SC Superintendent of Education Candidates Share Their Viewpoints on the Issues

Public Education Partners sent a questionnaire to the 2022 SC Superintendent of Education candidates participating in the June 14th Primaries, to get their responses to questions about issues important to educators, community members, and parents.

We received responses from Gary Burgess, Sr. (Democrat), Lisa Ellis (Democrat), Kathy Maness (Republican), Ellen Weaver (Republican), and Lynda Leventis-Wells (Republican). Responses were limited to 150 words. Any responses greater than 150 words were truncated. Responses were not edited.

Click here to view responses as a pdf.
Please introduce yourself, share your experience with education, and give us your “why”–your motivation to be South Carolina’s Superintendent of Education?
  • Bedson: Did not respond
  • Burgess: Because democracy is on the ballot, I am running to take back public education from the extreme right, recentering education as it ought to be. It is a human right for our children to be well-educated. Of all the candidates running I am the most qualified. I am a product of the public school system of Spartanburg County. I have served as a classroom teacher, an assistant principal, a principal, an assistant superintendent, a school district superintendent and now as an elected board member on the Anderson County Board of Education. I am certified as a teacher and district superintendent. I earned my doctorate degree from the University of South Carolina-Columbia. South Carolina has prepared me to be the next state superintendent of education. South Carolina has prepared me to launch our most precious presents, our children, into the future in building a more perfect union.
  • Chapman: Did not respond
  • Ellis: Lisa began teaching at Ridge View High School in 2001. During her educational career, she has taught English, Leadership, been a Director of Student Activities, and an Instructional Coach in 4 schools and 3 school districts. She is in her 21th year of teaching as the Student Activities Director at Blythewood High School in Richland 2. Lisa created the SC for Ed Facebook closed group as a community for SC educators to become a collective voice. Lisa decided to run for SC Superintendent of Education because she has seen the detrimental effects that bad policy has caused in public education. She will work to provide a high-quality education for every student in SC by improving the recruitment and retention of teachers and school support staff and fight for equitable funding for schools in order to support the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of children.
  • Gibson: Did not respond
  • Govan: Did not respond
  • Maness: I am a wife and mother of three children with three different abilities from Gifted and Talented to Special Education. I am a former third grade teacher and currently the Executive Director of Palmetto State Teachers Association. My entire adult life has been working for the students, teachers and parents of SC. I am running for this office because I believe in public education. I have a two-year-old granddaughter, I am running for her and all the students of SC. We need someone in this office who cares about our public schools, the students, teachers and all education support staff. I have been a strong voice and advocate for improving education for many years. I can work with the members of the General Assembly to bring positive change to education and support our teachers. I have the qualifications and experience to be ready on day one for this position.
  • Weaver: I am running because the time for excuses has passed. South Carolina’s education system has been at the bottom for far too long. We need strong leadership with a fresh perspective that listens to people, provides a bold policy vision, and quarterbacks the team it will take to move that agenda through the process. I have served on the Education Oversight Committee and had a front row seat to the misalignment of policy and resources across our system. Throughout my career, I have been honored to build trusted relationships with policy, parental, educational, business, and faith leaders of diverse backgrounds across this state. They have confidence in my ability to lead on Day 1 and to build the kind of top-flight team it will take to make significant strides forward for the children and educational future of our state.
  • Leventis-Wells: I have met and far exceeded the qualifications when I filed to run for the South Carolina State Superintendent.  I received my Master’s from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Guidance and Educational Psychology and my BA Degree from the University of South Carolina in Health and Physical Education. Over 35 years experience as an educator both in law enforcement and public education.  I have observed firsthand how the lack of a quality education impacts lives.  It’s imperative that all students receive a great education by engaging students in classes with meaningful experience that cultivate world class knowledge and skills, while developing character, leadership and citizenship! I don’t want to just be your SC Superintendent…I want to be the best SC Superintendent our state has ever had!  Good is not good enough, I always strive for GREATNESS!

THE TEACHER SHORTAGE

Teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate, and there are fewer and fewer graduates from our state’s college education programs waiting to take their place.

