Candidates for the District 7 seat on the Orangeburg County School Board plan to keep students first, create safe and supportive work environments for teachers and staff, and maintain fiscal accountability.

Incumbent Mary Berry Ulmer is being challenged by candidate Sam Farlow in the Nov. 8 election.

Only voters who reside in District 7 can cast a ballot for this race.

Mary Berry Ulmer

The Bowman native is an honor graduate of Bowman High School. She later earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Claflin University and a master’s degree in elementary education and middle school language arts from South Carolina State University.

Ulmer was a public school educator for 34 years. She taught in Jasper and Beaufort before returning to the former Orangeburg County School District 3, from which she retired.

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She was elected to the former OCSD5 school board in 2007 and served until 2018, when she was elected to the board of the newly formed Orangeburg County School District, which brought together the former Orangeburg County School Districts 3,4 and 5.

Ulmer, who also serves as a Region 7 representative on the South Carolina School Boards Association board of directors, is running for a second four-year term on the county board for a reason.

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“I feel that there are some things that need to be looked into that require my leadership. I’ve chosen to continue my dedication and commitment as I seek re-election to the Orangeburg County board of trustees,” she said.

“My main focus is keeping students as a priority. Also, I want to ensure that we offer support and improve the work environment and resources to the teachers and support staff so that our students can be academically successful,” Ulmer said.

The retired educator said she will look at budget priorities to ensure student success.

“Use data, go back and review data, assess programs and resources that we are presently using to help make the best decisions that’s needed to help meet the needs and student growth and academic success,” Ulmer said.

She also plans to address the challenges posed by teacher, bus driver and other staff shortages.

“Recruitment and retention. I want to restore the confidence and stability with teachers in this district, as well as support staff. Recruit highly qualified, effective teachers, support staff and instructional leaders because we have found that since the pandemic, a lot of educators are leaving the profession. So we have to restore the confidence and bring about some stability in this district and everywhere,” Ulmer said.

She said district consolidation has been a process.

“I feel that we are trying to get to where we would like to be and where we need to be, but it’s going to take the efforts of everybody working together,” she said, including the superintendent, school personnel and the community.

Ulmer said improvements would be made with “more communication between, for example, our (county) legislative delegation, county council members, elected officials, appointed officials and our community.

“When all those things come into play, we can see the reason for consolidation because that would add to what we’re trying to do here, address the needs, to facilitate growth and academic success,” she said.

Ulmer said partnerships and apprenticeship programs must be built, for example, to expose student to a high quality education, particularly as it pertains to technology and hands-on training.

“Technology is on the rise. … I’m not against a four-year college education, but there are some kids who can do good with their hands, and we can offer them technology and a curriculum through our technology centers.

“Then they maybe want to go on to a two-year college to improve on that because we want to make sure that they are college ready, career ready and … ready for the workforce or military — wherever they feel that they will achieve and be successful in life,” she said.

Ulmer continued, “There are career pathways. So as a school district, I want us to make sure that we let the students’ parents know this and help them. We have to educate along the way because it’s an institution of learning.”

She said her experience in the classroom and her dedication to never stop learning makes her a good candidate.

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“I have to keep myself abreast of the changes and keep up with the changes so that I can equip myself to be of service to the kids. I want to build relationships not only with the students, the Orangeburg County Legislative Delegation, other elected officials and, most importantly, our community.

“It’s about my love and passion for education. That love and passion dwindles down to the people I serve. I consider myself as a committed public servant to education. I will continue to provide for this school district the governance and leadership needed and advocate for all students, staff, the community,” Ulmer said.

“Just because I’m seeking re-election to District 7 does not mean that I’m just going to work in that little circle of District 7. I am across the county and for all students, staff and communities,” she said.

Ulmer and her husband, Patro H. Ulmer, are the parents of three adult children, all of whom are graduates of OCSD5.

Sam Farlow

Farlow spent 11-1/2 years on the former OCSD5 board and is looking to be a voice on the new board to promote, among other things, high-quality instruction and fiscal accountability.

He ran unsuccessfully against Ulmer in the 2018 race for the District 7 seat.

He said he is running again for a reason.

“As a board member, I hope to continue serving the students, teachers and community. My goal is to continue working with teachers and parents to ensure that our students are able to compete with other students across the country in the job market and in higher learning settings,” Farlow said.

“I also hope to continue working to recruit the most qualified educators who are equipped to introduce our students to innovative and fresh learning techniques,” he said.

One of the things he hopes to accomplish is establishing trust among the public that the district is keeping the needs of its students as its primary focus.

He said he also wants to work toward “maintaining a warm, safe, and supportive environment for employees and being a good steward of the district’s resources by holding everyone accountable.”

Farlow said many people do not think district consolidation has gone well for several reasons.

He said those reasons include an obvious lack of overall improvement in student achievement.

“In fact, there has been little public reporting on state and national test scores. Also it appears that the needs of students with disabilities have been neglected during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Farlow said.

He continued, “Major promises made were broken after consolidation. We were told no one would lose jobs, but large numbers of classified retirees lost jobs. The initial criteria for closing schools was immediately changed and many taxpayers claim to be paying more in school taxes due to the huge one-time millage increase. (Also), all regions do not feel their people have been treated fairly.”

He said many improvements need to be made in areas such as overall student achievement, employee morale, public trust, teacher retention efforts and budgetary procedures.

Farlow said his prior experience as a board member makes him a good candidate.

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“My prior experience … has qualified me as a trusted leader. I also worked on the grassroots level in the Parent Teacher Association for years, assisting students and staff with fundraisers and advocating for students’ academic success. My specific qualities include my commitment to public involvement and ability to exercise sound judgement, along with my zealous advocacy for the best interests of the students, faculty, staff and community,” he said.

Farlow said he remains optimistic about consolidation “as a tool to further unite the people of Orangeburg County and improve the quality of education for all students.”

“I remain hopeful that consolidation will eventually lead to financial savings for the district and community. As a grandfather with grandchildren in the district, I see the exceptional work that many administrators, teachers and staff are doing. I want to publicly commend them for their efforts and diligence. I want to ensure voters that I will make students our number one priority and work to create a supportive environment for teachers and staff,” he said.

Farlow received a bachelor of science in business administration from Limestone College. The U.S. Marine Corps veteran has been employed at the Department of Public Utilities for more than 30 years. has a new special: $1 for 26 weeks

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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