Black superintendents in southwest Virginia make strides in and out of the classroom

Crystal Edwards, Zeb Talley and Verletta White are all leading example for their students

Superintendents in our corner of the Commonwealth tells 10 News why representation matters in the classroom.

ROANOKE, Va – During Black History Month, 10 News continues to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of African-American leaders across southwest Virginia.

Superintendents in our corner of the Commonwealth are teaching lessons that go far beyond what can be learned in a textbook.

The path to becoming a teacher wasn’t always clear for Lynchburg Superintendent Crystal Edwards.

“I did not think I could have a sustainable lifestyle based on teaching but could on engineering,” Edwards said.

Quickly, she realized she wanted to encourage young Black girls like herself to pursue careers in science and math.

“I was determined to make sure that kids have the opportunity to access those courses. And even then, the most of the early work that I did was opening doors and another level you can open a door, you can allow a student to come in,” Edwards said.

As time went on and she continued her path in educational leadership, Edwards became the first Black female superintendent at Lynchburg City schools. She vows she won’t be the last.

“Because just opening the door without providing the support isn’t good enough, so access alone is not good enough, opportunity alone is not good enough, children need support,” Edwards said.

Just south of Lynchburg, Zeb Talley grew up in a historically Black neighborhood in Danville.

“I grew up in poverty with, with two parents, neither who finished school,” Martinsville City Schools Superintendent Zeb Talley said.

Talley was on the path to retirement before accepting his role as Martinsville Superintendent.

In his first year, he had every school in the division accredited.

“I felt like it would be a challenge to turn the school division around, I knew the talent was here, because we had a long history of academic achievement achievements and, as well as athletic achievements, but I knew that what was missing was teamwork and just leadership,” Talley said.

Verletta White will soon wrap up her first year as superintendent with Roanoke City Schools.

She is the first Black female superintendent to serve in a permanent role.

“Representation matters because perspective matters,” Roanoke City School Superintendent Verletta White said.

In that short time period, she has been an advocate for the division’s equity policy.

“My work is to build upon that, so to make sure that we have representation in our curriculum, making sure that our children can see themselves in the curriculum that we’re utilizing it for them,” White said.

All three educators say they wouldn’t be in the place they are without encouragement from the Black leaders who inspired them in the classroom.

“I’m here today because I do stand on the shoulders of all those who have walked before me and so I just want to be a role model and for children who are looking to me for leadership and looking toward me for that representation,” White said.

They also hope that their roles as superintendents inspire students who may feel they haven’t always been represented.

About the Author:

Annie Schroeder joined the 10 News team as a reporter in June 2020 and is no stranger to Southwest Virginia.