Mick Zais

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Mitchell M. "Mick" Zais
17th South Carolina Superintendent of Education
In office
January 12, 2011 – January 13, 2015
Governor Nikki Haley
Preceded by Jim Rex
Succeeded by Molly Spearman
Personal details
Born (1946-12-10) December 10, 1946 (age 70)
Political party Republican
Alma mater United States Military Academy
University of Washington
Occupation soldier, politician

Mitchell M. "Mick" Zais (born December 10, 1946) served as the 17th South Carolina Superintendent of Education from 2011 to 2015. Zais took the oath of office on January 12, 2011. Before winning the election, he served as President of Newberry College for ten years.[1] Prior to that he reached the rank of Brigadier General in the United States Military.

Education background[edit]

Zais earned a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from West Point, a Master of Science and a doctorate in social psychology and organizational behavior both from the University of Washington and a Master of Arts in military history from the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Military career[edit]

During his military career, Zais served in a wide variety of infantry units in Vietnam, the United States, and Korea. He commanded two rifle companies, an infantry battalion, a light infantry brigade, and served as deputy commanding general at Fort Riley, Kansas. Zais was also the Pentagon's Chief of War Plans. As an assistant professor at West Point for three years, he taught organizational behavior, leadership, and management consulting.

Zais served as a White House aide and in Panama as executive assistant to the four-star commander of all U.S. forces in Central and South America. In Kuwait, he was commanding general of U.S. and Allied forces. He also served as commanding general of Operation Provide Refuge, the task force that cared for 4,000 Kosovo refugees who entered the United States. Zais' last military assignment was as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Reserve Command, the headquarters that administers the 184,000 part-time Reservists, 9,000 civilian employees, and 11,000 full-time military members of the Army Reserve. At the time of his retirement from the military Zais held the rank of Brigadier General.[2]

Zais' military awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal; the Defense Superior Service Medal; the Legion of Merit; the Bronze Star; the Meritorious Service Medal; the Air Medal; the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; the Humanitarian Service Medal; the Ranger, Airborne, and Combat Infantryman's Badges; and the South Carolina Meritorious Service Medal.

Newberry College[edit]

Zais became the president of Newberry College in August 2000. During his time at Newberry, both enrollment and endowment nearly doubled. The college added forensic chemistry and nursing to the academic curriculum. During the last three years of his tenure, Newberry College was named by U.S. News and World Report as one of America's best colleges.[3] He retired in June 2010, just prior to running for state superintendent.[4]

2010 election[edit]

Zais ran in a crowded field for the Republican nomination. Zais was the top vote getter in the primary but did not clear the necessary 50% threshold. Zais defeated Elizabeth Moffly in the run-off. He faced Democrat Frank Holleman, Libertarian Tim Moultrie and two minor party candidates in the November general election. Zais won with 51% of the vote.[5][6]

Tenure and retirement[edit]

Zais opposed implementation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in South Carolina and withdrew from the state's participation in the federal Race to the Top grant competition. Zais supported the state's Governor to have the power to appoint the State Superintendent of Education, a position shared by a former Democratic Superintendent as well as his successor in the position.[7][8] By the end of Zais' tenure, South Carolina's on-time high school graduation rates hit an all-time high of over 80% of students finishing within four-years.[9] Zais decided not to run for re-election and endorsed Sally Atwater, widow of Lee Atwater, as his replacement. In the 2014 election, Republican educator and former legislator, Molly Mitchell Spearman, won by a wide margin and currently serves as South Carolina's next State Superintendent of Education.[10] Zais has no known plans to re-enter politics.


His daughter, Ashley Derham Zais was born March 12, 1987 in Fort Lewis, Washington. She became a beauty pageant contestant, competing in the Miss USA pageant in 2007 as Miss South Carolina. She placed in the top 15. She had previously participated in Miss South Carolina Teen USA pageants, becoming a semifinalist in 2003 event and first runner-up in 2004.[citation needed] Zais represented South Carolina in the nationally televised Miss USA 2007 pageant on March 23, 2007 and placed in the top 15.[citation needed] She was a graduate of Wofford College.[11] and is pursuing a modeling career.

In 2008, she worked for the John McCain presidential campaign.[12] and married former McCain campaign staffer Michael Culhane Harper, an attorney at Jones Day, on April 17, 2010. The couple currently lives in São Paulo, Brazil, and have one child, born in 2013.[13]

Preceded by
Lacie Lybrand
Miss South Carolina USA
Succeeded by
Jamie Hill


  1. ^ "State Superintendent Of Education Mick Zais". South Carolina Department Of Education. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  2. ^ article on Zais from The Citadel
  3. ^ "Mick Zais". The Washington Post. 2013-05-30. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2015-10-25. 
  4. ^ "2009-2010 Bill 5090: Dr. Michael M. Zais". South Carolina Legislature Online. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  5. ^ "Republican Mick Zais Takes Victory in Race for State Superintendent of Education in South Carolina". WSPA. 2013-10-23. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  6. ^ "Mick Zais". Ballotpedia. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  7. ^ "Editorial: Let governor appoint education superintendent". thestate. Retrieved 2015-10-25. 
  8. ^ "Haley, Spearman call for appointed schools chief". thestate. Retrieved 2015-10-25. 
  9. ^ "South Carolina’s on-time, high school graduation rate at all-time high". heraldonline. Retrieved 2015-10-25. 
  10. ^ http://www.thestate.com/2014/11/05/3791372_molly-spearman-to-lead-sc-schools.html?rh=1
  11. ^ "Wofford senior Ashley Zais crowned Miss South Carolina USA 2007" (Press release). Wofford College. 2006-11-22. 
  12. ^ "McCain camp hires beauty queen". Politico. 2008-04-21. 
  13. ^ http://ashleyzharper.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/culhane-mcgeever-harper/
Political offices
Preceded by
Jim Rex
South Carolina Superintendent of Education
Succeeded by
Molly Spearman
Party political offices
Preceded by
Karen Floyd
Republican nominee for South Carolina Superintendent of Education
Succeeded by
Molly Spearman
Academic offices
Preceded by
John Hudgens
President of Newberry College
Succeeded by
V. Scott Koerwer