COLUMBIA — State Rep. Mike Anthony of Union announced Thursday he wants to lead South Carolina’s public schools, saying he will use his experience as a team-builder to solve educational problems while boosting teachers’ morale.

The 63-year-old retired teacher and coach said a lifelong passion for education inspired him to run for the Democratic nomination for state education superintendent. He could face Republican Superintendent Mick Zais next year.

“It’s a passion we have as a family,” said Anthony, reciting a list of educators that include his wife, sister, daughters and nieces.

“The morale of our teachers is down. I’ll be a cheerleader for those teachers. I’ll work my behind off to make sure they feel comfortable and they feel respected like it was when I was hired back in the day,” he said outside Hand Middle, an award-winning school in downtown Columbia.

Anthony retired in 2004 after 32 years of teaching in high schools in Greenville, Lexington, Pickens, Saluda and Union counties. He kicked off his three-stop tour in his hometown of Union, which first elected him to the state House in 2002. He also was head football coach and athletic director for Union High School. During his tenure, the Yellow Jackets won three state football championships, in 1999, 2000 and 2002.

He ended his announcement tour in North Charleston. Anthony sits on the K-12 subcommittee of Ways and Means, the House’s powerful budget-writing committee, and is a former board member of the Education Oversight Committee, an agency independent of the education department that oversees standardized testing and report cards.

“I don’t have all the answers to our problems in the educational system, but I’m able to build teams together ... to help us find the solutions,” he said.

Zais is seeking a second term, but he declined Thursday to discuss a potential opponent. He said he’s focusing on his job as state schools chief, not campaigning. He reiterated that he has limited himself to no more than two terms.

“For crying out loud, we’ve got seven months until filing and 15 months until the election,” said Zais,

Zais, 66, had been president of private Newberry College for 10 years when he launched his first run for office. He took the school’s helm in 2000 after retiring from the Army as a brigadier general.

During his 31 years in the military, he was a paratrooper and Ranger and served in Korea and Vietnam.