What is your plan for increasing teacher retention and encouraging teachers to remain in the profession long term?
  • Bedson: Did not respond
  • Burgess: Implementing a framework called ACE- Academic Excellence, allowing teachers to do their jobs without fear; Community Local Control, allowing citizens through their local school boards to set policy to efficiently and effectively operate schools with the maximize impact to benefit teaching and learning; Educator Teacher PRIDE- teacher Pay must reflect their membership in the greatest profession in the world responsible for the progress of civilization, Retaining teachers by creating meaningful environments for their work, allowing them to be Innovative, Developing their craft with an Entrepreneurial mindset. This requires 1. reducing the teacher workload with regards to task that can be handled by others and getting rid of the plethora of test now required; 2. ensuring that new teachers have mentors; 3. demanding that administrators support teachers; 4. getting rid of artificial barriers designed to keep people out of the teaching profession; 5. increasing beginning teacher pay to 50,000.00.
  • Chapman: Did not respond
  • Ellis: My plan for increasing teacher retention is to work to increase teacher salary, update the salary schedule, and improve working conditions for teachers and school support staff. The working conditions can be addressed by reviewing department of education mandates and removing mandates that are ineffective or outdated. I would also review the teacher certification criteria, including the Praxis to determine if we are preventing teachers who want to teach from becoming certified.
  • Gibson: Did not respond
  • Govan: Did not respond
  • Maness: South Carolina is experiencing a teacher shortage crisis. As the next State Superintendent of Education, recruiting and retention of teachers will be one of my top priorities. Increasing teacher pay and extending the steps on the state salary schedule is a great place to start, but it is much more than that. I will fight to reduce paperwork, reduce testing and restore discipline in our classrooms so teachers can teach, and students can learn. We must reduce class sizes, provide quality mentor support for new teachers and create meaningful pathways with added compensation to keep our best teachers in the classroom. Teachers must have support of school leaders and the community to educate the children of SC. I will use my position to improve working conditions for all teachers so they will stay in our classrooms and continue to make a difference in the lives of our children.
  • Weaver: Teachers are the #1 in-school determiner of student learning. We must simplify South Carolina’s education standards to provide clarity for teachers and prioritize the foundational knowledge and skills children need to be successful. We must do a top to bottom audit of Title 59 and all related rules and regulations to eliminate paperwork and programmatic red tape that distracts teachers from their main focus. We must build a comprehensive, community-based strategy to support our teachers in the classroom, including continuing the progress we have made in recent years to increase teacher pay, looking to the example of states like TN to create a teacher apprenticeship program to attract young teachers into the profession and properly prepare them, recruiting and vetting an army of community tutors and mentors, and examining school discipline procedures to ensure our teachers are safe and respected in the classroom to name just a few items.
  • Leventis-Wells: We value our teachers and always have in Greenville.  We were the first to increase first year teachers salaries to $40,000.  We are currently at $42, 500 and will approve a $2,000 pay raise and for many step increases.  We must retain high quality and effective classroom teachers.  We need to value, appreciate and communicate with our teachers.  It’s important that we have a team of teachers across the STATE and find out what motivates teachers and implements these things.  Is it to reduce class size in order to promote individualized instruction? Is it to provide teachers with unencumbered time from interruption or a safe learning environment?  There are many things I could list.  But who better to ask than teachers!  Teachers need to teach the subject matter they were certified in and stop asking them to do things unrelated to their field! Please understand that keeping teachers…[exceeded word limit]

SCHOOL CLIMATE AND STUDENT SUPPORTS

One factor in teachers leaving the profession is school climate. That encompasses a lot of things, but we know that the mental health and well-being of our students is of the utmost importance for preparing students to learn productively. We also know that students in crisis or who have gone through trauma often act out and require teachers to have skills to support them. 

