Helping Students Change The World

Helping Students Change The World
Palm Beach Central High School’s Darren Edgecomb
Keeps His Eye On The Next Generation

Story by Deborah Welky  |  Photos by Denise Fleischman

Palm Beach Central High School became the second public high school serving Wellington when it opened in August 2003 on the north side of Forest Hill Blvd. at Lyons Road. For the past eight years, the principal has been Darren Edgecomb, a longtime Palm Beach County educator.

Having graduated from Belle Glade High School in the top five percent of his class and fresh from the University of Florida with a degree in business, Edgecomb took a job as assistant manager of the same grocery store that he had worked at as a teenager. Except this time, he was the one hiring teenagers — as cashiers, bagboys and stock crew. The year was 1987.

“I knew their parents and older siblings, and it was pretty cool talking to kids — who were doing the same things I used to do — about interviewing techniques and the management side of things,” Edgecomb recalled. “Then one day, Mr. Antoine Russell came into the shop. He was an educator, and he was about to become the principal of a new alternative school, School of Choice, opening up in Pahokee. He saw how I enjoyed teaching the teens, and he suggested I transition into teaching. He was my mentor.”

Although School of Choice was late in opening due to construction delays, Edgecomb was eager to begin his teaching career.

“I began subbing at Rosenwald Elementary School in South Bay, working with seven-year-olds and wondering what I had gotten myself into. But I loved it and, when School of Choice finally opened, I took a job there, teaching math to grades 6 through 12. Eight years later, I tried to spread my wings,” Edgecomb said. “I had been fortunate enough to have just been selected as Math Teacher of the Year for Secondary Education, and that made me feel as if could take more of a risk, move out of my comfort zone.”

Edgecomb was hired at Okeeheelee Middle School, then led by Chuck Shaw, who later went on to serve on the Palm Beach County School Board. “He gave me lots of leadership opportunities,” Edgecomb recalled. “He appointed me as a team leader — someone who rotates in as an assistant principal when an assistant principal is out — and I found I enjoyed working with adults at the same time I was working with kids. This was an opportunity to ‘sit in the chair,’ and the chair felt good.”

Edgecomb’s next stop was Royal Palm Beach High School. “I still enjoyed teaching, and I taught math there for another eight years — algebra to calculus. I loved every second of it. Then, the last year I was there, I had an opportunity to serve in a similar role as a team leader at the high school level. I got my master’s degree in educational leadership alongside my wife, Linda. I finished the admin program required by the County and then secured an assistant principal position at Seminole Ridge High School, just as it was opening up,” he said.

Edgecomb has a wealth of experience working in brand-new schools. School of Choice, Okeeheelee, RPBHS and SRHS were all opening their doors for the first time when Edgecomb arrived.

After working at Seminole Ridge for four years, he served as principal of Turning Point Academy, another alternative education school, for two years. Then it was back to Belle Glade as principal at Gove Elementary School.

“It was a blast,” Edgecomb said. “It was a dual language school, and it was also the school my own kids attended; where my wife was a former teacher. I knew all my co-workers.”

After spending three years at Gove, Edgecomb became principal at Palm Beach Central. His eight years there has brought him to a running total of 34 years with the School District of Palm Beach County.

“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “The late Antoine Russell ignited my passion, set the fuses and gave me the motivation in the community I grew up in. He talked about being a role model for young men. He made it intriguing. But my faith is definitely the biggest influence in my life. I’m an educator, and I see it almost as being in the missionary field. Educators bring hope and answers to kids who need them. I take it very seriously. We’re the greatest impact on their futures that these kids have.”

Next to his faith, Edgecomb cites his wife, Linda, as his biggest inspiration. She is the principal at Golden Grove Elementary School in The Acreage.

“I’ve been in education for 34 years and married for 34 years. We grew up together. She was my high school sweetheart. We talk every day. We’re still just as passionate about what we do, and we bounce ideas off each other,” Edgecomb said. “The greatest challenge I face is working with the kids, but that has always been the fun part, the motivating part. I also work to find the perfect mesh of how to motivate the adults. In all my experience, I’ve discovered that the way people are motivated is totally different. How can I make them each feel validated?”

At the high school level, the expectations are high, and the students are mini-adults. “It’s a delicate balance of pressure and support to get the best out of teachers for the sake of the kids, while also acknowledging that they’re the ones on the front lines, doing the heavy lifting,” he said.

The “culture” of a school is something Edgecomb studies and works to perfect. “For me, the biggest success is putting your brand on the school,” he said. “Culture translates into student success. When you have a great culture, people will run through a wall for you. That said, having been through so many places, the commonality I have found is that memories and relationships are what last. Testing, standards and classwork aside, I feel successful when I’ve achieved relationships with people. That is my greatest reward.”

Academically, Edgecomb is proud of the fact that Palm Beach Central has an A rating from the state and that graduation rates went up 2.6 percent to 97 percent despite the difficulties of the pandemic.

“I’m really thrilled about that, and the credit goes to our amazing teachers and staff members. The greatest thing about Palm Beach Central is that we’re a microcosm of society,” he said. “It’s one of the more diverse schools I’ve worked at — a tapestry of many cultures. Our almost 2,900 students are 20 percent Black; 41 percent Hispanic; 31 percent White; 14 percent of our students have disabilities; 6 percent are English Language Learners. And, even though we’re in Wellington, 56 percent receive free or reduced-price lunches. Despite that, we have a 97 percent graduation rate. Our diversity is our strength. We learn from being around other cultures. We try to connect with, include and accept everyone while still having high expectations for every student.”

He’s also proud of the school’s extra-curriculars, such as the football team that was undefeated this season going two games into the playoffs.

“In addition, there’s student government, the arts, a plethora of activities,” Edgecomb said. “There’s always something going on at the school, day and night. Our students are philanthropic. They give back to society. Right now, they’re planning a dance marathon to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network. Pre-pandemic, they raised more than $100,000. The students are wonderful; the teachers are skilled; and the parents are super supportive.

Edgecomb has watched students evolve over the course of his 34-year career.

“Since 1988, when I started, I’ve seen many changes,” he said. “The most pronounced and obvious is the technology. It has changed how we teach and how they receive information. To capture today’s kids’ attention, you need more tools in your tool belt. And they don’t see the teacher as the person with all the answers like I did growing up. The kids want to know the ‘why’ behind everything. Everything has to be proven.”

In this way, the teacher is now more of a guide and facilitator who leads kids to the answers. “Before, teachers just told them how to do it and whether they were right or wrong,” he explained.

Professionally, Edgecomb would like to see Palm Beach Central “continuing to ride the wave of the momentum of student achievement” well into the future.

Personally, he feels blessed as a successful family man.

“My faith and family are the most important things to me,” he said. “I am blessed to have a wife with a similar career, and two daughters working in our schools. Danielle is teaching pre-kindergarten and Kamille is providing mental health support at the elementary level.”

Whether at home or at work, Edgecomb seeks to provide a living example of the value of a good education. “I tell my students, ‘Go change the world with the knowledge and opportunities you’ve had here at Palm Beach Central,’” he said.