There is a bunch of people running for the job of South Carolina Superintendent of Education. Just on the Republican side, eight men and women want to be in charge of the state’s schools, a $4 billion empire of dysfunctional enterprise. The state of South Carolina schools is a subject of long and passionate debate and the people who have run the Department of Education for the last several decades have been miserable failures. Given legislative interference, administrator privilege and cultural backwardness, it may not matter who next runs things from Senate Street, but we can at least try to select someone with the best potential to make changes.
I’m not going to address the Democrat candidates for office because they are Democrats. The folks running on that ticket may well be good and viable administrators, but choosing t
o be Democrats in the age of Barack Obama is an unacceptable decision and causes me to question their judgement.
The State newspaper published the following synopses of the Republican contenders. I’ve added links to the candidates’ websites.
Sally Atwater, a Republican from Columbia, is a Colleton County teacher and the widow of political strategist Harvey “Lee” Atwater. She also worked for the U.S. Department of Education on special education programs. She has said she supports Governor Nikki Haley’s education reform package.
Gary Burgess, a Republican from Pendleton, said on his website he plans to eliminate the achievement gap within his first 100 days in office. The former school administrator and adjunct professor worked on Superintendent of Education Mick Zais’ Education Transition Assessment Team in 2010, and advocates eliminating Common Core. He supports programs such as distance and virtual learning, agriculture education, dual credit, apprenticeships and others.
Meka Childs, a Republican from Columbia, was a deputy superintendent in the state Department of Education. She advocates individualizing education by supporting public schools, charter schools, magnet schools and other options.
Amy Cofield, a Republican from Lexington, was a former teacher and is now a lawyer. She has lead efforts against Common Core in Lexington schools.
Sheri Few, a Republican from Lugoff, is the founder of the conservative organization South Carolina Parents Involved in Education. She advocated ending common core, and supports school vouchers and tax credits for private schools or homeschooling.
Don Jordan, a Republican from Columbia, is a professor at the University of South Carolina’s Center for Science Education. He supports limiting tuition increases in higher education.
Elizabeth Moffly, a Republican from Charleston, will end her term as a Charleston School Board trustee in November. She supports changing the South Carolina high school diploma to include a college preparatory track, a special education track and a vocational education track.
Molly Spearman, a Republican from Columbia, served in the state House of Representatives and in the state Department of Education in the 1990s. She has advocated overhauling and updating the education system, which includes allowing parents to send their children to private or parochial schools if they choose.
Jordan, a USC professor concentrated on tuition during the debate and seemed generally scattershot.
Dr. Burgess is a candidate with what appears to be solid credentials, but for someone with such a wide range of experiences, primarily in the Upstate, his support is curiously weak. What is it about Dr. Burgess that people in his geographic sphere have contributed less than $6,000? Actually, that represents the totality of the contributions to his campaign statewide.
How much money an office seeker raises isn’t necessarily a measure of his/her qualifications for office, but in a small state, it can be seen as testament to what those who know the candidate think about the candidate. With Dr. Burgess, this is a red flag.
Elizabeith Moffly is on her third attempt to be the Superintendent of Education adding to a previous run for Congress. This means voters have rejected her three times (so far) and, it appears, for good reason. Not only was she pitted against superior candidates, but her resume is a bit … contrived.
Even so, some of her bullets for political experience are questionable. For instance, “Successful winning Superintendent Primary in 2010.” Actually, she didn’t win. She finished second to the run-off winner and current Superintendent Gen. Mick Zais.
Other sterling resume points include:
• Served as Republican Precinct Officer
• Precinct Delegate for Ronald Reagan at the State Presidential Convention (1984)
• Elected Ad Hoc Chair for the Health Advisory Committee
• Attended Senate hearings in favor of supporting the repeal of Common Core
• Member of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA)
I’m not impressed.
Meka Childs is an impressive person – as are most of the candidates. But there is a major and, I think, disqualifying entry. Per her website:
Meka was appointed as the Deputy Superintendent for Policy and Research at the South Carolina Department of Education, reporting directly to General Mick Zais, Republican State Superintendent of Education. Most recently Meka served as the Deputy Superintendent over the Division of School Effectiveness. Serving in that capacity, Meka was charged with leading the agency’s efforts to work with schools and districts on educator professional development, educator evaluation, blended learning opportunities, licensure, and school choice options. [Emphasis added]
Status quo, anyone? Aren’t we looking for improvement?
This brings me to Molly Spearman. Again, that about which she is so proud is, to me, reason to eliminate. “Just call me Molly” is the Executive Director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. In 2010 I did a study of the South Carolina education budget and discovered that $500 million – a half a billion dollars – went just to administrators. This figure did not include teachers, custodians or other support personnel, just administrators. Do we want an education administrator lobbyist running the schools? Ms. Spearman’s website also notes that she served in the South Carolina House of Representatives, but does not point out that she was elected twice as a Democrat and twice as a Republican.
Both of these “credentials” cause me to ask “wherein Molly Spearman’s loyalties?” Administrators or children? Republican or Democrat?
- Sally Atwater
- Gary Burgess
- Meka Childs
- Amy Cofield
- Sheri Few
- Don Jordan
- Elizabeth Moffly
- Molly Spearman
Amy Cofield is an accomplished firebrand. If she were to live up to her credentials and campaigning, she would be an excellent choice for Superintendent. A former teacher and a practicing attorney? The General Assembly would be advised to invest in metal codpieces.
Not the most glib candidate on the stump, but no other exudes the unforced passion for children and education as Sally Atwater. With qualifications that rival if not exceed those of other candidates, her love of students and disdain for bureaucracy comes through as sincere. But more than her opponents, Sally seems like one of us or, at least, like one of those teachers we both loved and feared. It is clear that her tenure would be class room, not board room focused.
Ms. Atwater also has the experience on the policy level that allows her the perspective to understand no only from where the bureaucrats are coming, but how to counter their arguments and navigate the special interest minefields.
I believe Molly Spearman, Meka Childs and Elizabeth Moffly to be more of the same failure and even dangerous. Amy Cofield could be a tough administrator, but, come votin’ time, I’ll cast for Sally Atwater.