Betty Bagley M ’75, Ph.D. ’23     

Bagley has spent half a century serving public schools in South Carolina 

A member of the Class of 2023’s educational leadership cohort, Betty Bagley spent 10 years working toward her doctorate from Clemson University’s College of Education. Her pursuit of knowledge, however, began seven decades earlier.

“I look in the mirror, and I’m shocked,” Bagley shares.

An educational leadership Ph.D. is not the first advanced degree Bagley has earned — or even the second. It’s not even her first Clemson degree.

But her most recent diploma is significant because it encapsulates every class she’s taken and every experience she’s had throughout a storied 50-year career in public education.

South Carolina has nearly 80 school districts that employ more than 51,000 educational professionals. However, there is no single mechanism for connecting one superintendent to another to share professional experiences. So, for her dissertation, Bagley inquired of South Carolina superintendents: “Who is this person who chose the profession of education and rose to its highest leadership level, assuming both school communities’ trust and burdens of accountability?”

For three state school districts, the answer was simply, “Betty.”

During her sophomore year at present-day Southern Wesleyan University, Bagley was still working on her bachelor’s degree in psychology when her first job offer came from the principal of Pendleton High School in Anderson County to teach and coach varsity girls basketball. Within the year, she secured a permanent teaching certificate and enrolled at Clemson to pursue a master’s in school counseling.

Bagley followed her love of school and learning all the way to the Bamberg District 1 superintendent’s office in 1993. Seven years later, the Anderson School District 5 board selected Bagley to become their superintendent.

Bagley later transitioned into a position traveling the state as an educational consultant before a new challenge presented itself in 2016. She won a seat on the Pickens County Board of Education, eventually becoming chairwoman of the board.

“Everything I’ve done, I’ve felt like it was preparing me for something else,” she says.

In April 2023, she successfully defended her dissertation and celebrated by traveling to Europe with her daughter, Tyler, who, Bagley says, “would not give me permission to give up.”

Her story will inspire generations of educators and public-school leaders to learn from one another, to educate and advocate for students, to navigate public policy with more transparency, and to support one another in their efforts.

Fun Fact: After receiving the William B. Harley Lifetime Achievement Award from the South Carolina Association of School Administrators in 2013, Bagley was inducted into the South Carolina Educator Hall of Fame earlier this year.

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