The role of an educator is to teach his or her students and prepare them for the next phase of their lives. However, there are times when an educator can take on another role, the role of inspiring their students to pursue something greater, something beyond textbooks or assessments. Those educators change the lives of their students, and their influence lasts forever.
Alabama State University alumna Deltonya Rogers Warren is the personification of that influential educator. As the current assistant superintendent for Eufaula City Schools in Eufaula, Alabama, she has had the opportunity to influence and teach students from elementary to high school since 1990.
Hailing from Eufaula, Alabama, Warren grew up an only child to her parents Billy and Mary Alice Rogers. As a result, Warren gravitated to the children in her neighborhood. They became more than just her friends. She considered them “her siblings and her extended family.” They played games like softball outside and spent a lot of time together and exploring. These experiences significantly influenced her life and taught her important lessons like standing up for herself, being resourceful, and being kind to others.
With Eufaula being such a small town, Warren attended Eufaula High School, the only high school in the immediate area. While attending Eufaula High School, she was a cheerleader, played volleyball, was a member of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), and was a part of the Student Government Association. She was always a class favorite, class beauty, and among the Who’s Who at Eufaula High School.
As a member of the SGA, she was tasked with putting together the high school prom. During that time, Eufaula High School had separate proms for their white and Black students due to the segregation of the town, something that Warren was not fond of at all.
During her junior year of high school, Warren started working at McDonald’s. While working there, she met her future husband, Jessie Warren. This was not the first time she had seen him, as she knew his family and had even been to his house often to get her hair braided by his sister. However, this time was different.
“I worked at McDonald’s when I was in high school, and one night he came to McDonald’s. It was kind of like ‘oh wow … hi;’ and it was an immediate connection that even though I’ve seen you lots of times, I’m just now really seeing you. So we exchanged numbers, and we started conversing on the phone, and it just evolved,” Warren said.
The two started dating in Warren’s junior and senior years, while Jessie was a sophomore at Alabama State University. Upon Warren’s graduation from high school in 1984, she attended Alabama State University. Coming from a segregated environment was a big part of Warren’s decision.
“I think that is probably the reason I ended up at Alabama State University because things were still very separate in Eufaula,” she said. “At that time, our school system was probably predominantly white. I needed to see some folk that looked like me. It didn’t hurt that my boyfriend was already in college there, so I’m sure that played a big part in that being a place where I ended up.”
Warren did not come to the university with a declared major or an idea of what she wanted her career path to be. However, over time she decided to major in office administration with a minor in public relations. After graduation, she aspired to go to law school and become a corporate attorney.
She looks back on all the memories she made at ASU as a student.
“I lived in Bessie Benson for my first semester at ASU. We had a good time hanging out on the yard, going to the student union, going to football games, and hearing the band practice at the dust bowl,” Warren said. “I can remember sitting on the steps at East University in the afternoons just to listen to the band practice because they were pretty phenomenal.”
The atmosphere of the basketball games was another favorite of hers.
“When there was a basketball game in C.J. Dunn Arena, it was so small. It felt like there were a million people in the gym. Everybody was excited and cheering for the Hornets. There was no better time.”
During her time at ASU, Warren served as a residential assistant (RA), was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and served as Miss Alabama State University in 1986-87. As a RA for East University Apartments, Warren spent a lot of time in the Office of Student Affairs with Dean of Students Pearl Farrior and then Vice President of Student Affairs Johnny Hardwick, who she really enjoyed.
Serving as Miss ASU was an unexpected venture for Warren, who was peer pressured into running for the position.
“I didn’t really think it would happen, but I am so eternally grateful and honored when it was bestowed upon me,” Warren said. She learned a lot being in this role, and it was crucial in expanding her outlook on life.
She met many people she would never have imagined meeting before. Among these people included activist Jesse Jackson and R&B legend Stevie Wonder. When Jackson visited ASU to speak to students, it was Warren who gave a welcome speech, after which Jackson embraced her.