With this in mind, what does social and emotional learning, often referred to as SEL, mean to you?  What is the role of SEL in a classroom setting, including in building empathy and compassion for others across differences and serving children who have experienced trauma?
  • Bedson: Did not respond
  • Burgess: The well-being of students is our primary concern. The Anderson County Board of Education, which I sit on, provides mental health counselors for every school in Anderson County. The best support we can give to a child is to ensure that she is well-educated, academically successful as she engages with her peers. There is no substitute for teachers who are highly effective, who understand their students, their communities and who will hold students to account academically as he, the teacher, provides the necessary support- scaffolding for student success academically, artistically, athletically and socially.
  • Chapman: Did not respond
  • Ellis: SEL is extremely important to student wellbeing and school culture. Schools need funding to increase mental health counselors, social workers, school psychologists, etc. The teaching of SEL should not fall on teachers alone, especially if they are not given time to do it. SEL should be modeled by all adults in the building, and it should be encouraged at home. It should begin in early grades. Teachers should have training, but they should be able to call someone else to address bigger situations.
  • Gibson: Did not respond
  • Govan: Did not respond
  • Maness: SEL has been associated with Critical Race Theory during this election. In my opinion this question is all about how we can help our students. This is very important to me as a parent of a child with a disability, traumatic brain injury (TBI). Our family had a golf cart accident when my son was five resulting in him having TBI. He had wonderful teachers both regular education and special education who truly made a difference for him. It was often difficult and the regular ed teachers needed extra support to help with his disability and the times of lack of impulse control associated with the TBI. Our schools need more school based mental heath counselors, more guidance counselors who are given the time to work with students experiencing trauma and reduce class sizes so teachers can help our students learn.
  • Weaver: There is no question that poor decisions based on politicized science kept our classrooms closed and our students in masks for far too long. This has done real damage to their mental health and educational progress. As State Superintendent, I will recognize that teachers aren’t therapists and work to replace theory-laden “SEL” by supporting mental health initiatives that partner with parents to engage the mental health needs of their children. We must never usurp parental authority over their child’s physical or mental health decisions (except in the instance of criminal abuse or neglect). I also believe that children are resilient and as such, we must empower them with a growth and ownership mindset that embraces their capabilities rather than consigns them to victimhood. Mindset matters, and because of this, I would also strongly support traditional character-based education to teach life-skills like kindness in classrooms.
  • Leventis-Wells: When we were developing the Greenville County School District Strategic over 7 years ago, SEL had a different meaning. SEL were programs for support of students’ mental health and post graduation success.  Now SEL has a different meaning.  SEL is a political term which is not an approved curriculum in South Carolina.

SCHOOL SAFETY

Due to recent events in our nation and in our own school district, the physical safety of students and school staff is at the forefront of our minds.  Weapons and threats of violence against students and staff have become more common.

What preventative measures do you believe will keep students and staff most safe within our school buildings? What actions will you take to ensure those measures are implemented?
  • Bedson: Did not respond
  • Burgess:S.A.F.E.-Sensible Actionable Firearm EducationI am calling on our communities particularly men, since the issue with firearms in our culture centers around males- boys, teens and adult to stand up in your families and communities to our young people learn how to interact with each other in a safe and sensible way in conflict resolution and to treat firearms with respect.This is what I am asking:
    •       To settle conflict in a manner where firearms are not used
    •       To model civility
    •       To help our young boys and men have a sense of hope and usefulness
    •       To teach firearm safety
    •       To push for proper firearm ownership

    This a community issue not only a school issue therefore all of society- the faith community, law enforcement, fraternal orders, activist organizations such as the Urban League, our political parties need to be involved in this.

  • Chapman: Did not respond
  • Ellis: SEL, wrap around support, smaller class sizes, parent involvement, and funding are all key components to school safety. This is a complex issue that will take more than just schools to solve. School entrances have to be secured, cameras have to be working, and faculty, staff, and students have to keep doors closed and follow safety policies. Schools have to build a culture of support for their students.
  • Gibson: Did not respond
  • Govan: Did not respond
  • Maness: One of the first things I will do as your Superintendent of Education is to bring together police chiefs and sheriffs from all over SC, small towns and big cities, to discuss school safety.  I want to hear from the experts and take their recommendations to the General Assembly to pass legislation to keep our schools safe. We must make sure we do everything possible to keep the students and teachers of SC safe. We still have schools in SC where there is no School Resource Officer. No school in SC should be without a SRO.
  • Weaver: I have supported Governor McMaster’s push to fully fund SRO’s in every school. We have doubled the number funded since 2018, but we need to annualize funding and finish the job. We should change pension restrictions to allow retired law enforcement to serve as SROs and harness the talent of retired veterans. We need a statewide system where students, parents, and teachers can report concerning behaviors. We must coordinate between the Department of Ed, DJJ, DSS, and others to identify trouble students. We must ensure that every school is in full compliance with required safety plans. We must continue to investigate new ways to harden school infrastructure, including technologies coming online now powered by AI to detect weapons before they enter a school building. I will make it a top priority to identify statutory holes, changes, or funding gaps that require legislative attention to support this essential work.
  • Leventis-Wells: Definitely having an SRO in every school. Over the last ten months, the GCS Security Department has participated in demonstrations performed by multiple companies specializing in metal/weapons detection systems. The EVOLV system was identified as the best solution for weapons detection for GCS. The system is fully portable, able to be operated inside or outside, and uses algorithm technology along with cameras to detect concealed weapons. A key advantage of the EVOLV system is the ability for students to flow through its system at a normal pace while providing accurate detection information. The District will purchase several dual-lane systems. The GCS Security Department will implement the systems randomly, beginning on a given day with student arrival at one location and moving to other locations throughout the day. The system will be used at sporting and other events on an as-needed basis pending potential threats of violence or weapons. We…[exceeded word limit]

CURRICULUM AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

Despite the Department of Education’s efforts to reduce the amount of testing in schools, our state legislature has increased its requirements for testing and reporting student assessment data.

