After teaching high schoolers the ins and outs of government, history and economics for 27 years, Rep. Derrick Graham has retired from Frankfort High School.
Leaving his alma mater was a difficult decision, but Graham, 52, says he’ll be able to focus more on his increasing legislative duties as well as visit family who’ve moved away, especially his two daughters. His oldest, Taylor Graham, is a junior at Western Kentucky University, and his youngest, Blake Graham, graduated from FHS Friday and will attend the University of Louisville in the fall.
“With her (Blake) having graduated, I decided to make a change,” Derrick Graham told The State Journal.
“As my children are making that change, I decided that it was time for me to do some other things, grow in other areas and spend more time at home as well as more time working my legislative job.”
Though he wanted to keep his retirement relatively quiet, district officials mentioned it during Graham’s induction into the Frankfort Independent School District Hall of Fame at FHS’s graduation.
He joined former State Auditor Crit Luallen; Steve Brooks, deputy director of state parks; F.D. Wilkinson, former FIS superintendent and FHS principal; and Kermit Williams, the first black football player for FHS whose arrival on the team sparked heated protests at games, as inductees in the hall of fame’s second year.
Graham says he’s fortunate that a job opened at FHS in 1985, about two years after he earned his master’s degree at Ohio State University. The small, two-teacher social studies department at FHS included his mentor, former FHS teacher and football coach Raymond Webb.
“Outside of my family, I’d say he probably had the next greatest impact on me,” said Graham, whose mother, Dolly Graham, also taught in Frankfort.
He credits Webb with pointing him toward education and politics. As a junior at FHS, Derrick Graham was introduced to politics in a class taught by Webb.
“It just really piqued my interest to the point where I thought, ‘Well, maybe someday I might do this,’” Graham said. “He played a big role in my interest in government and my interest in running for political office.”
As a young teacher, Graham worked alongside Webb and other familiar educators at FHS. School and district administrators such as Donald Hines, Albert Wall and Michael Oder fostered a close-knit, familial atmosphere during his first years at FHS because teachers rarely retired or changed jobs then, Graham said.
Graham has witnessed dynamic changes at the school in his 27 years there, such as record highs in enrollment and the construction of FHS’s first cafeteria.
He’s also taught children of former students. Though odd at first, Graham said he found strong support from those parents, who knew he was a fair teacher.
“When kids complained sometimes, parents would say, ‘I don’t pay any attention to that,’” Graham said.
He’s not sure what his future holds, but Graham expects to spend more time at the Capitol as his responsibilities as a state representative grow and major issues, such as public pensions, come before the General Assembly. He chaired the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education during budget talks earlier this year. He’s a member of other legislative committees.
Graham also has a political campaign to run, facing Republican challenger Don Stosberg in the Nov. 6 election.
In the meantime, Graham celebrated his birthday Saturday and says his first task this summer will be cleaning his garage and handling home renovations.
While he’s transitioning into a new phase of life, Graham says he’ll miss working in a school district that emphasizes academic success and students’ needs.
But most of all, Graham said he will miss connecting with students and watching them grow into successful adults.
“You’ve got to make sure that those kids understand that your biggest role and your biggest responsibility is to help them succeed and to connect the fact that school is an important part of their future,” Graham said.
“… I just hope that teachers and administrators everywhere understand that you’ve got to connect with them. Before you can do anything with them in terms of academics, you’ve got to connect with them so the kids know you care about them as an individual. I’m going to miss that.”