Robert Turnage spent more than 40 years in public education, leading the Philadelphia Public Schools from 1995 to 2002 as superintendent. They’re moving to Water Valley.
Robert Turnage spent more than 40 years in public education, leading the Philadelphia Public Schools from 1995 to 2002 as superintendent. They’re moving to Water Valley.

Longtime educator Robert Turnage and his wife Mary John will be moving to Water Valley later this month to be closer to their family.

Turnage has more than 40 years in public education and served as the superintendent of the Philadelphia Public Schools from 1995 until his retirement in 2002.

“When we first moved here, we didn’t want to just come to Philadelphia. We wanted to be a part of Philadelphia,” Turnage said. “We have had some good years here and made good friends. I hope it has been mutually beneficial because it has been beneficial to us.

“Philadelphia is a good community. It is a great place to live. It is one of the best moves we have made,” Turnage said.

He added that in recent years, they have wanted to get closer to family in Water Valley and things have worked out.

“We built a little cabin on Lake Edin years ago,” Turnage said. “We weren’t using it that much so we sold it. We took some of that money and bought a house in Water Valley, thinking we would have a place to stay when we go to visit. We didn’t want to impose on anyone.

“My brother is 81 but he works five days a week. I’m 77. My wife has a sister she is really close to. So we decided to move there and be closer to family.

Turnage was born in Greenville and moved to Water Valley in 1944. His family owns a pharmacy that has spanned four generations, starting with his grandfather in 1905. His father worked there as did his brother and now his nephew.

After high school, he attended Northwest Community College for two years and then finished his Bachelor’s degree at Ole Miss. He later earned his Masters and Specialist degree from what is now the University of West Alabama.

After college, Turnage coached and taught school at Utica High School for two years. He then coached and taught at Wingfield for one year. Then in 1967, he got an offer to coach with his former high school coach, Bob Tyler, who was the head coach at Meridian High School. (Coach Tyler lives in Water Valley, Turnage said.)

“Coach Tyler needed a line coach and he contacted me,” Turnage said. “I had played for him in high school and we moved to Meridian.”

Coach Tyler left Meridian to become an assistant coach at Ole Miss. He later became the head coach at Mississippi State University.

Turnage stayed in the Meridian schools for 28 years. He later became athletic director, assistant principal and principal at Meridian High School. Then in 1995, Turnage was hired as the superintendent of the Philadelphia School District.

His days in education, however, are not over. He has continued to work as a consultant for the Mississippi Department of Education on different projects. At one point, he came back as superintendent of the Philadelphia on an interim basis.

When Turnage looks at education today, he believes something is lost when all of the focus in on testing.

“I think we go a little overboard with testing, and part of that is our own fault,” said Turnage. “We didn’t come up with a way to establish accountability.

“Testing is important. But I think back of the years when we had all superior bands and periods for choral, art and ROTC. The trouble is, now that doesn’t count (in a school’s rating). But it does count when you are educating a child and developing a well-rounded person.”

He and his wife, Mary John, have two children and six grandchildren.

“I would like to say that the school board that brought me to Philadelphia was one of the best I have ever worked with,” Turnage said. “They were leaders in the community and they cared about the schools.”