TAMPA — Doretha Edgecomb, whose career as an educator spanned decades of desegregation and the birth of the school accountability movement, is leaving the Hillsborough County School Board when her third term expires in November.
There were rumors that Edgecomb, 72, was disillusioned by the politics that cast out Hillsborough's last superintendent and robbed Edgecomb, the board's only African-American member, of her turn as chairwoman.
There were rumors that she feared a challenge as a younger generation questions the schools' treatment of minority students. Or that she could not bring herself to mount a re-election campaign after losing her mother, Sarah Stroud Wynn, who died at 100 this year.
Edgecomb has heard some of these rumors. But that's not why she's leaving, she told the School Board near the end of Tuesday's meeting.
"Those who create, add on or perpetuate such nonsense obviously don't know me," she said.
In fact, she said, her mother, a teacher at the long-closed Harlem Academy, inspired her decision to step down after 12 years on the School Board.
"She lived a life of purpose, of steadfast and strong convictions; a life of substance, of tremendous faith and commitment," Edgecomb said. "These are among the boundaries that I've considered and honored as I've come into this decision."
Without offering a specific reason, Edgecomb said this is simply a season for change.
"My mission remains the same," she said, vowing to continue to advocate for public education.
"The fight continues. And my voice will continue to be among those who speak out. What changes is just the place, the space or the background, if you will."
Born in Tampa, Edgecomb is a product of what was long a segregated school system. She attended the old Middleton High School, an institution for which she has always expressed strong affection.
She married George Edgecomb, a trailblazing prosecutor and judge who died of leukemia in 1976.
She was a teacher and principal. She led Robles Elementary School in 1995, when it landed on a statewide list of low-performing schools.
Edgecomb responded with a door-to-door campaign to rally parents' support for a turnaround. She met with then-Education Commissioner Frank Brogan when he toured the school.
"I asked him if he could tell me what we need to do that we're not already doing, and he said he really couldn't," she said at the time.
Edgecomb entered the political side of education in 2004, winning her first election to the School Board and the two that followed.
Her departure leaves five candidates for the central Tampa seat including engineer Joseph W. Jordan-Robinson, a past candidate who so far has raised $8,000.
The race comes at a pivotal time for urban schools, as the federal government is investigating allegations of racial disparities in discipline and student achievement.
It is also a time of anticipated improvements at seven Elevate schools that serve high-needs communities. It is not entirely clear who will carry out those changes. Owen Young, area superintendent over the Elevate schools, and Lewis Brinson, the district's chief diversity officer, are among a dozen district officials who have been asked to reapply to keep their jobs.
As a board member, Edgecomb often voted with a slim majority supporting superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who was ultimately fired in January 2015 when that majority became a minority.
Edgecomb always insisted that, despite the vote counts, her positions were her own. She simply preferred discreet conversation over public confrontations.
"When I took this position in 2004, I pledged that I would serve with integrity and dignity, with dedication and commitment, that I would come prepared, that I would listen, that I would be your voice and stand up for what I believe is the right thing to do for the right reasons," she said Tuesday.
"I will continue to do those things until I leave in November."
Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol.