Former Gadsden County School Superintendent Robert Bryant has had a wide and varied life.
Bryant, who was born in Marion County, ended his professional career as Gadsden County’s first African-American school superintendent (1984-1992).
He was also the first African-American to be elected as a school superintendent in the state of Florida.
In a recent interview, Bryant talked about his life and his 37 years with the school system.
He said much of the foundation that helped him over the years was his three years during the Korean War as a member of the United States Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.
He said that experience set the stage for a number of issues throughout his life, especially race relations and the eventual integration of the school district.
He was one of three African-Americans in his company and found that by working hard he was able to fit in his unit.
It was a time in America when then-president Harry Truman had decided the military was to be integrated. Those days would be the foundation of his life years later.
After service, Bryant completed four years at Bethune College in 1957 and later a Master’s degree from New York University. Bryant received a Doctorate of Laws from Bethune-Cookman.
Bryant started to work at Carter-Parramore High School under the tutelage of Principal Varnell Hamilton in 1957 as a classroom teacher.
His skills soon landed him the assistant principal position and in 1970 he became the principal.
Bryant had a lot of praise for Principal Hamilton. It was Hamilton, he said, who provided the stepping stone into administration.
During his days at Carter-Parramore, the school was known far and wide for its academic excellence and students were often sought after by colleges.
“Carter-Parramore students were known for their hard work,” Bryant said.
Integration occurred during his years at Carter-Parramore and he credits his military service as part of the reason the transition was as smooth as it was.
He understood what it was like and was able to make it work in Gadsden County.
In 1979, then-School Superintendent Grinelle Bishop tapped Bryant as assistant superintendent for employee relations and administrative services.
He held that position until he was elected superintendent in 1984.
About his accomplishments as superintendent, Bryant said he was the proudest of building a good faculty and administration across the district. He saw the results of that from students who became successful in their lives after high school.
During his two terms Bryant introduced several programs that are still in use today such as Dual Enrollment for eleventh- and twelfth-grade students with Tallahassee Community College and accreditation of all elementary schools and the entire district by SACS.
Bryant felt it was important to be involved in the community and has held board positions with the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce, Gadsden Memorial Hospital, Quincy Telephone Company and Gadsden Men of Action. He is a member of Mt. Calvary Primitive Baptist Church.
When asked what he would like people to remember about his educational career, he said, his students.
His legacy would be about helping others and his motto is, of course, about school and how it should change lives: “Enter to learn, depart to serve.”
On April 4, 2013, Bryant will have the School District Transportation Facility named in his honor.
Bryant is married to the former Ellen Sanders from Gadsden County and they have a daughter and two grandsons. Bryant has a daughter and a granddaughter as well.
(A video of this interview can be seen at havanaherald.net or at the Havana Herald Facebook page.)