S.C. Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Beaufort, will run for state schools' chief, he told The State this week, campaigning on a desire to put "effective teachers in the classroom" and to use the Department of Education as a tool for assisting needy school districts and collaborating with districts statewide.
The Education Department, he said, "should be a supporting entity to every district throughout the state, but more so should be targeted to those districts that don't have the assets that other districts have -- a backstop for those districts."
Patrick joins three other candidates, two Democrats and one Republican, for the seat. State schools' chief Mick Zais has decided not to run for re-election.
Patrick said he wants to identify "pockets of success that appear throughout the state" -- districts that have successful programs -- and "model initiatives that have been successful in one district, and tweak them to meet the needs of community in another district."
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The Education Department would be a facilitator of that collaboration, he said.
Patrick also has introduced legislation that would establish a teacher-evaluation system based in part on how well students improve, year over year, on test scores.
A similar teacher-evaluation system is currently being tested in some school districts across the state. State schools' chief Mick Zais, R-Columbia, has been met with some hostility among educator groups.
But Patrick said he hopes to bring those groups to the table as he moves forward with his legislation -- saying that bringing people together in collaboration is something he has excelled at throughout his military and business career.
Patrick's bill also would put in place a teacher pay system that rewards quality teachers and would tie evaluations and personnel decisions to performance reviews, he said.
The two-term state House representative and security consultant -- a former U.S. Secret Service agent and military veteran -- said his experience as a father of five children, four school-age and attending S.C. public schools, inspired him to seek the state's highest education office.
Though a supporter of school choice, Patrick said his focus as schools chief would be the state's public-school system, where he has found success educating his children, including two with special needs.
One of his sons attends the S.C. School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg. Patrick said his son "had no language skills at all" at first, but is now reading on grade level thanks to the public school.
"That's inspiring to me. That a kid who has that stacked against him in life" could come so far, he said. “I want them to have the best opportunity to grow and succeed in South Carolina.”
Patrick is the fourth person to announce a bid for state schools' chief.
The field includes two Democrats -- state Rep. Mike Anthony of Union, a retired high-school football coach, athletic director and public-school teacher, and Montrio Belton of Fort Mill, also a former S.C. public-school educator and administrator who worked in Zais' Education Department.
Anthony, the first to enter the race in August and the front-runner in fundraising, said the following about Patrick's entering the race:
"While I consider Andy a friend, the last thing we need as superintendent is another politician with zero experience in education. Voters across South Carolina understand we need a superintendent of education who has actually spent time in the classroom, not one who needs on-the-job training. I believe that my thirty years of in-the-classroom experience gives me a unique perspective on how to deal with the serious problems facing our schools."
One Republican, Gary Burgess of Pendleton, also a public school educator and administrator, also said he is running.
Patrick has sought higher office before, finishing fifth in this year’s GOP primary for the 1st District congressional seat vacated by Tim Scott’s appointment to the U.S. Senate. Former Gov. Mark Sanford won that race.
He says his passion for education policy makes him a good fit for the position.
Patrick introduced a reading reform bill in the House last year that would require struggling third-grade readers to be held back for a year of reading-intensive learning.
Called the Read to Succeed Act, that bill's companion in the Senate has been gaining traction among education leaders and advocacy groups.