What do you believe is the role of standardized assessments and testing in providing an education to all students? How will you work with our elected officials to find a balance for standardized testing requirements?
  • Bedson: Did not respond
  • Burgess: Standard test, for the most part, do not work because students and teachers cannot be standardized. Standardized test should only be used to inform instruction. If the test does not inform instruction the test should not be used. I will work to show the absurdity of the ever-present standardized test. I will call for the elimination of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee which has enriched the testing industry. Formative assessments have a place in curriculum and instruction because those tests inform instruction. Teachers should be able to discuss test, testing content and testing procedures as teams in order to best assess students, student learning, curriculum and instruction.
  • Chapman: Did not respond
  • Ellis: We have to reduce high stakes standardized testing. There are other ways to asses students and determine growth. Pushing policy that benefits students should always be the goal. I believe helping elected officials understand the impact of their policy on students would help. Districts also have to lessen testing. The driver of this is the school report card, and so we have to address how it is measured.
  • Gibson: Did not respond
  • Govan: Did not respond
  • Maness: We are doing entirely too much testing in SC. Much of the testing requirements are due to federal regulations. It is past time for the General Assembly to discuss how much testing is required of our students. Are they willing to forgo the federal funding and increase state funding to make up what we would not receive from DC? Far too many times, teachers do not get the results of the test until the students are out of your class. So, what good is the test if students and parents cannot see the results and teachers cannot see where they need to adjust their instruction. A kindergarten teacher in the Upstate told me she must assess her students 38 times. This is unacceptable. In order to retain teachers, we MUST reduce testing. I understand we need some assessment, but we should only have assessments to improve instruction and provide meaningful…[exceeded word limit]
  • Weaver: South Carolina has actually reduced the number of high-stakes summative tests required at the state level. Because we take federal money, we therefore comply with federal testing and reporting requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Since COVID the state has required districts to engage in diagnostic testing to objectively assess student’s learning loss. Additionally, many districts voluntarily engage in robust standardized formative testing that is not mandated by the state. We need an objective measure of student achievement if we are going to ever know how to get our students to where they need to be. That is why I believe that transparency for student outcomes is a non-negotiable in our education system: we owe that level of responsibility to the students themselves, to parents, to our business community, and to the taxpayers whose $12+ billion we are spending.
  • Leventis-Wells: We need to see how our students compare with their peers throughout the state. We don’t need more standards in a grade than can be taught as is currently the case.  Teachers never know which standards may be tested and there is no way to teach all of them in a particular  grade/subject.

The K-12 content area academic standards adopted by our state determine which concepts and skills are most valuable for our students to learn before earning a high school diploma.

How will you oversee the review and revision of academic standards?  Who will you involve in that process?
  • Bedson: Did not respond
  • Burgess: It is my profound belief that all children are our children, and that all children must be provided with and equipped with an education that will allow her to excel and thrive in this world regardless of whether she chooses to be an astronaut or an electrician. We must equip every child. We must teach every child to read, so they can read to learn. We must equip every child to write, so they can write to learn. There is an African proverb that says, “the hunter will always be glorified until the lion learns to write.” Every child must master the basics of mathematics. Teachers, statisticians, psychologist, academicians and professionals who understand human growth and development will be involved in the process of academic standard development.
  • Chapman: Did not respond
  • Ellis: I will involve current classroom teachers. I will make sure the team who develops standards makes them developmentally appropriate and skills focused rather than content focused. Lastly, so many standards should not be crammed into each year so students and teachers feel rushed.
  • Gibson: Did not respond
  • Govan: Did not respond
  • Maness: We must improve and reform our SC Standards. Too many teachers tell me we have too many standards and they do not have time to teach all of them. This is something that will be addressed early in my term as State Superintendent of Education. I will bring together educators, teachers, parents and community leaders to address the strengths and weaknesses of our current standards. Any changes to our standards will be put out for review. I will make sure teachers and parents know when and where to review these standards and have an opportunity to provide feedback. I will provide opportunity on the SC Department of Education webpage to receive input on particular standards that need to be addressed. One reason for so many standards is because of the excessive testing that we do in SC. We must reduce our testing and the number standards in our state.
  • Weaver: Our standards are too complicated. I will systematically engage parents, teachers, business leaders and others to review and revise our standards and associated learning objectives, with an eye towards clarity, simplicity, and rigor.
  • Leventis-Wells: I will ensure that there are no more standards tested in a year than can be taught by the teacher in a class. Involve educators, parents and the business community in setting standards.

