Spearman lays out biggest disappointment of her career in exclusive 1-on-1 interview
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina routinely ranks among the worst states in the nation for public education with a major achievement gap between Black and white students.
In Charleston, only 26 percent of African America students are meeting achievement goals in math compared to 77 percent of their white counterparts. As students get back to school this year, state leaders are hoping they will be able to get back to focusing on education instead of dealing with COVID.
As State Superintendent Molly Spearman prepares to leave office in January, she says the lack of improvement on test scores is her biggest frustration.
“Obviously the one disappointment has been that we have not seen the increase in student achievement that we would have liked to have seen,” Spearman said. “I feel strongly that we were right on the edge of that when COVID hit. We were beginning to see our assessment scores go up and now they’ve tanked and rightly so because some many students were not in school.”
Spearman is hopeful that a return to more traditional learning will jumpstart efforts to bridge the gap. She says she is happy the COVID-19 restrictions are gone.
“While COVID is still out there, we are looking to have a very normal year,” Spearman said. “We are not going to have to do the isolation, so it’s really exciting to get the students back and we have a lot of work to do. Teachers know that many of their students have lost out on some learning that should have taken place, so we have to accelerate that.”
Getting back on track is also the goal for the entirely new set of district leaders in Charleston County and despite the temporary nature of Superintendent Don Kennedy’s role – Spearman says he appears to be doing a good job.
“Let me tell you, being a district superintendent and running an operation like this – folks say run it like a business – and sometimes a leader doesn’t get to make the decision that they would like to make because they work for a board,” Spearman said. “It’s a very very difficult position. To my knowledge, he has done a great job but I really don’t want to take a position on an evaluation because I am not there every day watching everything that’s going on but to my knowledge he is doing fine.”
Still, major changes threaten to disrupt the new direction that Kennedy has laid out.
An election in November will replace at least two-thirds of the school board and an active search for a new superintendent could bring in a new leader as early as march. Spearman says parents will need to play an active role in the next superintendent’s selection, someone who will give so-called failing schools a chance.
“I think that they need to look for a leader that understands the disparities in Charleston County. It’s very similar to the state of South Carolina,” Spearman said. “The schools that you mentioned that probably have the lowest assessment scores probably also have the high poverty rates, but they may have some of the strongest teachers in the entire district work hard. The best principals are often sent to the hardest places.”
Spearman says she is leaving office optimistic about the future of education in South Carolina, convinced her optimism will be reflected in test scores in the coming years.
“It will happen,” Spearman said “They will regain that learning, but it’s going to take more than one year for that to happen. I would just say to the community to be patient and give the next superintendent some mercy on that but I do think we will see achievement climb rapidly.”
Spearman will retire in January when a new state superintendent is elected. The election is on Nov. 8.
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