As noted in the press coverage, Tuesday night's hiring of Steve Dozier as Superintendent of Schools for Webster Parish ended a long period in which Webster Parish looked in-house for their Superintendents. In fact, it has been over 90 years since Webster Parish hired a Superintendent who was not currently working inside the system. While it is also true that later Superintendents, most notably J. E. Pitcher, had been recruited from other systems to the Webster system, Dozier is the first hire since January 1921 who was not currently employed by Webster Parish.
Most residents of Minden are familiar with the name E. S. Richardson as the elementary school next to Turner's Pond. But few remember the man the school was named for, a man who almost single-handedly brought education in Webster Parish into the 20th century. Today's Echo of the Past is about E. S. Richardson, the man hired in 1921 as Superintendent, and how his actions of more than 75 years ago still reverberate in our community today.
Edwin Sanders Richardson was the 2nd child born to James Sanders Richardson and Sallie Havis Richardson on August 31, 1875. (Edwin's younger brother, Samuel Milton Richardson, born on January 5,1878, would become a well-respected doctor in Minden as would Samuel Milton's two sons, Samuel Milton, Jr. and Thomas.) E. S. Richardson was reared in Claiborne Parish, and attended the Eureka School in Langston, where his father was the teacher. In addition, Edwin studied one summer under T. H. Harris, later the Louisiana State Superintendent of Education. Upon finishing all the education available to him in Claiborne Parish, young E. S. Richardson took jobs teaching in one-room schools in Claiborne and Webster Parish for $30 per month. He saved this money and was able to attend George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1900, he was awarded a Licentiate of Instruction from Peabody. Although he never returned to school as a regular student, Peabody awarded him a B. A. degree in 1935. He also received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Centenary College in 1938.
From 1900 to 1904 he served as Principal of Atlanta, Arkansas, high school. While he was there a new school building was built, an omen of things to come in his career. Richardson was offered a lifetime contract by the school's Board of Trustees, but in 1904, he was given an opportunity to return home to Louisiana as a teacher at Saline School in Bienville Parish and left the Arkansas job.
During the next four years, he worked in the Bienville Parish School system, first at Saline, later at Liberty Hill School and finally as teacher and Principal at Bienville High School, where once again he supervised the construction of a new building. Shortly after the Bienville building was completed, Richardson was named Superintendent of Schools of Bienville Parish. A position he held until 1911.
Professor C. A. Ives former Principal of Minden High School, hired E. S. Richardson to work in the Agricultural Extension Department of the LSU in 1911. The years he spent in that post shaped Richardson's philosophy of education. His writings from those years show he was already sketching out plans for school consolidation, agricultural education, vocational training and centralized control, ideas he would later implement in Webster Parish. One notation in 1917 outlines a consolidation campaign nearly identical to the one he conducted in Webster Parish years later. During his years in the Extension Office, Richardson became best known for his use of audio-visual equipment. He used trucks that had projectors built onto the truck bed, enabling him to go to the farmers in the rural areas and show films on the latest techniques in farming.
In January 1921, following the death of Superintendent Thomas Fuller, Richardson was named Superintendent of Webster Parish Schools, a job that became the crowning achievement of his career as an educator. With the strong backing of School Board President W. G. Stewart, Richardson transformed the Webster Parish Schools into a model system copied by counties throughout the country.
When Richardson took over in Webster Parish, there were 39 schools in the parish, 35 of these were 1 to 3 room schools. There were only 4 certified high schools in the parish. In the White schools of Webster Parish there were 100 teachers: 18 held a B. A. degree; 32 others had two years of college and a teaching certificate; 46 had passed an examination and met no formal education requirement; and 9 had not even passed the examination. The only Black school operated by the parish was a small building in Minden. (There were some other Black schools operated by churches.)
