Zais displays flexibility

State Superintendent Of Education Dr. Mick Zais visited with North Chalreston High School Principal Robert A. Grimm alon with Dr. Nancy mcGinley Monday April 23, 2012 as he toured three lowcountry schools.(Grace Beahm/postandcourier.com)

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais didn’t visit two of the state’s poorest performing high schools only to instruct them to do better. He went to Burke and North Charleston high schools to listen. After all, each school has its own story — its own student population, faculty, history and needs.

The visit will prepare him to help decide the future of those schools — whether the state will take them over from the district or the principals will be removed or they will be given more time to improve.

A superintendent who does his homework — including original research — is to be commended.

And a superintendent who tries to see opportunities instead of impediments is to be commended even more.

Charleston County School Superintendent Nancy McGinley told him about her novel idea: Allow struggling students who go to summer school to take standardized tests later than the norm — after they have benefited from additional instruction.

Dr. Zais liked the concept and asked her to make a formal request. He said he would handle “the bureaucrats.”

Dr. Zais’ confidence in Dr. McGinley, and in his own ability to make changes when they will help students learn, is refreshing. Educators for year have talked about being too restricted by one-size-fits-all rules and expectations. Here’s a superintendent who appears to be more interested in results than marching in lockstep to a litany of rules. Hence, his strong support for charter schools.

And here is a superintendent who appears committed to turning around failing schools. It isn’t enough for a district to have highly successful schools. It can’t tolerate schools that are failing students.

Dr. Zais has been criticized for refusing to pursue federal grants that he fears would come with major strings attached. He has been criticized for his focus on basic skills and for his unwillingness to request additional money for teacher salaries.

On the other hand, Dr. Zais has espoused merit pay for teachers, a strong focus on reading and charter schools — three areas that could help improve the state’s schools.

During his 10 years as president of Newberry College, Mick Zais saw enrollment nearly double, the endowment more than double, facilities constructed and renovated, and academic programs added.

He deserves a chance to work that sort of magic in the state’s disappointing public schools — including North Charleston and Burke high schools.