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OpEd: This Can Be the Year of Opportunity for SC Students

This piece appeared in the Post & Courier on January 15, 2023. As I begin my tenure as South Carolina’s state superintendent of education, I am excited for the journey ahead and honored by the trust that has been placed in me by the people of this state. With the turning of each new year, we have the chance to renew our shared commitment to our students and their future, ensuring that every child in our state has the opportunity to get a great education.

We face tremendous educational challenges, with nearly two-thirds of our children below grade level in the foundational skills of reading and math. We face a shortage of teachers, as fewer young people pursue the profession and current teachers battle red tape, rising costs of living and deteriorating discipline in the classroom. We face an erosion of trust and a system too often designed for the needs of the last century.

But South Carolinians have proven time and again that our moments of greatest challenge are our moments of shining opportunity. I’m more convinced than ever that now is the moment for all South Carolinians to answer the call to unite around our students. Our future is sitting in today’s classrooms, and we don’t have time to wait.

In this first year as your state superintendent, I will hit the ground running, while continuing to listen and learn from parents, teachers, students and stakeholders.

First and foremost, I remain committed to transparency and accountability in education. That means that we will work every day to ensure parents have quick and meaningful access to information about their child’s school and what their children are learning. That also means we will fight for every dollar to be spent wisely — respecting the taxpayer and maximizing efficiency so that every teacher and student gets the most out of our education investments.

Second, education is simply not possible without the work of South Carolina’s dedicated educators. Decades of research show that great teachers and great principals are the most critical in-school factors for academic success. Teachers, principals and so many others spend countless hours serving our students — and we must ensure our state adequately prepares, rewards and respects their invaluable work.

I will be a fierce advocate for increasing educator pay, cutting red tape and providing high-quality, meaningful professional development that prepares our teachers to help students grow and learn like never before. I am also committed to empowering great principals with the tools they need to create school cultures in which great teachers thrive. My goal is nothing less than making South Carolina the best place to teach in the country.

Third, parents and families deserve education freedom. Education should be customized to serve the students, and we know that a one-size-fits-all system simply does not work for either our students or our teachers. Across the country, states that have expanded education freedom have seen student achievement rise and public education flourish. South Carolina can and should do the same. We should fund students to ensure their needs are met, wherever and however they learn best. We must change our bureaucratic one-size-fits-all mindset to empower our public schools to innovate. I will always advocate for expanding flexibility and choices for parents and educators — unleashing the proven principle that competition makes everyone better.

Finally, we know that early literacy is the single greatest academic predictor of success in life. My administration will have a laser focus on ensuring that every child in this state is provided with the phonics tools that research around the science of reading clearly demands. This strategy will also entail a call to action for thousands of volunteers across this state to support our teachers in mentoring and tutoring students in critical core subjects such as reading and math.

While these key items are by no means exhaustive of what we hope to accomplish over the next four years, they are a start. My team and I are dedicated to student-focused policies and will give our all each day to equip every child in our Palmetto State with the life-changing power of an excellent education.

Ellen Weaver is South Carolina's State Superintendent of Education.

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