Edward Anderson remembers one of the earliest lessons he learned as a teacher was when a student stopped by one day to talk — only to get an earful about school rules and meeting expectations. Now that young man sits in prison for life after murdering his girlfriend.
“Sometimes, it takes one poignant conversation to change the trajectory of a person or a child. I was 23 years old at the time, and that was my chance to have changed his trajectory,” Anderson says a decade later.
At 33, Anderson is one of the youngest principals in Greenville County Schools, running Tanglewood Middle School since 2017. He oversees 85 faculty and staff and some 850 students. For the first time since his arrival 11 years ago, African Americans comprise a minority, 42%, with Hispanics numbering 45% and white students at 11%.
Anderson grew up in Southernside, about five miles from his school just off White Horse Road. He knows what it’s like to come from an under-resourced neighborhood — and what it takes to get to where he is, including the doctorate in education he earned in 2014.
“If we were in trouble with one family, we were in trouble with all families. Everyone knew what was going on,” he says with a laugh.
His mother was 14 when she gave birth to Edward. A 2008 University of South Carolina graduate, he went on to teach at Lakeview Middle School. His awards include the 2019 Xanthene Norris Educational Achievement Award; 2017 Urban League Talented Tenth; and districtwide Teacher of the Year for 2012-2013.
“He’s the man my boys need to see so they can grow up and be successful and have a family and be happy,” says Cassie Anderson, Anderson’s wife of seven years, a special education teacher at Buena Vista Elementary School.
Cassie Anderson, who is 34 and white, says their two sons, Ellison, 5, and Micah, 1, aren’t old enough to realize that their parents, together, don’t look like they do. Mostly, she says, they just notice how hard their dad works.
“To be a product of the community, of Greenville County Schools, and to be successful and giving back to the community where he grew up is very important to him,” she says. “Other people often remark on how wonderful he is, but I can’t say anything but ‘thank you.’”
During an interview 50 years after Greenville County Schools’ desegregation, Anderson talks about the same things as he looks forward to February’s commemorations: gratitude and community.
“We have to come together to solve our own issues because we’re closer to the problem,” he says. “Black History Month does say to the world that, ‘Hey, all right, we’re focusing on this community right now.’ So what does this community have to say? Now you have this audience listening every year. So this is the perfect time.”