Molly Spearman is now the eighth Republican to jump into the race since GOP schools chief Mick Zais announced in December that he’s not seeking re-election. Two Democrats also are seeking the job.
Spearman said she believes her experiences make her stand out from the ever-growing field. For the past decade, she’s led the group that advocates for about 3,600 K-12 administrators across the state. Her previous roles include teacher, principal, legislator and a deputy superintendent at the state Department of Education.
“South Carolina really needs a state superintendent who can be an advocate for education,” she said. “I’m uniquely prepared for this job.”
She said she wants to help Gov. Nikki Haley implement her plan to improve education through focusing on poor students and rural areas. Spearman was among educators Haley met with as she crafted her budgetary suggestions, which the House Ways and Means incorporated last week in its budget plan for 2014-15.
“I support that 100 percent,” Spearman said of Haley’s plan, which involves putting an additional $177 million in K-12 schools next school year in what the Republican governor has called the first of a multiyear investment. Haley, who’s seeking re-election, has not yet developed suggestions for future school years.
Spearman also said she wants to boost career and technology education in high schools, to include setting up apprenticeship programs, so that graduates entering the workforce are better prepared.
A native of Saluda, Spearman was elected to represent Saluda County in the South Carolina House for four terms, the first two as a Democrat. She was among lawmakers who switched parties in 1995, after Republicans gained control of the House and took over most of the state’s constitutional offices.
Spearman, 60, said her past roles demonstrate her ability to work with lawmakers of both parties.
In 1998, she campaigned for Democrat Inez Tenenbaum’s Republican opponent for state superintendent. But after Tenenbaum won, she asked Spearman to be her legislative liaison. Spearman was the agency’s deputy superintendent of government relations for six years and Tenenbaum’s chief of staff for one.
Spearman’s 18 years as a music teacher include being named Chapin Elementary’s 1986 “teacher of the year.” She was an assistant principal of an elementary school in Saluda County for two years.
Spearman will remain at the state Association of School Administrators while she campaigns. The group is piloting its own teacher evaluation program this school year in 16 schools across six districts. It was developed as an alternative to Zais’ plan, which is being tested in 49 schools in 13 districts.
Evaluating educators based on performance is a required part of the state’s exemption from the all-or-nothing provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The state Board of Education must approve an evaluation plan before it goes statewide, which is supposed to occur next school year.
Students’ academic growth must be part of evaluations, Spearman said.
“We need to work together to make sure it’s a fair plan that will give teachers and their evaluators information they need,” Spearman said.
Other Republicans running for superintendent are Anderson County school board member Gary Burgess; Sally Atwater of Charleston, widow of Republican strategist Lee Atwater; Zais’ former deputy superintendent Charmeka Childs; attorney Amy Cofield of Lexington; GOP activist Sheri Few of Lugoff; University of South Carolina professor Don Jordan; and Charleston County school board member Elizabeth Moffly.
Democrats vying for the job are Rep. Mike Anthony of Union, a retired teacher and coach; and Zais’ former director of school transformation, Montrio Belton of Fort Mill.