Following State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman’s decision to not seek a third term in 2022, the race for the state’s top education position is heating up as more candidates put their name in the hat, and some drop out.
The new superintendent will step into the role at a crucial time for S.C.’s education system, with a record number of teacher vacancies and an increasingly politicized office.
Although four candidates lack a master’s degree, a requirement for the position according to a 2018 law, only two withdrew from the race.
Cindy Bohn Coats, a Charleston County School District board member, and Sherri Few, president of US Parents Involved in Education, both dropped their campaigns last week. Travis Bedson and Ellen Weaver will be seeking to complete online master’s degrees by the Nov. 8 election to comply with this rule.
Ten candidates remain in the race:
Kathy Maness – R
Maness, the president of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, describes herself as a “lifetime educator.” She has been with the PSTA for over two decades, is a former teacher, and current member of Lexington County City Council. Her goal is to ensure that after high school, every student goes onto “the three E’s: enrollment, enlistment or employment.” To relieve the teacher shortage crisis, Maness plans to increase lottery scholarship enrollment, extend the salary schedule past 23 years, and do away with unnecessary paperwork and testing.
“The current state of education, especially the past two years, have been extremely difficult in all districts. We have a lot of catching up to do,” Maness said. “I want parents to know that we are all in this together.”
Lisa Ellis – D
The Richland 2 teacher started grassroots organization SCforEd as an online community for South Carolina educators to receive support in 2018. Today, the Facebook group has almost 34,000 members. Ellis is in her 21st year of teaching at Blythewood High School as a leadership teacher. In her career, Ellis has taught English and leadership, been a director of student activities, and an instructional coach in four schools and three school districts. She believes that in order to attract top talent to the teaching profession, teachers should be paid “as professionals.”
“The state has been in crisis for several years and the legislature is not listening. I’m not afraid to call a spade a spade,” Ellis said. “Access to quality public education is a right of all students.”
Gary Burgess – D
The spokesperson for Florence County School District 4 has his focus on ending the politization of education in South Carolina. His career in public education has consisted of roles as a school teacher, principal, adjunct professor at Converse College, and superintendent of schools for Anderson County School District 4. Burgess’ career has largely focused on assisting minority students move from high school to college and how children from backgrounds of poverty and racial/ethnic backgrounds respond to formal public schooling. Burgess believes that his many roles in public education gave him the background to effectively serve the state.
“South Carolina itself has set me up for this position,” Burgess said. “Social issues have pitted us against each other and I think that I can bring folk together.”
Lynda Leventis-Wells – R
With experience as a public school teacher and psychologist at Richland County Sheriff’s Department, the Greenville County Schools board member is running to make sure her grandchildren receive the same quality public school education that she did. Leventis-Wells believes that her diverse experience will allow her to succeed as superintendent. She hopes to eliminate achievement gaps, lessen bureaucracy and focus on teacher recruitment and retention.
“In this position, you have to have the background to know what is needed,” Leventis-Wells said. “I am a true believer in public schools and everything I have done has led me to know I am best for this job.”
Rep. Jerry Govan – D
The Orangeburg representative is not seeking reelection for his House seat and is instead running for state superintendent of education. Govan is a retired educator who has served in the House for 29 years and currently sits on the Education and Public Works Committee. Govan wants to close the trust gap between the public and the education system, make schools safer, and create incentives to improve teacher retention.
“I want to keep it simple. I want parents to know that as a father and grandfather, I see you and I hear you,” Govan said. “Schools are communities and we don’t have any time to lose when it comes to the issues that are confronting us.”
Ellen Weaver – R
Weaver is the president and CEO of the Palmetto Promise Institute and chairman of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee. She is currently the top fundraiser and recently started an online master’s program in leadership at Western Governors’ University. Increasing community involvement in schools and simplifying the red tape around funding and regulations on teachers are her top priorities.
“We have struggled for many years and so many students are falling behind,” Weaver said. “The position requires someone who understands policy and I am excited to offer fresh ideas and new ways of thinking.”
Patricia M. Mickel – Green
Mickel is a Chester, South Carolina, native who has taught at the collegiate level as well as public K-12 education for over 15 years. She is focused on making South Carolina a more equitable place for students of all backgrounds and increasing teacher salary. She believes that introducing dual enrollment across more high schools, as well as implementing vocational classes in not only high schools but middle schools as well, will equip students for success.
“South Carolina is ranking at the bottom in education and we can’t keep looking the other way,” Mickel said. “We know the problem, and now we need solutions.”
Bryan Chapman – R
Chapman is a former educator who describes himself as “definitely different.” The pastor has experience in public education on many levels – from driving buses, to teaching, to serving as a Florence School District 1 board member. He wants to increase teacher recruitment through incentives and prepare students for success through increasing trade-ready programs in schools.
“My whole life is about how to help everybody. Republican or Democrat doesn’t matter, we’re bipartisan. I have a commitment to everybody,” Chapman said.
Kizzy Gibson – R
Gibson is a visual arts teacher at Carolina Springs Elementary School in Lexington School District 1 and has been teaching in South Carolina for over 18 years. The Orangeburg native’s platform includes student mentor programs, school choice, teacher retention incentives and financial restructure of education. She believes in parental involvement in schools and protecting the “rights and liberties” of parents, students, and educators.
“I firmly believe children are a gift from God to be protected, educated and encouraged by teachers who possess the uniquely endowed talent of teaching and educating children effectively,” Gibson said on her website.
Travis Bedson – R
Bedson is a businessman from Charleston whose focus is on increasing classroom funding and expanding workforce development programs. He wants parents to “get their money’s worth” in education, according to his website. Bedson is CEO of CNT Foundations, a construction company that provides residential and commercial foundation and crawl space repair and new construction services. Bedson denied an interview.