Richmond County Board of Education Superintendent Frank Roberson spent the next-to-last day of his term at a surprise party, surrounded by the cabinet members he had worked with during his four-year term.
At that party, Roberson’s staff members gave him the usual sort of presents that are given during a person’s last days at an organization: a clock, a framed picture of the board’s central office and a plaque thanking him for his service. He laid them out on his office desk, along with letters of well-wishes from other school employees. For Roberson, these gifts are more than keepsakes. They are a way to stay connected to the school system he struggled to remain a part of for the past four years.
“These were very appropriate,” Roberson said. “I can see they recognize how attached I was to this system and these schools. I’ve already visualized a place in my study to hang this photograph. … Leaving is the most difficult part of all of this. I leave here knowing that I moved the system forward, but I know there is much more to be done.”
Roberson is leaving behind his superintendent position today, but he said he will not be giving up his love for working in education.
Roberson was hired as superintendent in 2010, but his interest in working in education began earlier. He said his experience with teachers in Augusta schools in his youth inspired him to want to be an educator.
“I had very effective teachers throughout my childhood, from elementary onwards,” Roberson said. “They were very caring, and I wanted to be like them.”
Some of Roberson’s family members also encouraged him to learn as much as he could about the world around him, feeding his “huge appetite for gaining knowledge.”
Roberson said he would spend hours listening to his great-grandmother speak of her childhood and reading through his father’s collection of history books.
“I always had a thirst knowing about my past,” Roberson said. “Listening to my family and reading my father’s books created a thirst in me to learn more.”
Roberson would have to fight to achieve his goals. He and his family struggled with poverty throughout his adolescence. His mother washed clothes and saved money to help him get into Paine College, where he studied history. Roberson also used financial aid and scholarships to complete his degree.
“I didn’t have a car, so my aunt dropped me off and picked me up every afternoon. When I would wait for her to pick me up, I spent time in the library studying,” Roberson said. “I had no money for lunch, so I would read to help repress my hunger pains. My professors would see me work in the library and say that I was one of the most engaged students at the college, but it was a matter of necessity for me.”
After graduating from Paine, Roberson began teaching in the Aiken County school system in 1979, ultimately becoming a social studies teacher. After obtaining his master’s degree, Roberson worked as a principal in several Aiken County schools, and was promoted to assistant superintendent of instruction.
After stints as superintendent in Edgefield and Marlboro counties, Roberson accepted a three-year $170,000 contract to become Richmond County superintendent and be back close “to his roots.” But six months into his tenure, he was debilitated from complications from an abnormal clustering of blood vessels on the brain, known as an arteriovenous malformation, and underwent emergency brain surgery. Roberson struggled to physically and mentally rehabilitate himself in the ensuing months.
“I said that I had too much to do, too much work to help the children in this community for me to quit,” Roberson said. “I had the desire in my soul. I started relearning everything by degrees, working up from a point where I didn’t know what two plus two was.”
He returned to work full time in September 2012, and the school board extended his contract in August 2013.
Roberson’s goal for Richmond County schools, especially after returning in 2012, was to improve student graduation rates and academic achievement. EOCT and CRCT scores for students did improve over the course of his term, for which board of education members credited Roberson during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.
“I just wish I could have done much, much more,” he said.
Roberson hasn’t made plans for his future but said he wants to work in fields relating to “education and organizational leadership.”
He said he is happy with his legacy and thanks Richmond County for giving him some of the best years of his life.
“I want to thank my entire cabinet … and I can’t thank the school board enough,” Roberson said. “They had confidence in me at a time when I didn’t even know myself. This community is fortunate to have school system employees like that.”