Warren loves telling the story of meeting a young Denzel Washington, who kissed her on her jaw. This experience meant a lot to Warren, who reflected on her thinking during that time, saying, “Who would have dreamed that a little girl from a small town like Eufaula, whose dad owns a service station and mom works in the local factory, would ever have this opportunity.”
Warren had an opportunity to compete for Miss Collegiate Black America in Miami, Florida, during her tenure as Miss ASU. She also met dignitaries from Japan and learned a little bit of their language to greet them properly. The role of Miss ASU provided many educational and professional opportunities toward her career. Warren describes the role as “one of the thrills of her lifetime.”
Some of her favorite professors were Vivian Deshields, Ph.D., and Jacqueline Myers, Ph.D. Deshields, who was in the office administration department, was a big favorite of Warren’s.
“She was a class act all the way around. I loved the way she talked, the way she dressed, and her confidence,” Warren said. “She did not let you just get by because she expected excellence. She brought out the best in people.” These kinds of standards are what helped Warren after she graduated.
Warren graduated from ASU in 1987, just three years since her freshman year. She did this by taking classes year-round and going to summer school every year. Because she wanted to pursue law school, she wanted to finish her undergraduate studies as quickly and efficiently as she could. Describing herself as “very determined,” she was no stranger to hard work from a young age, and this was nothing new for her.
Receiving her diploma was meaningful to her in so many ways.
“I was the first in my immediate family to graduate from college. It was something I needed to do for myself, but I also wanted to make my parents proud. They made a lot of sacrifices so that I could be there.” This was not only an impactful moment in the present but also for Warren’s future and the future of her children. “It was the turning of a whole family. For me, it was interrupting that cycle of poverty and saying from this point on, when I have children, there is this expectation that when I have children they will go to college and they will finish.”
She and her boyfriend tied the knot in 1988, a year after she graduated from ASU. Her husband was working for the county school system in Barbour County as he had graduated from the university and needed to gain some experience. The two agreed to move back to Eufaula for a year, and then they had plans to move elsewhere. As jobs were offered, those plans began to change. Warren went from ASU to working for the district attorney, still hoping to fulfill the dream of becoming an attorney. After a couple of years, the superintendent at the time called and offered her a position at the high school as the dropout prevention coordinator at her alma mater, Eufaula High School, which she accepted.
While acting as the dropout prevention coordinator in 1990, Warren worked with high school students, including a class of girls that had either been pregnant or were currently pregnant. Being a new mom herself after having her first daughter Jessica, and being born when her mother was a senior in high school, allowed Warren to be quite relatable to the girls.
“I often shared to them how important it was for me to be whatever they needed me to be at that time,” Warren said.
She wanted to give them advice that would help open their eyes to the reality of their situations.
“My message to them was you’ve got to persevere, and you have to be the change that you want to see because now it’s not just about you,” she said.
She and the staff created innovative ways for the girls to learn and succeed in their classes as well. All of this effort came into fruition as every senior went on to graduate that year, a feat that Warren was incredibly proud of. “It was encouraging to be able to encourage, enlighten, and guide those students to the path of graduation.”
Warren had a special opportunity to revisit something about Eufaula City Schools she remembered all too well, the separate and segregated proms. She was adamant about ending this practice and mentioned it to the principal at the time. Due to her passion and determination, Eufaula High School had its first integrated prom in Warren’s first year back. It meant a lot to her to spearhead that change and chair the event itself. In her mind, the decision “broke barriers” that had held many “captive” for a long time.
After a year, Warren was offered a job to come and teach second grade at Bluff City Elementary School. It was here where she found her calling for teaching. She fell in love with teaching the children and was in disbelief at she had found a new purpose.
“Really believing back in that day, I can’t believe they actually pay me to do this. I would do this for nothing because I just had a connection with the children,” Warren said. This newfound love made it much easier for her to forgo attending law school and instead go to graduate school to get her master’s degree in elementary education.
Once she finished graduate school, Warren returned to Eufaula City Schools, this time in the central office as the parenting/preschool coordinator. In this role, she learned a lot about herself and the connection she had with the children.
