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Zais for education superintendent

South Carolina schools must improve if the state is to compete financially and its citizens are to be successful. Mick Zais has turned a failing college into a respected one. Voters should elect him to apply the same energy and skills to improving our public schools.

Dr. Zais would bring impressive academic and service credentials to the office of Superintendent of Education. And his plans for the state office are based on sound educational and management principles.

At the core of his approach is his commitment to give local school boards and principals more authority to spend state money and choose programs that work for their particular students.

But while giving them privileges, he also plans to increase their accountability, including finding ways to assess teacher performance and to determine their pay based on, among other things, student progress. “We don’t pay good teachers enough, and we pay bad teachers too much,” he told us.

Mitchell M. Zais graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with an engineering degree and earned masters and doctorate degrees in social psychology from the University of Washington.

He was an Army Ranger and paratrooper and retired as a brigadier general. He served in Vietnam and Korea, and also taught organizational behavior, management and leadership classes at West Point.

After retiring, he became president of Newberry College, which in 2000 was failing and nearly bankrupt. During his tenure, school enrollment nearly doubled, the endowment more than doubled, facilities were constructed and renovated and academic programs were added. While other colleges were struggling in 2008-2009, Dr. Zais was leading Newberry to a budget surplus — without raising tuition. And in the 2010 U.S. News and World Report college rankings, Newberry placed No. 35 among the 100 best baccalaureate colleges in the Southern region.

In the military and at Newberry, Dr. Zais supervised large numbers of diverse people, and he did it by building consensus instead of simply barking orders.

While president of Newberry, he was acutely aware of educational deficits that in-state freshmen arrived with. He was particularly disturbed by their poor writing and spelling skills and says he would focus additional energy on teaching reading — particularly to the poorest students who are often left behind.

He is a staunch supporter of charter schools as a way to offer choice for students and a way to improve academic performance.

Having seen the vast disparity among school and student success, he would promote tax breaks to scholarship-granting organizations to enable low-income families in failing school districts to attend better private schools. The idea deserves legislative consideration.

Dr. Zais believes each child deserves instruction appropriate for that student. In that regard, he would promote high schools offering three curricula. One would be for pre-college students. One, also rigorous, would be for career and technical students. The third would be a basic curriculum for students who plan to enter the military or the workforce immediately after graduation.

All are worthy approaches to education.

Dr. Zais would bring compassion, competence and courage to the post. We need someone of his mettle and intellect to take the reins of the Department of Education and steer it to higher achievements.

By “The Post and Courier”