Two reactions crowd the mind.
First, this is great news for Beaufort County's schools, children and parents, and especially for Superintendent Valerie Truesdale. Foster brings a long and respected awareness of the inside game of the state's news media, the legislature, and particularly of public education. However large and broad is the network of education experts in South Carolina, Foster has kept himself at the center of it, keeping on speed dial the most knowledgeable minds in the field.
As he told the newspaper that announced his move, "Everything that's come out of this agency in terms of news for the past 19 years has been on my watch." Which means that he served superintendents Barbara Nielsen, Inez Tenenbaum and Jim Rex, three chief executives of very different political stripes, capably and well.
Second, what a terrible waste on the part of Mick Zais. And if Foster was, indeed, purged from his position at the state department for a lack of political purity, for holding or defending principled positions in support of the department's mission, or -- worst -- as retribution from the partisan political hack that occupies the position of, rather than serves as, a deputy superintendent, then Zais is guilty of far more than poor judgment.
Foster is emblematic in one of two ways: If he chose freely to leave the Department, it suggests that the atmosphere that Zais and Ragley are creating is a toxic environment, and many others are suffering too. If he was purged, then no one who has served South Carolina's public schoolchildren for any length of time from the Rutledge Building is safe.
Sure, it's possible that Foster has long yearned to relocate to Beaufort, to abandon the hustle and bustle of Columbia and to get back to the ground floor of public information work in the Low Country. If that's the case, good for him, and congratulations to him. His commitment to serve the demands of great leaders kept him trapped in the capital long enough, and he's earned his reward at Mink Point Boulevard in Beaufort.
I just don't see it.
The Beaufort County School District has hired a veteran of the S.C. Department of Education as its new director of school and community services.
For nearly two decades, Jim Foster has directed department communications, supervised the release of standardized test scores and answered questions from newspaper reporters.
District superintendent Valerie Truesdale said that when Foster starts in August, he will bring deep experience in education policy.
"He'll have to learn Beaufort, and he'll have to learn our local issues, but his job knowledge is strong," she said.
Foster is a South Carolina native and was an editor at The (Columbia) State newspaper before joining the Education Department.
In Beaufort County, he will manage both internal and external communication for the district and will work to help taxpayers and residents understand the difficulties facing educators, Truesdale said.
"How does one convey complex issues such as school closures?" Truesdale asked. "How do we help folks understand the challenges of raising student achievement in the era of diminished resources?"
Foster said that after many years of working in education policy in Columbia, he's excited to be moving closer to teachers and students.
"That's one of the aspects of this opportunity that intrigues me the most, is working more closely with educators in their day-to-day jobs," he said.
The test of my suspicion will be proven when Zais and Ragley announce Foster's successor at the department -- if they announce one. Will Foster be succeeded by someone with long ties to public education in the state, a deep knowledge of the field and its experts, or experience as a district public information officer?
Or will they install another partisan political operative to serve their ideological interests?
Let's wait and see.