SOUTH CAROLINA finds itself in a rare happy place when it comes to public education: Both major-party candidates for education superintendent are committed to working with school leaders, teachers and legislators to improve the education that we provide to children. Both are committed to working for common-sense ways to improve our schools. And neither feels compelled to pander to the extremes of their party.
That’s another way of saying that either Republican Molly Spearman or Democrat Tom Thompson will offer a refreshing break from the past four years.
Dr. Thompson is an earnest educator who has trained many of our state’s principals and superintendents through the state Education Department and USC. He exudes a quiet professionalism that leaves little doubt that he would get to work quickly reinstating the professional development and assistance that he says the Education Department has not been providing to the school districts.
But while he certainly is qualified for the job, Ms. Spearman offers our state a rare opportunity: She has the potential to lead us past the destructive efforts to pay parents to abandon the public schools, and get us back to improving the schools that we are constitutionally bound to provide and that will always educate the overwhelming majority of students.
That’s because she embraces the same centrist approach that used to characterize education superintendents, but she embraces it from the perspective of the majority party in our Legislature. That makes her more likely to be heard by those majority-party lawmakers who see every issue as having either an R or a D after it.
Ms. Spearman, a former teacher who has served as a legislator, a top state Education Department official and director of the state’s school administrators’ association, is one of the visionaries behind a business-backed plan to transform our 19th century model of education to meet our 21st century needs. The idea is to overhaul how we teach children — focusing on subject mastery rather than seat time, and tailoring teaching to meet each child’s individual needs — and what we teach them, with an emphasis on the critical-thinking skills that employers demand.
Beyond that, she supports the smartest reforms from across the political system, from giving parents more choices within the public schools to helping ensure that we have better principals, and that they can act effectively. And unlike her opponent, she recognizes that the governor needs to appoint the education superintendent.
Ms. Spearman is, in short, someone who sees where we need to transform public education and where we need to tweak it, and she has the ability and relationships to turn that knowledge into a plan and build the public support to make it happen. We would be fortunate to have her as our next superintendent of education.
In their own words