Originally submitted for publication in June of 2019 by Alanna Carr
As someone who recently found my purpose and passion for inspiring youth and teaching them how to develop self-confidence and empathy, to say I was a little nervous interviewing Dr. Darryl Adams was an understatement! I avoided setting up an interview time for about a week! And, of course, my trepidation was unnecessary as I discovered on the other end of the line, someone who was as humble as he was generous and joyous.
Who is Dr. Darryl Adams? He is many things including a musician, a top superintendent who was commended for his work by President Obama in 2014, an educational consultant, technology advocate, citizenry advocate, keynote speaker and edutainer. Not to mention that Dr. Adams is filled with joy, possibility and a drive to transform the education system so that every child has a chance at succeeding in the 21st century.
Dr. Adams grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of a single mom, never knowing his father, and as he so diplomatically put it, with a stepfather who did not accept him. At age 12, Dr. Adams discovered his passion for music in Junior High School when he learned how to play the trumpet. He soon went on to learn the bass guitar, guitar and then the piano. He discovered that music is a gift to connect people and touch a deeper part of the human spirit. As he describes it, music is a universal language that is a spiritual connection to 12 individual notes. After achieving a degree in music, he formed a band called Xavion and they went on to garner some success with their hit Eat Your Heart Out in 1984. When the band dissolved, he moved out to Los Angeles to continue his career as a musician. It was there that he started teaching music in schools and discovered his love of teaching.
Over the years teaching, he grew frustrated by the type of leadership he encountered in the education system and declared that he could do it better. And boy was he right! Dr. Adams returned to school and embarked on the journey of becoming an administrator and superintendent. His first opportunity was to be the superintendent of the Coachella Valley Unified School District, which at the time was the poorest district in the United States. The district consisted of 20,000 students comprised of a mixture of illegal immigrants and citizens of which 98% were Hispanic and 70% were learning English as a Second Language. When he started, he was appalled at the fact that of the students graduating from his district who went on to post-secondary education, only 16.5% finished with a degree in a college or university. It became clear to him that the students were not being prepared for future success. He called it educational malpractice. Now, as someone who was always up for a challenge, Dr. Adams was excited for this opportunity to create something new that would make a profound difference in the lives of his students, their parents, and his teaching staff. When asked if he was daunted by this challenge, he replied: “No, I thought my creativity and free-thinking ideas were a perfect fit. And there was only one way to go from there.”
What Dr. Adams saw was a great technological divide between the students in his district and the students in more affluent school districts. This put his students at a distinct disadvantage as they were not learning the skills necessary to excel in the 21st Century, and they didn’t have the same access to information that other students had. He set out to create a pilot program that would provide an iPad to every student in the district. The pilot program started by implementing iPads into the school with 5600 students and 120 teachers. Once the results of the pilot program were in, he brought the community together to vote on implementing the program district wide. The community voted 67% in favour of a $42 million technology bond to fund providing an iPad to each and every student in the school district from preschool to grade 12! The Coachella Valley Unified School District was the first in the nation to accomplish this. This program increased student engagement and curiosity because they had newfound access to information. And Dr. Adam’s philosophy of the 4C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity had the opportunity to flourish. The teaching styles shifted as well, to one that was more student directed which allowed the students to take ownership of their education and discover what they were passionate about.
The next phase of the project was to increase connectivity by creating the most innovative Wi-Fi infrastructure for the entire district. Dr. Adams realized that bridging the digital divide was two-fold: put the technology in every students’ hands and ensure that they had Internet connectivity outside of school hours. In his district only about 50% of the students had access to the internet off school property, compared to more affluent students who have access to connectivity 24hours/day, 7days/week. The majority of his students lived in trailer parks with limited access to connectivity even if their parents could afford it. The solution was completely out of the box and ingenious. I wasn’t surprised that President Obama acknowledged him as one of the Top 100 innovative Superintendents in America! Dr. Adams dreamt up the idea of equipping the school buses that were not being used after school hours with internet/wifi routers and parking them in neighbourhoods without Internet access. This way, not only could the students use their iPads at home, so could the rest of their families. And when they realized that the batteries in the routers were not lasting through the night, another innovative solution was found – utilizing the most prominent resource California has available -the sun! Solar panels were installed on the buses to power the routers 24/7! This project was named Wifi-On-Wheels and is being replicated all throughout the United States.
Through his creative, innovative and out-of-the-box solutions, the student graduation rate in the district increased from 70% to 90% and the post-secondary acceptance rate increased to: 24.8%.
Now most people who have been in a career they love for almost 30 years would rightfully see this achievement as the pinnacle of their careers and retire by spending the rest of their days on the golf course or traveling the world. Dr. Darryl Adams is not most people. Retirement has not slowed him down one bit. He created The Centre for Democracy and Education whose mandate is to teach and encourage young people and adults to be proud citizens of the United States and increase civic engagement. Dr. Adams is now in demand as an education consultant, delivering his keynote concerts all over the nation. Yes, you read that right, he does not deliver keynote speeches, he infuses his passion for music with his passion for education and creates entertaining educational concerts for every topic he addresses. In his retirement, he has rebranded himself as an edutainer, author, and the Rock & Roll Hip Hop and Soul superintendent!
When asked where his energy, drive and positivity come from, he said that his drive definitely came from his mother. His positivity comes from his spirituality and the book The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peele, which he read as a young man and states it changed his life. What drives Dr. Adams is never accepting the status quo, seeing every challenge as an opportunity, breaking limiting stereotypes, and his love of people and making connections.
His motto is: Never ever quit/never stop. Aren’t all the students for whom he advocates fortunate to have someone like Dr. Darryl Adams in their corner? I know that I am truly blessed and grateful to have Dr. Adams in my corner sharing his knowledge and expertise with me as my mentor as I grow and expand I Dare U 2 Bee.
What’s next for Dr. Adams is the launch of his self-written and self-produced album called Education Nation. The songs on the album are filled with lyrics that are designed to spread positivity and empowerment to all who listen. Also, look out for his Podcast of the same name which is designed to be a platform through which he has the opportunity to feature and acknowledge educators, as well as inspire teachers and parents to take a holistic approach to educating children, empowering every aspect of every child.
For more information check out his websites: