The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz 241 Pugh Hall Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor O ral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, re ligious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer t o both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview t ranscripts available on the UF D igital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to refl ect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit http://oral.histor y.ufl.edu or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013
MFP 0 86 Interviewee: Darron Edwards Interviewer: Breann e Palmer, Nialah Summers Date: September 23 2011 P: This is Breann e Palmer and N ialah Summers. It's September 23 and we are at Ruleville Central High School with our friend, Dr. Darron L. Edwards and he's going to just introduce himself and tell us a bit about his life. So if you just state your name please. E: My name is Darron Edwards and I'm a second year principal here at Ruleville Central High School, the school where I graduated from M y siblings, my brother, my sister, all graduated from this school, as well as my parents. So it's a privilege to be a part of this particular process. S: What's your date of birth? E: 10/16/68 S: Perfect. Can you tell us a bit about your family? You said you had a brother and a sister E: Sure. I'm the oldest of three children. My f ather's parents lived in this town and they wer e very very active in the community. And my f ather it was four children, two boys and two girls m y Father was next to the youngest and he actually was the second b lack principal of this particular high school. And he was also the first superintendent of t his particular school district. S: What was his name? E: Thomas Edwards Senior We all participated in sports here at the high school. And it's kind of very interesting b ecause it's five of us with my m other, my brother, my sister, my f ather ; we all playe d sports, we all graduated from here. And I'm the only one left. Everybody else moved away. So, it's interesting
MFP 08 6 ; Edwards ; Page 2 because my m other, my f ather are still here, they're still leaders in this community. And this is a position that I never dreamed of having, ne ver had a desire or a wish to have, but I feel like it was done because of God's will. Because I never ask to have this position, but interestingly enough, I was a college professor. And I did consulting work for all of the public school districts in this area. So doing consulting work in the area, it just made it even less interesting for me, to want to be a part of public education. But my father's the one who's responsible, because he always encouraged me H e said you would like it if you get into it. Bu t what happened was, I had certification to be a counselor and I never pursued it. So, an administrator's exam was coming up and I kinda tested my fate and my faith with God, because I didn't s tudy or prepare for the exam. [L aughter] And it's real interes ting because my f ather encouraged me to take it and it was pretty expensive, so I enrolled and I said that I was gonna take the test and I said well, God I will see if this is for me. If it's not for me I'll stay and conti nue to work in higher education s omething that I enjoyed, and I enjoyed the flexibility. I just didn't wanna be confined. So the weekend of the test I had a cousin who had some material about the test, and he gave it to me. And I got it and looked over it, didn't study it, put it to the s ide. And I said a prayer, I said Lord well, if this is what you want for me to do I don't need to prepare. The knowledge that I possess will be sufficient enough to make a satisfactory score to qualify to be an administrator in public education. So I went and took the test and it was real easy. [ L aughter] It was just very very easy. And when I got the results back, they were satisfactory for any school in
MFP 08 6 ; Edwards ; Page 3 the United States of America, for me to be an administrator. And that's when I said I started preparing to transition. So that's how I got into this position, because at the time when I came to work in Ruleville on public education, my f ather was still the superintendent. So he retired A fter that they had another superintendent who was elected, and the Mis sissippi Department of Education abolished that superintendent as well as that school board. So that's when the state took over our schools, of this county. And Ruleville Central High School was one of those schools. At the time, they were classified as be ing a failing school, and that's something that this high school has never experienced before. Historically, we've always been a successful district, and this school has always performed, regionally, pretty well. We've never experienced low test scores, un der performing students, or anything of the sort. So, to have that, it was something very uncomfortable, uneasy, and anxiety filled for this community. To be able to not to have people that are personable, accessible, and the stakeholders in this community to run the school district. So it was something new. So to have the school district being classified as a failing school was something that people were really really interested in making sure that they played a role in changing that, so it could go back t o some of the traditions, academically, that existed here. So being a part of that process, it was something that I think a lot of people were nervous about me coming in. But no one, I think, w as more confident in my ability than my parents. I can just ta lk to you that's my son, for days and days and days S: Pause it.
MFP 08 6 ; Edwards ; Page 4 E: Can we do it right S: Mh mm. [Break in recording ] E: We were talking about my motivation and I think, for my parents, to have their oldest child to be a leader in the community th at they both grew up in, and one that I grew up in as well, was very very meaningful to them. And I don't think that they could have been more proud of me. Even when I got my PhD, I think this was a lot more meaningful to them. To me that serves as a sense of motivation, but it also serves for me as a higher order, of making sure that what's expected of me is fulfilled, not just for myself, but making sure that everything I do, with the decisions I make, the choices I make, and the manner in which I conduct myself is one that would make them proud as well. So it's special, and to know that this is the school that my f ather worked in, my m other worked in, and to know that their reputations are one that are still well respected and well viewed and perceived in this community. Also, kind of increases the standards that you operate by it's good. I mean, I always look at it as a blessing because it could be on the other end of the spectrum. You could have leaders who have tainted or tarnished images and then you h ave to follow those. And you have to play a role at trying to defend them throughout the process. So it's a blessing to have parents who are still in good physical and mental health, that are still here and still real respected. S: Are there still faculty at the school that knew your parents that are still here now?
MFP 08 6 ; Edwards ; Page 5 E: Interesting that you ask because my name is Darron Lamont Edwards, and it's interesting because when I went to school, they all called me by my middle name and no one really knew my first nam e. So when I first got the job, there were teachers here who were my teachers when I was in school, and when they saw me in the building, they ran up and hugged me. They didn't call me Mr. Edwards, they didn't call me Dr. Edwards, they called me Lamont, an d it was like oh Lamont, I'm so glad that you're here. And the other teachers who were young, they looked at me like how does she know you? She calls you by your first name. So we hugged, and they were very apologetic, but that is something that makes you feel good about having this opportunity, because again, it could have been another way. They could have looked at me and said well he's nobody that we respect, he's someone that was this type of individual in this community and we know him, not just when h e was in school, but even after he finished school. To know that they respected me then, they respect me now, means a lot. And I ge t actually the most cooperation in terms of collaboration, in terms of support, from the teachers who have been here a long time, who have been knowing me all my life. And they actually worked for my F ather, so it's been good. And a lot of people, you hear, you had a lot of people and I know this is something that happened with me you had a lot of people who would say, well I w ould not want to work in the community where I lived. Well it depends on the personality and the character of the person, because for me, I've actually turned down opportunities to go to other communities to work, for less I mean for more money. But that's extrinsic motivation, monetary things, so that doesn't
MFP 08 6 ; Edwards ; Page 6 have anything to do with what drives me and motivates me. I love working in the community where I grew up. The plus side to that is, when the people respect you for your ability to make fair and impar tial decisions that are for the best interest of their children, they may not necessarily agree with the decisions, but my decision is always gonna be supported by policy. As long as I can show it to them and black and white and say this is the rule, and I 'm not gonna compromise that, then it's okay. I think in the end they end up respecting you even more. They may not agree with you at the time, but after their emotions kind of settle down and they look at things from an objective standpoint, then they're okay. S: Can you tell us how what was the process to get this school out of failing status? Now you're one point away from being a successful school E: Exactly. P: Over the last two years, what's the journey been like? E: I will be glad to tell you. And it's something that I tell the students. We've been in school today makes the seventh completed week of school, so what happened a little over a year ago, was that your performance level there were various variables that determine your performa nce level as a school, the drop out rate, the graduation rate, and in Mississippi, we have subject area testing. Okay. And that's basically defined by four different areas: Algebra I, Biology I, English II, and U.S. History. So basically, because of those test results and students under performing at a certain level, the Mississippi Department of Education gives you a performance level. So the performance level of the high school was a failing status. And we had two schools that were classified as failing, and the hig h
MFP 08 6 ; Edwards ; Page 7 school was one of them. And it was because of several factors : the drop out rate, the graduation rate, and because of a large, significant number of students who did not pass the subject area tests. So what we did was, when we came in at the beginning of the year it was my first year as a high school principal, so the learning curve was very very high. But I took it upon myself to do as much research as I possibly could, and I surrounded myself with some people that I trusted, as well as some people who w ere knowledgeable about what we needed to do as a team. So I requested from the conservator a nd the conservator, just so you'll know, is when the state takes over your school, because of your underperformance. You don't have a superintendent, you have a c onservator. So I met with the conservator, and to me, the first step was to bring in a new staff. There were a large portion of people that we did not renew their contracts, and I brought in a total of eight new staff members. A new secretary, a new assist ant principal, a new counselor, a new lead teacher, some new coaches, a new in school suspension person, safety resource officer people that I was familiar with. What we try to do at the high school, as it relates to civil rights, and that particular era, we request that our history teachers in the social studies department integrate and emphasize and highlight the c ivil r ights e ra into their particular lesson plans, into their daily instruction. And we periodically invite speakers, leaders in our community as well as leaders from surrounding communities to come in and speak to those students. One person that you all probably have heard of, may be familiar with, is Mr. Charles McLaur i n. He's
