Alston faces 2 challengers in District 1 Sumter school board race

Palumbo is a small-business owner; Teigue is a lifelong educator


EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series on the nine Sumter school board district seats that are up for election in November. Each week leading up to Election Day, The Sumter Item will analyze a district (alternatively called area) race and interview candidates on the ballot. All candidates will be contacted. Online, this series, like other election information, will be free to read as a public service.

Candidate Q&As in their own words will also be included in our Vote 2022 Guide that will publish Oct. 1.

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We are another week closer to Election Day, and many invested in the community still say it is the most important election in Sumter.

All nine seats on Sumter School District's Board of Trustees are on the ballot. After the district's financial crisis became apparent in December 2016, the Sumter County Legislative Delegation added two seats to the seven-member school board in Spring 2017. The delegation's purpose in creating the new at-large seats on the board was to bring focus and expertise to remedy the district's challenge at the time.

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 went up for the public's vote for the first time. Being at-large seats, every voter in Sumter County saw the race on the ballot, and the top two vote-getters won the seats.

The delegation specified in the original legislation that after the 2020 U.S. Census' redistricting to account for population shifts, the school board would switch to nine single-member districts for the 2022 election and moving forward. This spring, the delegation had General Assembly staff members who handled state redistricting also reconfigure Sumter County's seven districts into nine. Law requires electoral districts to encompass equal populations in each.

That means while you may not have moved since the last election, you may vote in a different district. Voters can research sample ballots online at or learn more in The Sumter Item's Vote 2022 special guide publishing Oct. 1. All Sumter County voters should also receive a new voter registration card detailing their districts.

The financial challenges of 2016-17 are resolved now largely because of the work of district staff and administration as well as attrition.

Meanwhile, the board that took over in late 2018 - which includes the superintendent who was in charge in 2016 before he retired in 2017 then won an at-large seat in 2018 - has been often controversial because of its own actions and internal divisions.

Those started with voting to reopen a closed school and subsequently the state Superintendent of Education declaring a "fiscal emergency" in the district in Spring 2019. More recently, the board voted 5-4 to remove the last superintendent after unanimously naming her to the post three years earlier. The vote was nullified by a judge after reporting in The Sumter Item revealed it violated the Freedom of Information Act because the matter was not on the agenda.

Special interests tend to dominate the board's activity and conversations over policy or student and staff achievement and wellness, even while public education faces increased competition in recent years with growing educational options available to parents and families. Add onto that a nationwide teacher shortage.

That all sets the stage for the upcoming election.


The new District 1, also referred to as Area 1, is just outside Sumter city limits to the north and west and includes Shaw Air Force Base and close surrounding areas. The district goes from S.C. 261 (Kings Highway) and the Stateburg area as a western boundary to mostly U.S. 521 as an eastern boundary line. The northern border is the Dinkins Mill area to Hillcrest.

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


Alston won the pre-redistricted District 1 seat in the November 2018 election. He was raised in Rembert near the border of the new District 1 and 2.

He said being "a product of the area" and also the fact that he is a part-time teacher at Ragin Preparatory Christian Academy, a local private school, benefits his candidacy in that those experiences allow him to understand the issues plaguing students.

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

He is the school board's Policy Committee chairman and said he understands that adopting policies is at the heart of what the trustees do.

"We are a policy-making body before we are anything else," Alston said, "and I think that is what we need to remind ourselves of. We are only as good as the policies we adopt."

He and Shawn Ragin, another board member and also the founder and headmaster of Ragin Prep, were outspoken supporters of former Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox. They were on the minority, opposing side of the illegal 5-4 vote from February to remove her before her contract expired.

The new superintendent, William Wright Jr., who started July 1, said at this week's board meeting that the current student discipline process and policy needs evaluation on its effectiveness. District staff presented a discipline report to the board for the first time since 2018.

When asked why similar reports had not been presented in recent years, Alston said the magnitude of student conduct issues are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic and youth missing important developmental years 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 also has been heavily impacted by COVID-19, and teacher/staff recruitment and retention.

Alston noted he has been a proponent of a districtwide salary study for some time, even though the full board did not commit to an outside study until Monday.

He said students will continue to need after-school programming and summer-learning experiences going forward as well as social and emotional support to address the learning loss and achievement gap.

As far as successes to build on, Alston noted the district maintained all its staffing during the pandemic, and that helped the local economy.


Daniel Palumbo is retired from the U.S. Air Force and is a small-business owner. He has two children attending schools in the district and said he would likely not be running if things were going smoothly, but they are not, he said, and the problems affect his own family.

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

He said he wonders if the district is doing as well as it can with recruiting.

In 2018, Palumbo left a position as a corporate recruiter with Kelly Services to buy 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 background of trustees - as opposed to just mostly former educators.

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

Palumbo has attended school board meetings since he filed and said he wonders why the meeting Monday was the first time the board received a detailed briefing on discipline in at least three years.

"Somebody with that background should have been asking for this material years ago," he said. "So, I get it. It's a lot with the education side, but you should have somebody on the board that has that type of experience to bring these questions up to improve our schools. I bring that to the table. Not only do you get just one person with an expertise in one specialty, you get from myself three. You get business. You are getting law enforcement and HR management and recruiting. So, I try to be humble all the time, but I think in this case you really need somebody like me on the board."

Palumbo has a bachelor's degree in business administration and three associate degrees from his time in the Air Force. He added that he also has numerous certificates from Villanova University.


A lifelong educator, Sharon Teigue was the longtime director of Sumter County Adult Education before retiring in 2021. As a former teacher and administrator, she said she thinks she can bring a good perspective to the school board. She and her husband, who is retired from the Air Force, moved to Sumter in 1984.

Challenges she sees in the district include losing teachers at a high rate and losing students with lower student enrollment. She said Sumter Adult Education had a high retention rate under her lead with staff and also kept students until many of them could obtain their high school credential.

She said recruiting and retention of teachers are vital to start handling challenges in the district better, and that involves proper 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 are looking for a house in Columbia because they do not want to send their child to public school in Sumter.

"I just thought, 'How sad is that?'" Teigue said. "We have the ability to be great, and yet we have people who are saying, 'No, I want my children to go somewhere else.'

"Third Army came in here, and I would have thought our student numbers would have gone up. Instead, they have gone down by more than 1,000 in the last 10 years. That has a tremendous impact on the services we can deliver, and it affects funding and other things. So, getting teachers in and retaining those teachers to me would be the top priority."

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

She added the district has successes to build on, including a nationally certified STEM school at Alice Drive Middle, and that she would like to see that at all schools. Other positives 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 to have public education spanning 13 years, she added, in comparison to other countries that might offer just two or three grades, and people need to be proud of that and not take it for granted.