Jammed election field sets sights on Sumter school board area seats

12 candidates discuss interests in running, qualities for next superintendent

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 10/25/18

In addition to the two at-large seats on the Nov. 6 ballot, four area seats on the Sumter School Board are up for grabs in the upcoming election.Twelve of the 13 area-seat candidates took to the …

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Jammed election field sets sights on Sumter school board area seats

12 candidates discuss interests in running, qualities for next superintendent

Posted

In addition to the two at-large seats on the Nov. 6 ballot, four area seats on the Sumter School Board are up for grabs in the upcoming election.

Twelve of the 13 area-seat candidates took to the stage at Crestwood High School on Tuesday to answer platform questions about topics including their interests in running for election, school safety and what qualities they would look for in the upcoming superintendent search. 

Areas 1, 2 and 3 will all have new representatives at the board's next meeting on Nov. 26 because the incumbents for those seats are not running for re-election.

In addition to voting for the two at-large members, voters who live in Areas 1-4 have a third vote for a candidate in this election. Any registered voter in Sumter County will have the opportunity to vote for two at-large board members.

Questions for were designed by the Sumter Teacher Forum, a group of about 50 top Sumter School District classroom teachers, based on what it considered were the big topics of interest for voters in the upcoming election, and candidates didn't know questions beforehand. 

Each candidate was able to make an initial opening statement and then answer four questions in a randomized format in an hour-long panel discussion.

Area 1

(Most northwest portion of the county to include Rembert and the Horatio, Cherryvale and DeLaine communities and the Manchester Forest area.)

Four individuals are vying for the Area 1 seat. Brian Alston is a workforce support coordinator with the state Department of Employment and Workforce in Columbia. He ran for the Area 1 school board seat in 2014. Alston is not related to Linda Alston, who won that election. Brian Alston also ran for the State House of Representatives District 50 seat in 2014 and '16.

Barbara Bowman is an insurance agent and describes herself as a "community activist" in the Cherryvale area. Caleb Kershaw Jr. spent six years in the U.S. Army after high school graduation and now is a small-business owner, specializing in event photography and graphic design. Mark Myers is a retired industry worker and part-time farmer and horseman.

Alston, 29, emphasized he's the youngest person running for the school board, saying that allows him to relate well to the district's students. As far as qualities he would look for, if elected, in a new superintendent, Alston said the leader needs to be connected to the various stakeholders in Sumter, to include the communities, business and industry. He said that new leader will need to be "ethical, accessible and culturally competent to the needs of the students in the district."

Bowman also said the next superintendent should build connections with local communities and should be transparent. She said she has no personal interest — per se — in running for the board because her interests at heart are for the community.

Myers said he would be an advocate for vocational training of students for the workforce, and he doesn't want the kids of Area 1 to be left behind. As far as measures to improve school safety, Myers said he would support building better relationships with parents, law enforcement and churches.

Kershaw said his interest in running for the area seat is because he's "passionate about my community." As far as steps to improve school safety, he said examining student behaviors and being proactive are important. In general, Kershaw said the district has a great foundation and just needs to build on that.

Area 2

(A northwest portion of the county to include Dalzell, Stateburg, Shaw Air Force Base area and a small area of Rembert and continues down to the Carter Road area in the City of Sumter.)

Three political newcomers are running for Area 2, including retired educators John Michalik and Sherril Ray. Ray held numerous posts, including principal, in working nearly 40 years in the former Sumter School District 2 and the now-consolidated district. Michalik also held numerous positions, including principal, in 20 years in Sumter 2 and the consolidated district. For the first 20 years of his career, Michalik worked in business operations management. Michalik is the husband of current Area 2 Representative Karen Michalik, who is not seeking re-election.

Charles Smith is a businessman dealing in real estate sales and manufactured homes. He is also a residential contractor. Smith was unable to attend Tuesday's forum due to a prior commitment, according to event organizers. 

Ray said as a board member she wants to improve board communications and transparency with parents and teachers. To improve school safety, she said administrators and teachers need to follow the discipline code and consider upgrading it where appropriate. Ray said discipline should be consistent and fair for all students. For qualities in a new superintendent, she emphasized someone who is a proven leader in a similar type district compared to Sumter. 

Michalik described himself in his responses as having a unique background — both in business and education — that could benefit the board. The former principal of the Sumter County Career and Technology Center said he thinks he could help in the formation of a new technical high school in the district.

As far as qualities he would look for in a new superintendent, Michalik said he would seek out the voice of his constituents and the greater Sumter community and get their feedback. The board and all community stakeholders' input will be important in the selection process, he said.

Area 3

(Most southwest portion of the county to include Lakewood, Furman, Sunset Country Club, Pocalla Springs and Pinewood areas)

This area seat has the most candidates vying for it - five. Two candidates, Josh Coleman and Jason Johnson, work in business. Two, Matthew (Mac) McLeod and John Shipman, have ties to business as part-time small-business owners and ties to education, as well. Another, Eartha Reed, is a pastor and former substitute teacher in the district.

Coleman works as a manager at Kemperle Auto Paint, Body and Equipment and is pursuing his undergraduate degree online with hopes of one day becoming a full-time pastor. His wife, Cristin, is a classroom teacher in the district, and, with two children in district schools, he says he has a passion for local education. A true leader, visionary and someone who can take the schools to the next level are all qualities Coleman said he would look for in a new superintendent.

Johnson works for his family's business, Global Monument Co. The operation provides cemetery services for many of the funeral homes in Sumter and surrounding areas, he said. He also has two kids in the district and said he would pursue the best education possible for all children in the county. As far as a superintendent, Johnson favors someone with a proven track record and interest in the local workforce and industry.

McLeod was a former school board member for five years in Sumter District 2, and his wife is an educator in the district. He's currently in his seventh year as a high school teacher at Thomas Sumter Academy in Rembert.

McLeod also said he's a small-business owner with a home-repair business on the side. He said the district can get better and that he would bring a platform of accountability and fiscal responsibility to the board.

Shipman is a retired Air Force veteran and has spent the last 20 years in public education. He served 17 years at Sumter High School and the last three as the career and technical education director for the state Department of Corrections' unified school district, based in Columbia. He has also been a small-business owner, operating a part-time martial arts school in Sumter.

Shipman said he's concerned about the district and thinks when someone sets high expectations, he or she can get great results. As far as improving school safety, Shipman would support limiting students' social media and cellphone use at school. On qualities in a new superintendent, he said it will be important to find someone who can truly make the district one and eliminate old biases that he said still exist from when the county had two districts.

Reed was a pastor for 17 years in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and is now the associate pastor at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. She also was a substitute teacher for 11 years in the consolidated district and former Sumter School District 17. She said her interest is in the district's children and higher academic achievement for students. On the topic of school security, Reed said the district's budget needs to be re-prioritized toward safety. In a superintendent, Reed said she would look for someone who was community minded and would listen to the community.

Area 4

(Includes mostly the suburbs on the western side of the City of Sumter.)

Only incumbent Johnny Hilton's name will be on the ballot for the area. He will be the presumed winner of the seat unless a write-in candidate earns more votes in November.

A lifelong educator, Hilton said he is "a school teacher at heart." He said he wants to continue his involvement in public education and raise expectations of academic achievement and behavior in the district. As far as qualities in the next superintendent, Hilton said he would look for someone who has a vision for the future, given continual technology advancements, a team builder and an individual with high expectations.