Mr. Farmer at the principal selection forum in 2018, fielding questions from students, staff and the PTSA.
Mr. Farmer at the principal selection forum in 2018, fielding questions from students, staff and the PTSA.
Piper Hansen

A glass half full: Manual’s returning leader

A breeze silenced the cicadas for a split second, crystalizing the summer of ‘73. A loud rumble settled at the bottom of the hill. Two boys laughed and shouted as their scrap lumber go-karts zoomed past the Fort Knox bungalows.

“I won!” Matt Farmer hollered, as he climbed out of the contraption. Darryl Farmer looked into his twin’s face with disappointment and replied, with a smirk at the corner of his mouth, “race you to the top of the hill for round two!” He immediately took off, dragging the dilapidated go-kart behind him. With summer heat radiating off the blacktop, they raced down the hill until the go-karts fell apart from youthful craftsmanship.

It was not quite a week later when the boys had turned their focus from go-karts to rubber band guns, then to flying kites and finally back to school for another fall semester.

“You don’t realize how good [your childhood] was until you’ve grown up and have gone away,” Mr. Darryl Farmer said from behind the principal’s desk at duPont Manual High School.

He was appointed to the position roughly three months ago after a transition in top leadership. Farmer previously worked as an assistant principal at Manual from 2010 until 2016 when he resigned to become the principal at Ramsey Middle School. However, he traces his educational foundation all the way back to his second grade teacher, Mrs. Brown.

“I was in three different first grade classes in two states,” Farmer said, later explaining that his father served in the United States military. “That was the only time in my life when I didn’t like education. But, I had a really great teacher in the second grade who reeled me back in.”

Mrs. Brown, Farmer’s teacher and someone who he hopes to reunite with one day, towered over him, her hair flowing past her shoulders and down her back. She drove a brown Ford Pinto and always wore a smile with her collection of patterned scarves.

The first signs of fall had approached when Darryl and a few other students climbed in the back of her Pinto for a day trip to the skating rink. As they entered through the double doors, the smell of nacho cheese and the sound of disco music sparked excitement amongst the students. Black lights that hung from the ceiling made Farmer’s white ankle socks glow as he laced up his skates. Stumbling into the rink, Farmer watched his teacher skate laps smoothly backward.

“As far as I was concerned, she was basically president,” Farmer said remembering Brown’s amiable nature. “I don’t know if I learned anything in that class other than just how to be a good person. She was really nice and congenial and that’s what [our class] sort of gave back to her.”

Moving through elementary and then middle school, Farmer began to play the saxophone and joined his high school’s wrestling team.

“[Even though I wrestled,] I think I had more fun in the band […] we were the largest group in the school so everyone else was a civilian,” Farmer said. “We would take trips and there was band camp that created a bond.”

As Farmer’s education progressed, he fostered a love for social studies in his sophomore civics class. Unbeknownst to high school Farmer, he would later major in political science in college.

When Farmer first began wrestling, he admits that he “got his butt kicked on the matt.” Weeks went by as he spent hours in the high school gym practicing moves and his balance. Farmer’s coach was there for every second of it.

He was the psychology teacher and a newly-wed who “really had it all,” Farmer said. “I really admired him [so when I left high school,] I got into coaching and that’s what propelled me into teaching.”

Farmer, however, didn’t begin teaching until he was 27, he called himself “a new teacher in an old body.” With answering the ‘why’ and building teacher-student relationships in mind, he began teaching geography.

On one of the first days of class, Farmer pulled his classroom door shut eager to start another year. Letters cut out of construction paper hung above a map of the world identifying it and the classroom as “FARMER WORLD.” Mr. Farmer stood at the front of the room as his students shifted in their seats, reaching into their backpacks to grab materials for the hour ahead. One student, situated toward the back of the room reached into his pocket instead and pulled out a knot of bills.

“Hey, Mr. Farmer,” he shouted toward the front of the room, “why do I need to know geography when I’ve got this?” All eyes were on Farmer as they anticipated some sort of fiery response.

“Well it’s not so much the geography that you’ll need, it’s just the experience of education,” Farmer replied. “You’re going to go through that cash. You’ll have fun with it but it will end. But this education, when you learn it, is never going to end.”

Farmer shifted his weight from his left to his right foot, feeling the pressure of being put on the spot. He took a few strides to the corner of the room where a closet door stood half-way open.

“It’s sort of like this closet,” Farmer said. “I can go in there and get what I need when I need it and come back out. I can close it when I’m done but I can always go back to it.” The students held their breath waiting for a response from their peer in the back of the room.

“Okay,” the student said after three long seconds. “I’ll buy that.”

Farmer learned early in his teaching career that students want to know the why. He continued answering student questions for 10 years in geography, psychology, civics and African American history classes at Fern Creek High School.

Before becoming a teacher, Farmer met with a life insurance agent setting a goal to go into administration within five years of the conversation.

“[But,] I took the scenic route to administration,” Farmer said recollecting his 10 years of teaching and prolonged higher education route. He took his time completing his undergraduate and master’s studies and was totally immersed in the classroom setting once his teaching job was established.

Enrolling in the Jefferson County Public Schools Principals for Tomorrow Program after several years in the classroom, Farmer applied and was hired at his first administrative job — an Assistant Principal position in Bardstown, Kentucky. He finished the program in the summer and was ready to start his new job in the fall semester that same year.

It wasn’t much later that Farmer found himself at Manual for the second time. Now serving as principal, Farmer explains how the home of the Rams is not his school, “it’s our school.”

“As an administrator, the scope of education gets a little wider but the depth is still there. It’s [all about] relationship building,” Farmer said. “[Manual was] in a dark place before I got here. I think part of the reason why I was allowed to come back was because […] optimism grounded in reality is what I want and what I do bring here.”

Situated among stacks of manila folders and photos of his family of six sisters, a brother and his twin is Farmer’s favorite mug. The cylindrical vessel has a cup on both ends, one reading “half full” and the other “half empty.” Farmer always drinks out of the half full end.

“We still have ways to go,” Farmer said. “Can we ever have utopia? I don’t know but why not? I want as much bliss as we possibly [can have]. Part of that is working with teachers and students for the common good of what Manual is about: excellence, diversity and tradition.”

After three months of administrative duties behind him and more months ahead, Farmer has coined the phrase “ramtastic.”

Embodying the motto, Farmer and his twin shared the CSPN-TV anchor table on Veteran’s Day. The brothers sat up straight at the desk, Matt wearing his military uniform and Darryl sporting his red Manual lanyard. Their bond ever-present, they closed the show together following discussion and thanks for those who fearlessly served their country.

The future of Manual twinkled in Farmer’s eyes as he reminded students that they are RAMS: they are respectful, they act responsibly, make a difference and strive for academic excellence.

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