S.C. Superintendent Molly Spearman looks for ideas from Charleston schools

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman watches as students at Charles Pinckney Elementary recite math problems while doing step-ups in a special weekly class called “active brains.”

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman made her first trip to Charleston County schools Friday, visiting classrooms across the county to learn about what teachers here are doing and what they need.

Spearman said Charleston County is her first visit to a larger school district since taking office in January. She said she wanted to get ideas about what’s working for teachers here and how that could be replicated across the state.

“I’m looking for new strategies,” she said.

And Spearman got just that when she visited kinesthetic classrooms at Charles Pinckney Elementary where students are encouraged to move during class using tables with swivel seats, balance balls, and bicycle and elliptical pedals.

In one fifth grade math and science class, Spearman tried out a swivel chair next to students who bobbed and shimmied at their tables while they worked on an assignment. In an “active brains” class, a special weekly activity, students reviewed multiplication, division and fractions while using balance balls, stationary bicycles and doing step-ups.

Spearman called the kinesthetic learning at Pinckney “impressive,” saying active learning is the kind of idea that could be replicated at other schools in South Carolina.

Earlier in the morning at Wando High School, Spearman toured the school’s new Center for Advanced Studies, which houses career and technology courses. Despite being a campus of nearly 4,000 students — and the state’s largest high school — Spearman said the school ran very smoothly and that students seemed “very engaged” in their classes.

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, who toured schools with Spearman Friday, said discussions with teachers and administrators at Wando revealed a need to consider a legislative change to make it easier for technical professionals, such as engineers, to transition to the classroom.

At a time when teachers are facing a lot of changes, including new timed standardized tests as well as new standards for English and math, Spearman said she hoped to reassure teachers that “things are calming down.” And she said she felt reassured Friday because the teachers she met seemed “very happy.”

Acting Charleston Superintendent Michael Bobby said he was encouraged by Spearman’s visit. Bobby said she seemed open to making changes at the state level to better serve students.

“She is very anxious to know what the needs are for schools across the state,” Bobby said.