Offering an equitable education has long been a struggle across the varied communities of our state, and when you look at disaggregated data, we know we can do better for poor children, children of color, children with disabilities and other marginalized groups.

How will you ensure that students with higher needs receive appropriate support to reach their highest levels of achievement?
  • Bedson: Did not respond
  • Burgess: All children have higher needs. We must meet every child where they are and cultivate them to where their potential will carry them.
  • Chapman: Did not respond
  • Ellis: We have to push for more funding, and we have to rethink our funding formula. We also have to address class sizes, and we have to offer wrap around services. Most importantly, we have to get high quality teachers into the classroom, and we have to keep them there.
  • Gibson: Did not respond
  • Govan: Did not respond
  • Maness: South Carolina must do a better job educating ALL of our children. As your Superintendent, I want to make sure that all students who graduate from our schools are ready for the 3 E’s- Enrollment, Enlistment, or Employment. Students must be ready for higher education, serving our country or work. My goal is to ensure no part of SC is called the “Corridor of Shame”. All children- no matter their zip code should be provided an excellent education by a quality teacher. We know that parents are their child’s first teacher, and we must work with parents to provide them with tools needed to help their child be successful. Some parents had bad experiences while they were in school. We must help them see that the public schools are here to help their child be successful. Finally, we must work with the faith and business community to serve as mentors.
  • Weaver: It begins with student-centered funding. The first step in this important process: I would completely overhaul our byzantine, outdated funding formula to create a transparent, student-centered “EFA 2.0” to allow for greater flexibility, responsibility (transparency/accountability), and fairness across our entire education system. It starts with collapsing as many programmatic and other line items into a modern based student costs and then weighting appropriately for students’ individual needs: disabilities, gifted and talented, poverty, sparsity (rural), etc… Thanks to the work of Palmetto Promise and many others, the General Assembly has begun to take tentative steps towards making this idea a reality in this year’s state budget. As Superintendent, I will push to continue this process.
  • Leventis-Wells: I will tailor education to fit the needs of each student recognizing differences but ensuring all have the opportunity to maximize their potential.

SCHOOL CHOICE

School choice has different meanings depending on the audience.

Explain what school choice means to you and how you will offer school choice to the parents of South Carolina’s children.
  • Bedson: Did not respond
  • Burgess: Democracy is on the line June 14th. It is a human right that every child receives a quality education that will prepare him for life. Real school choice is developing great schools in every neighborhood. School choice is packed with unintended consequences leading to greater inequitable in our public school system. I will not negotiate on this- public dollars should only go to public schools.
  • Chapman: Did not respond
  • Ellis: Families should have choice to provide the best opportunity for learning for the student. Public tax dollars should never pay for private or parochial schools that do not accept everyone.
  • Gibson: Did not respond
  • Govan: Did not respond
  • Maness: I support the expansion of school choice in SC. Students and families benefit from opportunities that best align with the student’s needs and passions, so our state should continue to look for ways to provide those types of opportunities. Parents should be able to choose the education that best meets the needs of their child. Opportunities within the public schools may include the choice of charter schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, Montessori schools and open enrollment. I support the bill Senator Loftis sponsored on open enrollment in our public schools. This bill would allow parents to apply for their child to enroll in any particular program or school.  Any vehicle for school choice must meet three criteria- it must be affordable, accessible, and accountable. For true school choice, the General Assembly must provide adequate transportation for all students, in order to attend the school that best meets their needs.
  • Weaver: Two-thirds of our students cannot read or do math on grade level. We must pursue an “all of the above” strategy if we are going to stem this crisis. I am an unapologetic believer in “money follows the child” school choice. Private choice programs have successfully existed in South Carolina for decades in both pre-K (First Steps) and higher education (Tuition Grants) vouchers. They have worked for decades in states like Florida, where empirical research has proven that a higher concentration of state-funded K-12 choice options means better outcomes for low-income students in public schools. Competition works. Parents of every income level should be empowered to find the right environment for their child’s needs. That is why I support equal access to private choice scholarships, public charter schools, robust public school open enrollment, tax credits for homeschool expenses, high-quality online course access programs, and innovations like learning pods and micro-schools.
  • Leventis-Wells: Parents know what’s best for their children!  I want them to choose the school where their children will get the best education and meet their needs for success and future goals. We have so many options:  private, homeschool, christen schools, magnet, public, charter, online, etc.   I’m all about choice.  There are so many options available and parents know what’s best for their child!


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