“I love the young kids. Preschool is my love language. The kids are so innocent and moldable. They bring me so much joy because they’re so honest and so curious,” Warren said. She finds so much joy in “letting the kids just be kids” and discovering things with them.
Warren wastes no time working to improve the Eufaula City School System any opportunity she gets. When she first arrived in the central office, the pre-K program only had one class. As of right now, there are nine classes. She has spent a lot of time focusing on giving the kids in these early stages the best environment possible to set them up for success. Her philosophy is straightforward as she says, “We need to invest in prevention on the front end so that we’re not having to spend so many dollars on intervention on the back end.”
As the years have gone on, Warren has remained in the Eufaula City School system serving in many roles such as teaching first, second, and fifth graders, director of instruction, and the director of federal programs and early childhood education. She is currently serving as the assistant superintendent of Eufaula City Schools while also working in human resources.
After delivering her first child, Jessica, in 1990, Warren and her husband welcomed two more children in the next few years named Breanna (29) and Justin (23). Currently, Jessica, who graduated from Auburn University, is working as a project manager at an event planning company called Connect Meetings in Atlanta, Georgia. Breanna, who graduated from Tuskegee University, is also working in Atlanta but as an affiliate manager at Greenlight Financial Technology. Her youngest child and only son Justin is a senior computer information systems major at Alabama State University and is set to graduate this spring.
She spoke highly of her children and all that they have accomplished. Along with her husband, they instilled how important education was to all of their children.
“I understood how important it was to have an education … I was exposing them to everything possible that I could expose them to so that when they dreamed, they could dream in color. I wanted them to understand that there is nothing they can’t do and nothing you can’t achieve.” These kinds of lessons were the same she had been teaching the kids at her job for years.
Warren did not hold back when it came to “being real” with her own children either. In an effort to make her kids as prepared as possible for the world they would be going into, Warren told them, “There are people that you will come in contact with over your life who will think you’re not as good as them and that you don’t deserve the things that you work hard to get. You will experience racism and push back.” With all the lessons her children were taught throughout the years, she believes that they have a great foundation and will continue to build on it as they go through life.
As for Warren and her husband, they are still together and going strong. Warren could not express her love for him more than saying, “I love him as much today as I did the first time I really saw him at McDonald’s. Every day when I go to bed, I feel like today was the best day of my life and I don’t say that to sound Hallmarky. I just think that I’m extremely blessed.”
She says their relationship is built on respect, and their love has evolved ever since that night at McDonald’s. As they have gone through their careers, they have supported each other through it all. They share a great love of kids and the importance of instilling a quality education in them. Despite all the years they have given to their craft and to so many kids, do not expect them to be done anytime soon. Warren admitted that neither one of them is ready to “sit at home and rock on the porch just yet.”
There is a sense of self-reflection that comes after being in a profession for over 30 years. Warren has served in educational roles for generations of children and continues to have an impact on countless numbers of lives. From the girls she encouraged and guided in her first job as the dropout prevention coordinator to the little kids she has helped in preschool, she has had the opportunity to inspire so many by simply doing what she loves to do. Some of the changes she has helped bring to Eufaula City Schools, like the fully integrated prom and the eight new classes in the preschool program, will last long after she has retired and gone.
Her influence has stretched long and wide, and she credits much of it to her time as a student at ASU. From being crowned Miss Alabama State University to being a resident assistant, she learned valuable lessons that have stuck with her throughout her professional career. One of the most important of these, especially in her profession, is the saying, “God gave me two ears and one mouth. He designed me to listen twice as much as I speak.”
At the end of everyday, Warren does not boast in her accomplishments or look for ovations from others. She asks herself if she made a difference in somebody’s life and if it was positive or negative. Warren learns from her successes and her failures as she has throughout her life. She says a prayer every night before she closes her eyes.
“I’m so grateful for today, God,” she said. “I hope that I am how you designed me to be used and that I didn’t disappoint you and kept up my end of the bargain. I hope my actions today helped more people than it hurt.” Her description of her prayer at the end of every day encapsulates just who she is as a person and an educator. She is an instrument used by God to make a difference one day at a time.