Alston takes on 2 challengers in Sumter District 1 School Board race

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of nine Sumter School District seats to be elected in November. Each week leading up to Election Day, The Sumter Item will analyze a district (also called a zone) race and interview candidates on the ballot. All applicants will be contacted. Online, this series, like other election information, will be free to read as a public service.

Questions and answers from candidates in their own words will also be included in our Vote 2022 guide which will be published on October 1.

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It’s another week closer to Election Day, and many in the community still say this is Sumter’s most important election.

All nine seats on the Sumter School District Board of Trustees are on the ballot. After the district’s financial crisis emerged in December 2016, the Sumter County Legislative Delegation added two seats to the seven-member school board in the spring of 2017. The purpose of the delegation in creating the new seats on the board was to bring focus and expertise. to meet the challenge of the district.

Without an election that year, the delegation appointed the two trustees to the board, expanding it to nine members. In November 2018, these new at-large seats were put to a public vote for the first time. Being seats at large, every voter in Sumter County saw the race on the ballot, and the top two voters won the seats.

The delegation specified in the original legislation that after the 2020 U.S. Census redistricting to account for population changes, the school board would expand to nine single-member districts for the 2022 election and beyond. This spring, the delegation had General Assembly staff working on state redistricting and also reconfiguring Sumter County’s seven districts into nine. The law requires that electoral districts include equal populations in each.

This means that even if you haven’t moved since the last election, you can vote in another constituency. Voters can search for sample ballots online at or learn more at The Summer Item‘s Vote 2022 special guide published on 1 October. All voters in Sumter County should also receive a new voter registration card detailing their districts.

The financial challenges of 2016-2017 are now resolved in large part due to the work of staff and district administration as well as attrition.

Meanwhile, the council that took over at the end of 2018 – which includes the superintendent who was in charge in 2016 before retiring in 2017 and then won an at-large seat in 2018 – has often been controversial due to its own internal actions and divisions.

These began by voting to reopen a closed school and subsequently the state superintendent of education declared a “fiscal emergency” in the district in the spring of 2019. Most recently, the council voted 5 against. 4 to remove the last superintendent after unanimously appointing her to the position. three years earlier. The vote was overturned by a judge after a report in The Sumter Item revealed it violated the Freedom of Information Act because the issue was not on the agenda.

Special interests tend to dominate board activity and conversations about policy or student and staff success and well-being, even as public education faces increased competition in recent years with options educational resources available to parents and families. Add to that a nationwide shortage of teachers.

All this prepares the ground for the next elections.


The new District 1, also referred to as Zone 1, lies just outside Sumter’s city limits to the north and west and includes Shaw Air Force Base and nearby surrounding areas. The district runs from SC 261 (Kings Highway) and the Stateburg area as its western boundary to mostly US 521 as its eastern boundary. The northern border is the Dinkins Mill area in Hillcrest.

Three candidates remain in the race: incumbent Brian Alston and challengers Daniel Palumbo and Sharon Teigue. Desaray Ross dropped out on August 16 and Ronald Underwood dropped out on Friday, the last day to do so.


Alston won the pre-redirected District 1 seat in the November 2018 election. He grew up in Rembert near the border of the new Districts 1 and 2.

He said that being “a product of the region” and also the fact that he is a part-time teacher at Ragin Preparatory Christian Academy, a local private school, benefits his candidacy as these experiences enable him to understand the problems that afflict students.

Alston also works full-time remotely as a grants administrator at a Columbia-based government agency.

He is the chair of the school board’s policy committee and says he understands that adopting policies is at the heart of what administrators do.

“We are a decision-making body before we are anything else,” Alston said, “and I think that’s what we have to remember. We’re only as good as the policies we pass. “

He and Shawn Ragin, another board member and also founder and director of Ragin Prep, were strong supporters of former superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox. They were in the minority, opposed to the illegal 5-4 vote to impeach her before her contract expired.

