SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) — Two Republican candidates are in a runoff election in the primary for South Carolina’s superintendent of education seat. Palmetto State Teachers Association Executive Director Kathy Maness and conservative think tank CEO Ellen Weaver are facing each other for the second time, after neither candidate received a majority of the vote in the June 14 primary election. 7News interviewed both candidates to discuss their ideas for the state.
The winner of the runoff election will face Democratic Candidate Lisa Ellis in the Fall.
|Republicans Candidates for SC Superintendent of Education: June 14, 2022 (Primary Results)||Votes||Percent|
“It’s clear that we are in an education crisis in South Carolina. Our children have been underperforming for many years now. Our education system has been letting down our teachers, our students and our parents for a long time, and COVID really brought a lot of those issues to a head, to the forefront.
“As state superintendent of education, I believe it’s my job to help rebuild trust through transparency. And that means having conversations out in the community. You know, as the superintendent of education, I’m not going to be sitting behind a desk in Columbia. I’m going to be out listening to parents in the community, talking with teachers, truly understanding what’s happening on the ground so that I can then carry that feedback back to Columbia, where decisions are being made,” said Weaver.
What are some of your plans for education in the state?
“Well, it’s clear that we’ve got to get back to the basics. Early literacy is something that is just absolutely critical. If students don’t have a strong foundation in reading and the basics of reading, they just continue to fall further and further behind, and so I think that early literacy is absolutely critical. We’ve got to figure out how to better support our teachers in the classroom.
“We’ve made great progress over the last few years in raising our teacher salaries to the southeastern average, but there’s more work to do. I’d love to see us get our salaries to the national average in the next five years, but we also know from teachers that it’s not just about money. They feel like they are not being supported and heard in the classroom, and I think a lot of that can come back to discipline issues.
“We need to make sure that our administrators know that we have their back when they have their teachers’ back, and so there are a lot of things that we can do to, I think, elevate the profession of teaching and encourage a culture of excellence and support for our teachers by engaging the community and helping them in this job. We can’t expect them to do it by themselves.
What are your thoughts on curriculum changes?
“Well, high-quality curriculum is really, you know, the foundation of a good classroom experience. High-quality curriculum taught by a teacher who is well-trained and so those have to be important focuses for us here in South Carolina.
“It’s clear that we need to focus our curriculum efforts on the things that we know are going to make a difference for kids. Again, I go back to that early literacy, to basic math. We don’t need to be talking about politically divisive issues in the classroom. We need to be focusing on things that truly are going to make a difference for children and their learning.
“The job of superintendent is really about three ‘P’s.’ First, you have to be able to talk with and listen to people. You then have to translate that feedback into good policy to support what is working and to fix what isn’t. But then thirdly, you have to be able to work those policy ideas through the process, working with the governor and the General Assembly of the state.
“And so my background in both politics and public policy and communications uniquely qualifies me for this job because I understand what it takes to actually make real change. I was just talking with some teachers here in the Lowcountry this morning, and one of the things that they said that really struck me was that we’ve been having the same conversations in education for decades, and nothing ever seems to change.
“And I believe that it can change if we have bold, courageous leadership at the superintendent level.
“The fact is, there are ideas that are working in states all around us. They are reforming their education systems, and we live in a global marketplace now that requires us to be competitive, not just with our next-door neighbors, but with the world. And if South Carolina doesn’t get in the game, our children are going to be left behind.
“So that’s the fresh energy that I want to bring to the superintendent’s office. Let’s look at what’s working in South Carolina. Let’s see what’s working in other states, and then let’s build the team that it’s going to take to get it done here.
What changes in education are you particularly excited about?
“I think there is a strong movement across South Carolina to restore a focus on phonics, and that is how I believe we close achievement gaps across the state that have persisted for far too long.
“We know now that we are not underfunding education in South Carolina, but we are ‘mis-funding’ education. And so working with the General Assembly to eliminate deadwood and red tape and programs that frankly just aren’t serving students and teachers well, and reallocating that money to get it back down into the classrooms where it can support teachers and students in their learning has to be a top priority of the next superintendent,” said Weaver.
“As the superintendent, I would be sworn-in in January. Within the month of January, I’m going to bring together police chiefs and sheriffs from all over South Carolina, and we’re going to talk about school safety, because I don’t want what happened in Texas to happen to a South Carolina school.
“So we’re going to bring them together and we’re going to get a plan to keep our students, our teachers and all the staff in our public schools safe.
“I want every student that graduates from our public schools to be ready for the three ‘E’s’: enrollment, enlistment or employment. We got to have them ready for their next step in life, whether they’re going to college, whether they’re going to serve our military, or whether they’re going to go into the workforce. It’s our responsibility to make sure they are ready.
“We have to get [more] teachers in our schools in South Carolina. So I’ve got a plan to retain our teachers once we get them in there, but we’ve also got to recruit them.
“All I ever wanted to do was to be a teacher. I mean, from the time I was a little girl, all I wanted to do was to be a teacher. And we’ve got to make sure that that young people are growing up going, ‘I want to be a teacher,’ and we have to put them on the path to be a teacher in South Carolina.
“I want to be a cheerleader for our educators. I want to make sure that our students are prepared. And I want our parents involved in the education of their children.
What are some of the ideas you have to retain and recruit teachers?
“We almost got [a bill] passed in the General Assembly. We ran out of time in the House. It’s called the lottery scholarship enhancement. Right now in South Carolina, if students in our colleges are majoring in math and science, they get a lottery scholarship enhancement. They get more of the lottery money for that, and I want to add education to that list, because we hear young people when they’re coming out of school talking about the amount of debt they’re coming out of from college. And this will help reduce that debt. But once we get them in there, we have to make sure that they have a mentor who’s going to help them be successful.
“And also, we’ve got to retain our teachers. They need less paperwork, less testing. We test our kids entirely too much. I saw a kindergarten teacher in Anderson, she said, I have to assess my students 38 times during the year . . . in kindergarten. So we’ve got to do something about the amount of testing that we’re doing, and we have to restore discipline in our classroom, so that teachers can teach, and students can learn. No student should keep my son from learning, and his teacher from teaching.
“My master’s degree is in early childhood education. I’m a former teacher. I taught in my hometown of Lancaster, South Carolina, for many years. Taught third grade. Absolutely loved it.
“I went to the University of South Carolina, and then I went to Winthrop University, where I received certification in education administration. I am currently the executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association.
“We are the largest professional association for teachers in South Carolina, and we are not a part of the union. We are a true professional association for teachers.
“So my whole life has been advocating for students and for teachers and in the classroom for their parents.
What are some of the changes that might take place in education you’re particularly excited about in the state?
“Well, I hope that we are going to see our General Assembly working harder to help improve education in South Carolina. We’ve got some great spots, but we have some that need some help. And so I really want to get in there and work with the General Assembly so that we can improve education all over South Carolina, because we know that good public schools, equals good economic development. And that’s what we’ve got to do in order to grow businesses in South Carolina, is to make sure our schools are good and that these businesses want to come. And that’s what I will be doing as the next state superintendent of education.