Fix classroom environment, SC superintendent candidates say

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Republican candidates for state superintendent of education Lynda Leventis-Wells, Kathy Maness and Kizzi Gibson, and Democratic candidates state Rep. Jerry Govan and Gary Burgess participate in a candidate forum in Greenville on Monday, May 23, 2022.

Improving the work environment for South Carolina teachers and raising their pay is key to keeping teachers in the profession, a bipartisan group of candidates for state superintendent of education told teachers Monday night.

It comes as the state deals with more than 1,000 teaching vacancies according to an annual education recruitment and retention survey, but a recent survey published by teachers group S.C. for Ed found more than 3,000 openings in the state.

How to increase teacher retention was among the questions teachers posed at a candidate forum hosted Monday by Public Education Partners in Greenville County, which advocates for supporting and strengthening public schools.

The forum featured questions from teachers to Republican candidates Kathy Maness, Kizzi Gibson, Lynda Leventis-Wells, and Democratic candidates state Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, and Gary Burgess.

One of the leading Republican candidates Ellen Weaver did not attend because her campaign said she had another commitment in Florence. Democratic candidate Lisa Ellis, who founded and runs the teachers group S.C. for Ed, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Also running for the office are Republicans Travis Bedson and Bryan Chapman and Green Party candidate Patricia Mickel.

All 10 are seeking to succeed state education Superintendent Molly Spearman, who is not running for reelection.

What the superintendent hopefuls say

Lawmakers plan to increase the starting pay for teachers around the state to between $38,000 to $40,000, up from $36,000.

And the General Assembly also this year passed a law that requires teachers have 30 minutes each day without any assigned duties or responsibilities.

Candidates, however, said more is needed.

Maness called for less testing and paperwork for teachers, and said there is a need to increase discipline in schools.

“We have to restore discipline in our schools so our teachers can teach and our students can learn. No student should keep my child from learning or keeping their teacher from teaching,” Maness said. “And of course we’ve got to pay them better, but pay is not everything.”

Gibson called for more support from administrators and additional instructional assistance for teachers to help in the classroom.

“That would help alleviate some of the duties outside of teaching the curriculum for that particular grade level,” Gibson said.

Gibson, of Lexington, who is a visual arts teacher, also said discipline within classrooms needs to improve to help teachers stay.

“There is a lack of support and it’s coming from very different areas. All roads lead home. So parental involvement is going to be key when we start to talk about restoring a sense of values and morals in our students so they are able to behave within the walls,” Gibson said.

Leventis-Wells said increasing communication will help keep teachers in the profession.

“Listen to our teachers, hear what they say, hear what they speak and hear what they want and make sure they get what they want and we hear what their saying, and do as we are asked,” Leventis-Wells said.

Govan, who decided not to seek another term in the S.C. House after he was drawn into a district with another Democratic lawmaker, said teachers need to feel valued in addition to paying them more.

“What I hear in the district where I worked and particularly after this pandemic, and the ramifications we’ve seen as a result of COVID, teachers felt they were not valued,” Govan said. “Their voices were not being heard. When they said they didn’t feel safe, those kinds of issues, they didn’t feel valued.”

Burgess said teacher workload needs to reduced, and first-year teachers the need for mentors.

But he also called for increased support from administration especially if a school is out of control.

“I believe in our teachers i believe in our parents, I believe in our community. We have bad laws and bad policies,” Burgess said. “Why should you ever be held accountable for raising your voice at a kid? Why if a kid isn’t doing what they should why can you put your hand on that child and say, ‘Please sit down,’ without fear of a lawsuit. If you can’t correct a child you cannot teach a child.”

Joseph Bustos: 803-771-8450, @JoeBReporter