New superintendent William Wright Jr., who started July 1, told the board meeting this week that the current student discipline process and policy needs to be evaluated on its effectiveness. District staff presented a disciplinary report to council for the first time since 2018.

When asked why similar reports hadn’t come out in recent years, Alston said the scale of student conduct problems was a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and young people lacked awareness. important years of development in the classroom.

Alston holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in criminal justice.

He said the biggest challenges facing the district are academic achievement, which has also been heavily impacted by COVID-19, and teacher/staff recruitment and retention.

Alston noted that he’s been a supporter of a district-wide salary study for some time, even though the full board didn’t commit to an outside study until Monday.

He said students will continue to need after-school programs and summer learning experiences in the future, as well as social and emotional support to deal with learning loss and loss. achievement gap.

As for successes to build on, Alston noted that the district has maintained all of its staff during the pandemic, and that has helped the local economy.


Daniel Palumbo is retired from the US Air Force and a small business owner. He has two children who go to schools in the district and said he probably wouldn’t run if things were going well, but they haven’t, he said, and the issues are affecting his own family. .

Two challenges, he said, are student discipline and the shortage of teachers. His daughter is a freshman in high school and talks about fights happening practically every day. She is also still without an English teacher a month into the school year.

He said he wondered if the district was doing as well as it could when it came to recruiting.

In 2018, Palumbo left a corporate recruiter position at Kelly Services to purchase and operate a Kona Ice franchise that serves Sumter, Columbia/Lexington and Clarendon County.

A Sumter resident since 2013, he said he thinks the school board needs a more diverse education of administrators — as opposed to most former educators.

Palumbo’s military career included work in law enforcement and human resources. He is also trained with active shooter situations, he said.

Palumbo has attended school board meetings since his filing and said he wondered why Monday’s meeting was the first time the board had received a detailed discipline briefing in at least three years.

“Someone with this experience should have asked for this material years ago,” he said. “So I get it. It’s a lot on the education side, but you should have someone on the board who has that kind of experience to raise these issues to improve our schools. I bring that to the table. Not only do you get one person with expertise in one specialty, you get three from me. You get business. You get law enforcement and human resource management and recruitment. So I try to be humble all the time, but I think in that case you really need someone like me on the board.”

Palumbo holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and three associate degrees from his time in the Air Force. He added that he also had many certificates from Villanova University.


A lifelong educator, Sharon Teigue served for a long time as director of adult education for Sumter County before retiring in 2021. As a former teacher and administrator, she said she believes she can bring a good perspective to the school board. She and her retired Air Force husband moved to Sumter in 1984.

Challenges she sees in the district include losing teachers at a high rate and losing students with low enrollment. She said Sumter Adult Education has a high retention rate under her with staff and also keeps students until many of them can graduate from high school.

She said recruitment and retention are key to begin to better manage the challenges in the district, and that involves appropriate supports in the area of ​​student discipline.

She noted a recent conversation she had with a young mother of a 4-year-old who said she and her husband were looking for a house in Colombia because they didn’t want to send their child to school. public of Sumter.

“I just thought, ‘Is this sad?'” Teigue said. “We have the ability to be great, and yet we have people who say, ‘No, I want my kids to go somewhere else.’

“The Third Army came here, and I would have thought the number of students would have increased. Instead, they have gone down by more than 1,000 over the past 10 years. This has a huge impact on services that we can provide, and it affects funding and other things, so recruiting teachers and retaining them for me would be the top priority.

Teigue holds two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree in psychology and another in adult education.

She added that the district has successes to build on, including a nationally certified STEM school in Alice Drive Middle, and that she would like to see this in all schools. Other bright spots include new course offerings at the Sumter Career and Technology Center and dedicated teachers “who need all the encouragement in the world.”

The United States is blessed with a public education spanning 13 years, she added, compared to other countries that might only offer two or three levels, and people need to be proud and don’t take it for granted.

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