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State education leader looking forward to big changes this year

South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman is working nonstop to further a new 10-point grading scale and create greater support for teachers in the state. (WPDE)

She’s a seasoned veteran of education, and she has a lot on her plate this year.

South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman is looking forward to leveling the playing field with a new 10-point grading scale for students.

The challenge she says will be coming up with funding to keep talented teachers in the classroom and to also attract strong educators to rural schools.

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She says she is in the fight, and wants parents to know educators are excited about the upcoming year.

“The ten point grading scale is a change for students in the high school arena,” Spearman said. “That’s a way to level the playing field for us. I think it’s very fair for our students, but it will be a little different grading system for parents to get used to when children come home with their first report cards.”

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Spearman spent 18 years teaching music before becoming South Carolina’s superintendent of education. In regards to teacher hiring, retention and the ongoing battle with rural schools, she can relate. She grew up in one of the rural districts seeking action.

“I’m one of those parents, one of those students,” she said. “I grew up in one of the plaintiff districts. So, I have a great concern to make sure that the students in the rural areas are getting the opportunities that they deserve.”

Spearman says she is working closely with the task force and state lawmakers.

“I’m going to be going back to the legislature to ask to have those needs funded,” Spearman said.

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As far as attracting and keeping strong teachers, Spearman says there are several recruitment programs in place. She said there is also work on a teacher salary study and a plan to evaluate bonus stipends to keep up with competition and other industries that may seem attractive to a teacher looking for a change.

But most importantly, she said school teachers need support. She admits it does take a village and says that most educators, when you ask them what’s important, they don’t say “money.”

“They say support. Having a principal in the school who is a great leader. Where they feel like they are part of the leadership team. That they have the support that they need.”

Spearman says support must also come from the community.

“We need parents to be involved, and we need the community to be involved so that we can achieve our goal that every student in South Carolina has a great school year and when they graduate from high school that they’re ready,” Spearman said.

What’s provided to teacher’s isn’t enough, Spearman says. She says it must begin with support.

“No, it’s not enough,” Spearman said in response to a question about the average pay for teachers. “We need to and we must do better.”

Take Charleston County for example. A teacher with a college degree can work for five years and still not crack the $40,000 mark.

What’s her message for teachers heading back for their first week?

“I’d like to add all the educators out there. We appreciate them. You are doing a magnificent job. We don’t thank you enough for the work that you do, because you are impacting every child in South Carolina, and they are the future of our communities, of our state. We appreciate what you do. We’re just very proud of the work of our educators,” she said.

Spearman has had an amazing career. On top of teaching, the Saluda County native also spent four terms in the General Assembly. She was elected State Superintendent of Education in November 2014.

** ABC News 4's Tessa Spencer Adams and Alex Caban contributed to this report.

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