The new Henry McMaster (we can only hope)


I’ve been meaning to write about this, but when it was timely — on Inauguration Day, and when we had the State of the State — I was too busy to blog, and let it slide.

But now I’m thinking about it again, so…

A number of times lately, I’ve thought, Hey, at least one voter out there was listening to us during the campaign: Henry McMaster.

At least it seems that way. Everywhere we went, James and Mandy touted their plan to raise teacher pay and take other measures to make all our schools places where kids were well educated and teachers loved their jobs and didn’t want to quit. And James had a crowd-pleasing line he used with regard to his opponent that went kind of like this: The only thing Henry McMaster has offered our schools is to arm teachers with guns. I want to arm them with better pay, and with the tools they need to be effective.

The line worked, because Henry offered nothing to counter it. He didn’t talk about schools. Any reasonable person could be forgiven for assuming that he didn’t give a flying flip about schools.

Now, he’s all on fire for education reform. Which is why, after the State of the State, Mandy Powers Norrell tweeted this:

It’s great. It’s gratifying. But don’t think I think we deserve the credit (and I don’t think Mandy does, either). I don’t flatter myself that Henry is taking his cues from the Smith campaign. I do think he’s taking them from House Speaker Jay Lucas. And that’s a good thing.

(Oops, I forgot to use The State newspaper’s recent style. On first reference, and sometimes even in headlines, it’s always “powerful House Speaker Jay Lucas.” It’s become such a part of his title, I expect them to start capitalizing the “P” next. Back in the old mainframe days when we were on Atex terminals, we would have said, “they’ve got it on a SAVE/GET key…”)

Lucas has been wanting to get serious on helping our schools for several years now. Even though the Supreme Court has backed off on forcing the Legislature to provide all the state’s students with a better-than-minimally adequate education, Lucas really wants to do something about it.

And he’s willing to let Henry get in front of the parade and take credit for it.

And to his credit, Henry for once is acting like a leader and stepping out to do something, to lead, to be a governor.

His first two years in office, we saw no sign of that. In fact, when Lucas and others in the State House tried to lead, Henry lay down in front of their efforts. He only cared about the upcoming election. It was painfully evident that, on a twist of another of James’ campaign lines, Henry would rather keep the job than do the job.

The way he tried to block leadership on the roads bill was the perfect example. Rather than support the lawmakers in the risk they were taking, he vetoed the bill, and neither tried to offer a viable argument why nor made any effort to get lawmakers to sustain the veto. He knew they would override him. He just wanted zero responsibility for what happened. (Which reminds me of a postwar German phrase: Ohne mich. They could do what they liked, but without him.)

Now that he’s been elected governor for the first time, he seems to have decided he’s going to act like one. For a change.

I worked so hard to get James Smith elected mostly because of my tremendous respect for him, personally. I’d have been for James even if Henry had been a fairly decent governor. But I worked even harder for him because Henry gave no sign of being any kind of governor at all, decent or otherwise. It was an extra spur to my efforts.

And when we lost, we had little reason to hope for anything better going forward.

Which is why it’s so encouraging to see Henry accepting the mantle of leadership that the Speaker has offered him. It’s not as good as having James as governor, not by a long shot, but it’s something.

I applaud this unexpected development. And I’m daring to hope that something good will come out of it. After all, Dum Spiro Spero

11 thoughts on “The new Henry McMaster (we can only hope)

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    I said above that “now I’m thinking about it again, so…”

    What I mean by that is that we’re planning to have the next of our Community Relations Council’s Hot Topics forum on the theme, “What does Education Reform Look Like?”

    It will be at 5:30 p.m. on March 11. So far, panelists will include Reps Mandy Powers Norrell and Micah Caskey (both of whom are sponsors on the Speaker’s bill), Sherry East (president of the SCEA) and Peggy Torrey of the SC Council on Competitiveness. There will probably be a couple of others before we’re through putting it together. But already, with those four, I expect a good conversation.

    I hope some of y’all can make it…

    1. Doug Ross

      The more important follow on question to “What does education reform look like?” is “How do you measure if it is successful?”. We’ve had any number of educational reforms over the past decades and it’s difficult to see any progress. PACT and PASS testing have been an utter waste of time and resources with nothing to show for them. Schools in poor districts have had MILLIONS of additional dollars thrown at them from Federal grants with little improvement. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on technology with only small anecdotal successes.

      I’m all for raising teacher pay but at some point education reform has to address the key component of success: parents owning the responsibility for their children’s education. That means addressing discipline issues and attention to their kids engagement with education. No amount of funding will fix that.

      So tell me now how you will measure success. It has to start with high school graduation rates, right? That’s the primary goal of public education. Every dropout is a failure of the system which includes parents, students, and educators.

    1. Doug Ross

      Really is cruel. Dropouts don’t have a great track record for becoming productive members of society. They typically end up as adult wards of the state in one form or another… And then spawn more of the same.

  2. Harry Harris

    While much of the latest proposal has merit, I don’t think it will dent the biggest problems. There are many different strategies needed. I’ve proposed for years a different key strategy and policy for school improvement. It’s based on part of my experience teaching. I propose separating the most disruptive students into programs that are designed to meet their needs. There is no single approach that fits all students and situations, but schools need to be given the money to improve the atmosphere in most classrooms by removing the most disruptive students. The removal may be temporary or long-term, but it will help most students by diminishing the time teachers waste dealing with behavior that shouldn’t be present, boost teacher morale in the process, and improve the overall atmosphere, work pace, and tone in most classrooms. I propose well-funded and well developed alternative programs within schools, separated alternative schools (for more severe cases), and residential semi-lockup schools for the most incorrigible students. In most districts, the instructional budget is looted to create some under-funded, poorly-performing alternative school that provides little of the turn-around help most of their students need. Anyone who doubts this approach would help with teacher retention hasn’t seen the terror and disruption a few defiant students can bring about in a classroom or school. It would cost money, but I assert that the chronically disruptive students and their families’ needs are not met by leaving them in regular classrooms or by “expelling” them onto some online learning software that does nothing to develop their personal and self-control skills. A well-funded program could hire, train, and equip strong teachers and counselors and maybe provide them with the extra pay such a task would justify. I guarantee the classes that those students left would see a boost in productivity, student, and teacher morale. A number of the removed students may, if they choose, make it back to those regular classes after demonstrated recovery. I’ve seen it happen.

    1. Doug Ross

      Agree 100%. I don’t care how much you pay a teacher… One or two disruptive students can sabotage an entire class. Saw it firsthand with one of my kids. Not a single kid in his class qualified for the advanced class because the teacher spent so much time with one kid.. whose mother threatened lawsuits any time her kid was disciplined.

  3. Harry Harris

    The number of changes and approaches needed to turn discipline around is rather large and difficult to bring about. I used to tease my students’ parents about how they all wanted strict behavior management and high standards until their kid messed up or failed.
    Two things I would recommend field testing in at least a couple of districts would include removal of school board oversight of disciplinary actions and replacement by a panel of teachers, administrators, and a parent representative. Too often family connections, a good sob story, or a threatened legal action puts a disruptive kid right back into the school, and kind of in charge.
    Second is the establishment of alternative settings that are strongly resourced to help turn the student around, including mentorship, counseling, a parent “contract,” and the availability of stronger measures if progress is not shown. This stuff costs money, but these students are worth it, and the benefit to be gained by those students freed from the disruption (and influence) of the perpetrators is considerable.

    1. Barry

      Agree. It’s amazing how much pressure some districts (speaking of Richland Two) put on administrators to keep unruly kids in the classroom.

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