Richardson hit the ground running in his new post. His routine included nearly daily visits into the schools, personal evaluations of the teachers, and contact with parents and civic leaders. He began a public relations blitz to support a consolidation campaign, by persuading the rural residents that the educational opportunities for their children would be much greater in a larger school. Richardson's consolidation campaign was a smashing success. By 1925, 10 centralized, state-approved high schools were built. These were located in: Shongaloo, Evergreen, Minden, Dubberly, Heflin, Springhill, Sarepta, Cotton Valley, Doyline, and Sibley. By 1928, each of these schools had new buildings and all except Evergreen's were brick. Twenty-four small schools were abandoned and only seven small schools remained. Richardson contracted with the W. H. Luck Company of Minden to build bodies for 40 "school trucks," or buses, to bring the rural children into the larger schools that offered a broader curriculum.
By 1931, the remaining seven small schools were closed and Richardson had completed implementation of the County Unit system, a uniform parish wide system of purchasing with a centralized warehouse. Books, equipment and supplies were purchased by the parish and standardized in all schools. If a school needed a new desk, or additional books, instead of having to find an outside source, they merely contacted the central warehouse in Minden. A uniform salary schedule for teachers, based on education and experience was adopted. By the time Richardson left Webster Parish in 1936, the White Schools had 127 teachers: 4 held M. A. degrees; 65 held B. A.'s; 30 had 3-years of college; 26 had completed 2-years of college; 1 had 1-year of college; and only 1 teacher had less than 1 year of college training.
In 1922, Richardson succeeded in passing a bond issue to build the Webster Training School for Black students and to hire a supervisor for black schools. Through the Rosenwald Fund and other sources, Webster Parish opened 35 black schools, and by 1932 the Webster Training Institute had 5 buildings and expanded course offerings.
Not forgetting his agricultural background, Richardson also created canning kitchens and meat processing plants at rural schools and arranged for students to participate in soil erosion projects being conducted in the area.
Richardson was also instrumental in obtaining Rosenwald funding to set up the new Webster Parish Library in 1929 to serve both Black and White residents. Richardson served on the first parish Library Board. The School Board hired 11 teacher librarians and allowed the branch libraries to be placed in the schools during the school year, in addition to financially supporting the library system.
Richardson's achievements and the improved school system in Webster Parish did not escape local, statewide and even nationwide notice. He was in great demand to speak at conferences nationwide on his County system, which was seen as the answer to many problems of rural school districts where individual communities couldn't support adequate schools. In the late 1920s, the Webster Parish School Board raised Richardson's salary to $5000 per year, over the state allowed maximum of $4000, and the Board went to the State Supreme Court to assure Richardson received the well-deserved raise. In 1927, the State Association of School administrators held a 3-day meeting in Minden to study the Webster Parish system as a model, and educators from various parts of the nation came on a regular basis to observe the Webster Parish Schools as a pattern for their own districts.
Such achievements made it inevitable that Richardson's career advanced, and in 1936, he was named President of Louisiana Tech. His tenure at Tech was cut short in 1941, when the Sam Jones administration purged all administrators appointed during the years of Long control.
After leaving Tech, Richardson returned to Minden, where he served as Executive Secretary of the Webster Council, coordinating activities between Federal and parish agencies involved in the construction of the new Louisiana Ordnance Plant. Later as a housing shortage emerged he accepted the position as Federal Rent Director for the Minden area. His final position of public service was as a Field Representative for the State Department of Commerce and Industry under Governor Jimmie Davis. Richardson retired and moved back to Ruston in 1948, where he died on October 11, 1950.
Clearly his impact still lives on in Webster Parish Schools today, most notably through his great niece, Cindy Richardson Madden, who has brought "school music" to so many students at all grade levels in Webster Parish. Sadly, because of consolidation and restructure most students in Webster Parish will not get that enrichment to their program as Cindy will only be working at Minden High this year. Wonderful for those students, but I pray that any restructure in our schools will allow the inclusion of music and the arts in all student's curriculums. Not only because it is a state mandate, but also because those topics are a vital part of a well-rounded education.
So now you know that E. S. Richardson is more than the school by Turner's Pond, you know that he was a man with vision who helped make our schools some of the best in the nation.
John Agan is a local historian, an instructor at Bossier Parish Community College and a published author. His column appears Fridays in the Minden Press-Herald.