For many years, Molly Spearman taught music throughout the state, including Chapin Elementary School in wealthy Lexington County School District 5.
She was assigned to a school that had everything, the Republican candidate for state superintendent of education told members of the Aiken County Republican Club earlier this week. The school offered equipment and every instrument imagined, and the children had great opportunities.
“Then I went back home (to Saluda County),” she said, “teaching in a used portable with no air conditioning and an old upright piano. It was dispiriting to see what was going on. Some of the finest teachers were in the school, but they didn’t have a lot of resources.”
But adding necessary resources can help, and the Saluda schools have been doing well, she said. Ultimately, it’s about the quality of the teachers and the strengths of principals in observing teachers and how they develop the skills of teachers.
Starting in 1992, Spearman spent six years in the S.C. House before becoming a deputy superintendent with the State Department. For nearly a decade, she has served as the director of the S.C. Association of School Administrations.
“My career has come to this point,” Spearman said. “I have the knowledge and contacts among business leaders, educators and legislators.”
Good things are going on in the Aiken County schools, she told the club members. But its leaders want to be accountable, and members need to let them know if their efforts are not sufficient, she said.
“Most teachers see education as a ministry,” Spearman said. “But children have a lot of issues, and we take children as they come. We do the best we can, and it’s not always easy. This room is filled with talent with all the backgrounds and careers you’ve had. I’ll be calling retirees to work with us.”
She acknowledged the state superintendent doesn’t have a lot of authority over the individual districts. But she has a good relationship with administrators through her most recent position and will work with them closely, she said.
One question from club members cited South Carolina ranking at the bottom in K-12 education.
“We have improved,” said Spearman. “We are now 37th and, yes, that’s not where we want to be ... But 40 percent of the mothers in our state don’t have a high school diploma. We’re doing pretty well, but will have to do better.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.