Three young men and a pastor were among several candidates who signed on during the final week of the filing period for nonpartisan, Sumter School Board seats up for election in November. Filing closed on Wednesday.
Shawn Ragin, Caleb Kershaw …
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Pinewood Town Council
Mayor, Pinewood: Sarah B. Mathis, nonpartisan
Town Council Ward 3: Leonard Houser, nonpartisan
Town Council Ward 4: Jack Spann, nonpartisan
Sumter City Council
City Council Ward 1: Thomas Bubba Lowery, nonpartisan
City Council Ward 3: Calvin K. Hastie Sr., nonpartisan
City Council Ward 5: Colin C. Davis, nonpartisan; Chris Hilditch, nonpartisan; Bob Galiano, nonpartisan
Sumter School District Board of Trustees
Area 1, nonpartisan
Brian L. Alston
Caleb M. Kershaw Jr.
Area 2, nonpartisan
Charles M. Smith
Area 3, nonpartisan
Matthew 'Mac' McLeod
Jason J. Johnson
Area 4, nonpartisan
Nonpartisan, at large:
William Levan Byrd
Shawn Ragin, Caleb Kershaw Jr., Jason Johnson and Eartha Reed all spoke Friday on their candidacies in a jammed school board election race that includes a total of 21 candidates for six available seats on the nine-member board.
Ragin, 32, was the eighth and final candidate to file for the two at-large seats on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Having spent his career in education, Ragin is the founder and headmaster of Ragin Preparatory Christian Academy, 68 Market St. The private school just began its fifth year and has 42 students in K-9th grade. It also has an afterschool academy that has 80 students, he said.
Before starting the school, Ragin was a seventh-grade science teacher in Lee County School District for seven years and served one year as a teacher at the former Sumter School District 17's alternative school, the Academic Learning Center, he said.
A Pinewood native, Ragin graduated from Lakewood High School in 2004. He holds an Associate Degree in Mortuary Science from Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service in Atlanta. He's pursuing a bachelor's degree online through Argosy University, he said.
Ragin said he would like to see increased student involvement in the Sumter community through different programs, such as community projects, to keep them actively engaged. As a board member, Ragin said he would be involved at the district's schools and wants the district to meet the needs of students.
"I want to see all kids do well," Ragin said. "I know every child is not on the same level, but I do think every child deserves the best education possible because they are our future."
Ragin has run for political office before in the county. In 2012, he won the Democratic primary for Sumter County coroner, but a Third Circuit Court judge later ruled he didn't have the necessary work experience to be a coroner, and his name was removed from the ballot before November.
Kershaw, 38, filed last week for the Area 1 seat on the board. A Rembert native and resident, Kershaw graduated from Crestwood High School in 1998 and holds a bachelor's degree from Saint Leo University and is pursuing his master's degree from Webster University at its Shaw Air Force Base campus.
Kershaw 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.
He has four children enrolled in the school district and said he thinks the board needs to do a better job as far as having the same programs across all schools and in its budgeting.
"I don't think all the district's schools are on the same level and on the right track," Kershaw said. "I don't see the same program opportunities across the schools and the grade levels."
Like Ragin, Kershaw is no stranger to the political arena. In 2014, he also ran for the board's Area 1 seat but lost to current Area 1 Trustee Linda Alston. Alston is not seeking re-election.
He additionally ran in 2016 for the District 1 seat on Sumter County Council but lost in a primary runoff election to current Councilman Chris Sumpter.
Johnson, 35, filed last week for the Area 3 seat on the board, held by Lucille McQuilla. McQuilla is also not seeking re-election.
Johnson has two children in the district and emphasized that he can relate to other parents about their concerns and desires for their kids. A 2001 Lakewood High School graduate, he holds a bachelor's degree from the University of South Carolina and works for his family's business, Global Monument Co. The operation provides cemetery services for many of the funeral homes in Sumter, Clarendon and Lee counties, Johnson said.
Unlike Ragin and Kershaw, this will be Johnson's first election. He said he doesn't think age is an indicator of ability as a board member and said it's a good time now for the board to have new perspectives.
"With the new interim superintendent and a new superintendent to follow, it's a new time for the district, and that leads to new ideas and new perspectives, and that is what I really want to be a part of," Johnson said.
Eartha Reed, a former pastor for 17 years in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and current associate pastor at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, also filed recently for the Area 3 seat, which will have five candidates on the ballot.
Reed has also served as a substitute teacher for 11 years in the district and the former Sumter School District 17. Originally from Sumter, Reed said she graduated from Lincoln High School in 1963. She holds a bachelor's degree from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, and has two Master's Degrees - in Divinity and Christian Education - from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.
In 2013, she said she received her Doctorate Degree in Theology from Slidell Baptist Seminary in Slidell, Louisiana.
Reed said she's never run for political office but said her ministry experience has provided her leadership skills, which she can apply as a board member to serve in the best interests of the students.
Issues in recent years with school consolidations and finances have piqued her interest in running, she said.
"I have concerns about the board closing schools, and so I want to be a part of that discussion," Reed said. "I am also concerned about budgeting and want to ensure the money is spent on the children."
Voting in the general election will be on Nov. 6.
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