy in elementary schools and getting more local leaders to volunteer in schools — something he says his experience working with nonprofit and volunteer agencies will help him do.
On the campaign trail, he has positioned himself as a former teacher because his first job after he graduated from Boston College was working as a middle school teacher in Oakland, Calif., as part of Teach for America.
Williams raised $22,056 from Arizona contributors according to June reports — roughly twice what Mead raised in-state.
But Williams also found $14,700 from out of state, much coming from California, New York and Texas.
Both Williams and Mead campaigned on revamping the way Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards is administered, a contentious issue that will remain at the forefront of the race when Williams faces incumbent Tom Horne in the general election.
Kathy Herren, 37, filled out her ballot before she headed to the polls. Herren, a Tempe homemaker, said she approved of Horne, but some things in the educational system needed to be fixed.
“He’s done all right,” she said. “I don’t agree with the AIMS test. Teaching is now towards AIMS, not to kids.”