Family, friends remember Frank Earnest, Jr.

Published 10:40 pm Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Family and friends of former Dallas County Schools’ superintendent Frank Earnest Jr. remember him as a hard worker and a public servant. Earnest died Sunday, Feb. 10 in Montgomery at the age of 90.

Earnest, who lived in Selma for 63 years before moving to Montgomery in 2015, served as superintendent of Dallas County Schools from 1963 to 1988. Those who worked with him considered him a role model, a good steward of system finances and admired him for shepherding the schools through some very difficult times, including desegregation of the system.

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John Pilcher, who served as the Dallas County School Board attorney in 1981 while Earnest was superintendent, said he was a “good and dedicated public servant.”

“He loved Dallas County Schools,” Pilcher said. “He served them a long time. It was over 30 years. The best thing about Mr. Earnest is that he consolidated the school system. He moved it from a segregated system to an integrated system … He was there at a very important time for the school system. It was a hard process to do. It was difficult and it involved some litigation, so not everybody was happy about it, but he conducted a very deliberative course of action to bring the system into compliance with the laws and rules of the United States. He achieved a desegregated status for the school system, which is very important for Dallas County Schools. He ended that litigation for the school system. He did what he thought was right, and sometimes people were happy and sometimes they weren’t, but he continued with a course he came up with the board. He devoted lots of his energy for that purpose.”

Marvin Warren, who took over as superintendent after Earnest retired said he had worked as a teacher at Dallas County High School while Earnest was the assistant superintendent for the school system.

“I came to Dallas County Schools as a teacher at Dallas County High School in 1960 and at that time Mr. Earnest was the assistant superintendent,” Warren said. “I’ve known Mr. Earnest since 1960. He and I worked together and I taught about five and a half years at Dallas County High and then moved to the central office. He led the school system through the era of integration. He went through the closure of Craig Field and taking the operation of the school that was located there. He was an effective leader. He was a very good money man because back in those days we didn’t have much local tax or revenue. He had a good understanding of the Dallas County School community and he was interested in the educational improvement of the Dallas County Schools. He had to keep up with what construction was needed, and at one time we had to use portable classrooms.”

Wayne May served in many roles under the direction of Earnest including an educator, assistant principal, principal and ultimately Earnest’s assistant superintendent.

“As an administrator, he (Earnest) was probably one of the best,” May said. “He hired me as a teacher and motivated me to go into administration, and I think he was a wonderful role model for young administrators. He hired me as a teacher right out of Troy University in 1974 and gave me a lot of encouragement as I pursued a degree in administration.

“I worked with him as an assistant principal, principal and as an assistant superintendent,” May said.

May added that Earnest handled financial struggles the school system faced with hard work and ultimate success.

“Being a rural school system that we are, we have had one of the lowest tax bases in the state, and his ability to manage finances and keep us with a good reserve financially left us almost $4 million in reserve when he retired, which could be an emergency fund if we weren’t receiving the funds that we normally receive,” May said. “I just remember him as a great manager and an educator that was a role model to so many teachers and administrators. He was a strong Christian man.”

Current Dallas County School Board member William Minor also talked about his time working with Earnest as an educator and administrator.

“When I graduated from Tipton in 1961, he was superintendent then,” Minor said. “Then when I went off to school and came back I was working as an instructor under him. His decisions were firm and when he made his decisions that was it. I think whenever he told you something you could depend on it because that’s how he was. He worked well with the board. He resigned the year I became a board member, but to my understanding, he worked well with the board.”

Earnest was born March 9, 1928, in Fayette County.  After graduating from Berry High School in 1946 he earned his undergraduate degree from Florence State College (now the University of North Alabama). He went on to receive a master’s degree in education administration from the University of Alabama with additional graduate studies at Alabama and Columbia University.  He was a member of Kappa Delta Pi and Phi Delta Kappa, leadership and academic fraternities.

On December 15, 1946, while working as a railroad telegrapher in Oakman, he married Bertha Dean Best, his high school sweetheart.  Shortly thereafter, due to a shortage of teachers as a result of WWII, he was granted a war emergency teacher’s certificate and began teaching at the elementary school level at the age of 19.  He was hired as a teacher and principal of Brandon Junior High School in rural Tuscaloosa County in 1951.  He moved his family to Selma in 1952 where he became the inaugural assistant superintendent for the Dallas County Board of Education.  He was hired as superintendent by the board in 1963, retiring in that same capacity in 1988.  During his tenure, he served in leadership positions for numerous state educational associations and committees, including President of the Alabama Association of School Administrators.

As an active and dedicated member of Elkdale Baptist Church, he served on the board of deacons, eventually being voted Deacon Emeritus.  He served on and chaired many committees over the years and taught a men’s Sunday school class for more than fifty years.  He served the community through membership and leadership positions with the Selma Lions Club, Selma Rotary Club and numerous boards, both state and local.

He was an avid golfer, a lover of college football and basketball and was quite passionate about his beloved Crimson Tide. The family will receive visitors on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, at Elkdale Baptist Church at 1 p.m. with a service in the sanctuary at 2 p.m. A private family burial will take place at New Live Oak Cemetery in Selma with Selma Funeral Home directing.

Family and friends will serve as pallbearers. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to Elkdale Baptist Church, Alzheimer’s Association or your preferred charity. The family would like to thank the following facilities: Cedar Hill Assisted Living in Selma, John Knox Manor in Montgomery and Jackson Hospital for their care and dedication over the past several years.