COLUMBIA — Molly Spearman and Sally Atwater finished the eight-way GOP race to be South Carolina’s next education superintendent within 1,500 votes of each other. Voters return to the polls Tuesday to decide who will be the Republican choice in November.
Spearman, the director of the state Association of School Administrators, led the field in the June 10 primary, but only by half of a percentage point. Both she and Atwater, the widow of GOP strategist Lee Atwater, took roughly 22 percent of the vote.
Both tout their classroom credentials.
Sally Atwater, 63, taught 9½ years at schools in Rock Hill, Gilbert and Columbia before moving to Washington with her late husband. After three decades there, she moved back to South Carolina in 2012 and returned to the classroom, teaching special education in Walterboro. She resigned in February to campaign, saying she wanted to give teachers a voice.
For the past decade, Spearman, 60, has led the group that advocates for about 3,600 K-12 administrators across the state. Her previous roles include 18 years as a music teacher and two years as an assistant elementary school principal.
Both Atwater and Spearman say they want to implement Gov. Nikki Haley’s education improvement plan, which focuses on poor, rural students. Atwater said she got excited after reading the plan on her district’s Web site. Spearman was among the educators Haley met with to develop the budgetary suggestions she released in January. Both attended Haley’s celebration earlier this month of her plan’s passage in the state budget.
Byars questions Spearman’s Republican credentials.
“She’s not really a conservative Republican,” he said.
Spearman says that’s a tactic used for people who have switched parties, including Ronald Reagan.
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 says she’s voted in every GOP primary since. The winner of the GOP runoff will face the winner of the Democratic runoff for superintendent. Sheila Gallagher and Tom Thompson face each other in that race Tuesday.