COLUMBIA --- A mother who backs conservative education policies and home-schools her four daughters has been elected head of the board that oversees South Carolina's public schools.
Kristin Maguire, 39, of Clemson, S.C., was voted chairwoman-elect of the State Board of Education on Wednesday, which means she is to become chairwoman in 2009.
She becomes the nation's only home-schooler to head a state board overseeing public schools, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education and the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.
Ms. Maguire is a county Republican leader and co-founder of South Carolina Parents in Education, a group that pushes for abstinence education, taxpayer dollars spent on private schools and the teaching of intelligent design, which is a theory that the universe's order and complexity is so great that science alone cannot explain it.
She said home-schooling her children, ages 8 to 14, has nothing to do with her being on the board and brushed aside questions about that decision.
"That's pretty much off the record; that's out of bounds," Ms. Maguire said.
She said she attended public schools and is the daughter of a public schoolteacher, and she sought the position at the helm of the 17-member board "to make sure public schools are the best they can possibly be."
"I think we're at a critical point in education in our state going forward in making giant leaps and light-year strides rather than eking along," she said.
Ms. Maguire said her biggest goal is to ensure that every child can read by third grade. The Clemson University engineering graduate also wants to make sure children receive high-quality science and math education.
Members of the state Education Board elect the chairperson and are charged with approving education standards taught in classrooms, what textbooks are used and how teachers are certified.
Ms. Maguire took a seat on the board in 2000 after being elected by local lawmakers. She was reappointed in 2004 by Republican Gov. Mark Sanford and has supported his proposal to use public money to help students attend private schools. Asked about her stance on the issue Wednesday, Ms. Maguire said she would leave that subject to the Legislature.
Board member Rick Adkins, of Anderson, S.C., said he voted for Ms. Maguire because she is so well-prepared to discuss agenda items at the board's monthly meetings. He credited her with successfully pushing the board to approve more stringent math standards that require third-graders learn their multiplication tables to 12, rather than to nine.
"That hit me personally," said Mr. Adkins, the father of third-grade twins. "Her personal views and what she does with her children is her choice."
Ms. Maguire actively supported state schools Superintendent Jim Rex's Republican opponent last year. She said Wednesday that was election politics, and she's past it.
Dr. Rex said it's too early to tell the impact of the election. Other Democrats were quick to criticize.
"Having Kristin Maguire chair the State Board of Education is akin to Dick Cheney teaching a gun-safety course. What does a woman who home-schools her four children know about South Carolina public schools?" said state Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler.
Ms. Maguire's second term on the board ends Dec. 31, 2008, but Mr. Sanford is expected to reappoint her. Most board members rotate off after four years, and it's time for Ms. Maguire to give someone else a chance to serve, said former state schools Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum.
"While she does read the material and come prepared, she represents an extreme, right-wing view. She looks at every decision by the board through a right-wing lens," said Mrs. Tenenbaum, a Democrat who frequently clashed with Ms. Maguire on issues including sex education and teaching evolution.
"Unfortunately, she doesn't have children in public schools and is allowed to stay longer than anyone," Mrs. Tenenbaum said. "So many times, something needed to be passed and was held up just because I recommended it and was a Democrat."
The board's nominating committee preferred Trip DuBard, a Florence businessman with three children in public schools. He was voted down 9-7.
Ms. Maguire was elected on a voice vote.
"I supported Trip because of his total support of public education," said board member Diane Sumpter, of Columbia.
Children who are home-schooled represent a tiny percentage of students, and the board should be led by someone who represents the majority, she said.
RESIDENCE: Clemson, S.C.
HOMETOWN: Clarendon Hills, Ill.
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in engineering, Clemson University
EXPERIENCE: Took seat on state Board of Education in 2000 after election by local legislators, reappointed in 2004 by Gov. Mark Sanford; member of the state Public Charter Schools Association's Advisory Board; co-founder of the conservative activist group Parents Involved in Education
FAMILY: Married, four daughters
-- Associated Press