S.C. superintendent Molly Spearman broke with Gov. Henry McMaster on masks in schools | YouTube screenshot

South Carolina schools will have a new education leader in 2023, after incumbent State Superintendent Molly Spearman announced today she would not seek a third term.

Spearman, a Republican, said she will not seek reelection next year, opting instead to step down to spend more time with her family, which she says now deserves her “full attention.”

Spearman took office in 2015, stepping into a state boasting one of the lowest teacher pay rates in the country, an antiquated bus fleet, inefficient rural school districts and unmet needs in the state’s workforce, she wrote in her announcement. But, she said she feels the state has made strides in meeting those challenges.

“I am fortunate to have played a role in these changes that I feel have put our students, parents, educators, and state in a position that poises us to meet the challenges that lie ahead in the face of a global pandemic,” Spearman wrote.

Over the past year, Spearman broke with other conservative state leaders who were resistant to strict COVID-19 protocols in schools. She clashed with Gov. Henry McMaster on the issue of masks in schools, pushing for mask mandates to protect students and teachers alongside state health officials.

She also pushed for consolidating smaller school districts struggling with lower funding than larger districts throughout the state. By the end of this school year, 11 districts will have merged into five, leaving the state with 73 traditional school districts in its 46 counties.

Spearman wrote she plans to keep working until her replacement takes office in 2023.

“Until the end of my term in January 2023, I will continue to work diligently to help us rise out of the pandemic stronger than before while advocating for the needs of our students, educators, and families,” Spearman said.

The office of state superintendent is the last statewide office to which a Democrat was elected in South Carolina. Jim Rex served one term, 2007-2011, before he was unseated by Mick Zais, who went on to serve as acting national education secretary in the final two weeks of the Trump administration, after a wave of high-level resignations that included former Secretary Betsy DeVos.