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 68)
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]

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.

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. However, the college's sophomore student retention rate was only about 62% during this time.[2] By 2014, Newberry's four-year graduation rate was 26%,[3] significantly below the national average of 66% among private non-profit colleges and comparable to the 32% graduation rate of for-profit colleges.[4] He retired in June 2010, just prior to running for state superintendent.[5]

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 opposed expanding 4-year-old kindergarten in the state and supported the implementation of teacher evaluations based on student performance; he also refused to denounce Jim DeMint's statement that gay teachers should not be allowed to teach students.[6] Zais won with 51% of the vote.[7][8]

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 was notable for having taken an unusually high number of vacation days during the first two years in office.[9] After a tumultuous tenure, Zais had failed to accumulate any significant accomplishments, and the Associate Editor of The State published a column retracting the paper's 2010 endorsement him on the basis of his continued "extremist" political rhetoric on Common Core and other issues.[10] Zais decided not to run for re-election and endorsed Sally Atwater, widow of Lee Atwater, as his replacement. Atwater lost the run-off for the Republican nomination after stumbling in an embarrassing conservative talk radio interview which the interviewer described as "an example of a person running for public office on name recognition only, who is clueless."[11] Republican educator and former legislator, Molly Mitchell Spearman, won the election by a wide margin and will be South Carolina's next State Superintendent of Education.[12] Zais has no known plans to re-enter politics.


  1. ^ "State Superintendent Of Education Mick Zais". South Carolina Department Of Education. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  2. ^ "Newberry College Student Information (2009)" (PDF). Newberry College. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  3. ^ "Newberry College". U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  4. ^ "Fact Facts - Graduation Rates". National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  5. ^ "2009-2010 Bill 5090: Dr. Michael M. Zais". South Carolina Legislature Online. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  6. ^ "SC school candidates split on teachers' personal lives". Augusta Chronicle. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  7. ^ "Republican Mick Zais Takes Victory in Race for State Superintendent of Education in South Carolina". WSPA. 2013-10-23. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  8. ^ "Mick Zais". Ballotpedia. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  9. ^ "Forget Ferris Bueller. Zais was absent 29 days". Bradwarthen.com. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  10. ^ "Boy, Did I Ever Misjudge This Candidate". The State. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  11. ^ Sally Atwater's terrifying interview on WORD Radio on YouTube
  12. ^ http://www.thestate.com/2014/11/05/3791372_molly-spearman-to-lead-sc-schools.html?rh=1
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