COLUMBIA — The race for schools superintendent heated up Wednesday after a second state representative announced he was getting involved.
Republican Mick Zais, the state’s current education superintendent, announced in December that he would not seek re-election to the post.
State Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Beaufort, announced his candidacy on Wednesday, making him the fourth candidate hoping to take over the state’s top education seat. The 44-year-old father of five said his passion for education makes him the perfect candidate for the job.
“I represent the challenges that parents face when they’re trying to identify how best to educate their children,” Patrick said. “I also identify with the challenges of a teacher and dealing with the unique needs of each and every child.”
Patrick’s children have attend both public and private schools, and have been home schooled; his two youngest children require special needs education as well. Each child has been special and has had unique needs when it comes to education, he said. Those experiences are much of his reason for running.
Leading up to his decision to run, Patrick also pre-filed a bill last month that focuses on teacher quality and effectiveness. Patrick said effective teachers are the most important factor associated with student growth and achievement.
Patrick, chairman of a House education subcommittee, described his bill as “providing a statewide framework” for evaluating teacher effectiveness, while providing districts with flexibility. His proposal would not give teachers an A through F letter grade, but rather would judge them on a scale of highly effective to ineffective.
“The bill is really focused more on identifying the strengths and weaknesses of a particular teacher and getting them targeted professional development in order to bridge that weakness into a strength,” he said Wednesday.
Patrick said he also supported Gov. Nikki Haley’s education plan, which focuses on ensuring children are reading at grade level, and on those who attend poor, rural districts.
“While there may not be any one silver bullet that solves the challenges that we face in education, if we solve education, it may be the silver bullet to solving so many other things like poverty and crime,” he said.
Following Patrick’s announcement, one of his opponents, State Rep. Mike Anthony, took a jab in a written statement at Patrick, criticizing his lack of first-hand experience with education. Anthony, D-Union, has spent more than 30 years in the classroom as a football coach and teacher.
“While I consider Andy a friend, the last thing we need as superintendent is another politician with zero experience in education,” Anthony wrote. “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.”
Republican Gary Burgess and Democrat Montrio Belton, the two other candidates vying for the seat, could not be reached for comment. Burgess, who ran unsuccessfully for the job in 2010, plans a formal announcement on Monday. He is a former educator and Anderson County school board member.
Belton is a former school teacher and administrator and served as director of the Office of School Transformation under Zais.
The race for superintendent plays into a larger context of state politics, making it an interesting one to watch, said Mark Tompkins, political science professor at the University of South Carolina. It’s an opportunity for Democrats to snag a statewide race, something they haven’t had much success with in recent years, he said.
“The Democrats appear to have a good candidate for Superintendent of Education,” Tompkins said. “The Republicans are still working on their candidate.”
Plus, both Haley and Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, have been pushing for changes in education as a way to improve the state’s economic development. Sheheen, Haley’s likely opponent, said on Tuesday the state has to find ways to keep its young people from leaving for better opportunities elsewhere.
Tompkins added that if South Carolina chose to emphasize education, it could give the state a competitive advantage among other Southern states.
“She’s chosen to emphasize very traditional themes of education,” Tompkins said of Haley. “The race between her and Senator Sheheen would likely include a struggle between who could do better on education.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.