MFP 08 6 ; Edwards ; Page 8 someone who, last year, came in and spoke to our student body. Pe riodically we do have speakers to come in, like Mr. Guyot, who came in today. P : How's that benefitting the students? Do you feel like it helps instill a sense of pride in them that they're learning about people before in Mississippi who were integral in the movement? E: I think what it does, is it connects the students with the past, by giving them someone that they just can't read and I think you all know, that there are all different types of learners. So you have learners that learn in different ways a nd from receiving knowledge and information in different methods, so it's good to read about it, but it's also good to have that human component, to come in and actually add that to what the teacher is actually lecturing about. Or what you're watching on f ilm, or what you're reading about. The book can't answer questions. I t can provide you with information, but to have a person who can come give you the oral history of what is actually taking place, and they have actually experienced themselves. It's a dif ferent type of knowledge that's delivered to you. That makes a difference and I hope that it does serve as a sense of pride and motivation to the students, to let them know about the privileges that they have now, that those people who came before them, th e giants or the historians, the heroes, of what they did to give you the opportunity that you have today. All of that's important. P: What does it mean to you, with your parents having been staples in this community? W hat is it like for you? Shortly, growi ng up in an area like Ruleville, and having your parents be major people in this community? Does it give you
MFP 08 6 ; Edwards ; Page 9 pride, does it what does it do for you? What does knowing this history what has it done for you? E: For me and I like to be modest about it, I just like to look at it, that they had a role to play, in that particular era. And I think God put them in the positions that they were in to help others and to serve their community. And what they have done is actually, aside from put pressure on me, to make sure that I fulfill what's designed for me at this particular moment in my life, to make sure that I try to fulfill as much as I possibly can. To make sure that in this time I open doors for those individuals who will come after me, and make sure that I c an take the baton as far as I possibly can, open as many doors as I possibly can, and try to serve as a leader, not just by speaking it, but by living it, and being an example and a model, that my parents, and others who came before me, can be proud of. Bu t also more importantly, my children, I know how important it was for me to have parents who were respectful, hard working and dedicated, and always exhibited a form of altruism, where it was always about not doing for yourself, but trying to do things for mankind, and the welfare of others. I know that's something that's been instilled in me and it was growing up, you didn't really realize the magnitude of it, until you got to be an adult. And then you realize that you're traveling the same path, and you r ealize what it was like for them. It's been good. P: And then finally, just as a last thing, could you tell us about where you did your undergrad studies and your graduate studies ? A nd also now you have a doctorate so
MFP 08 6 ; Edwards ; Page 10 E: I went to after graduating from Rul eville Central High School, I attended school at Mississippi State Valley State University, and that's the home of Jerry Rice. I like to say that. After that I went to Delta State, which is nine miles away. P: Right, we were there last night. E: And it was a good school, and I like the fact that all of my degrees are from different institutions, but they're all from the state of Mississippi, and I'm very proud of that. So after graduating from Delta State, I received my educational specialist degree from Mi ssissippi State, and after that I received my PhD from Mississippi State. I never had an interest in going to school or attending school, or following my education outside of Mississippi. And I'm fortunate because I have a daughter who is a freshman at Mis sissippi State. P: Ah, well there you go. [L aughter ] Legacy. Mh mm. E: Yes. P: Is there anything else you'd want us to know, any last, final words to kind of wrap up what you've been telling us? E: I'm excit ed to be a part of this process with you all. And I hope that at some point, the students who are having an opportunity to experience this this will serve as some staple in their lives, to help motivate them, that everything is not about how much money you can make, or how many superficial things you can possess. But there's a generation of people who came before you, that have opened doors and given you opportunities that you have today. So I hope that the new generation, of students, the new generation of leaders, are ones who can do just as much and mor e as I'm doing, and those who came before me.
MFP 08 6 ; Edwards ; Page 11 P: Perfectly put. Thank you. Yes, thank you so much. We appreciate it. Al l r ight, we're turning this of f [End of interview] Transcribed by: Anna Armitage, January 24, 2014 Audit e dited by: Sarah Blanc, January 30, 2014 Final edited by: Diana Dombrowski, February 23, 2014