Leola Francis: Celebrated Coach And Educator
Beloved Gadsden County teacher and volleyball coach, Leola Holt Francis, was born on February 5, 1940 in Quincy, Florida. Growing up in a close-knit neighborhood, Leola has fond memories of her community, Holt Lane. The community, formed mostly by relatives of Mrs. Francis, came to be when her grandparents purchased land from a cousin and began to build. To this day, the land that Holt Lane was built on remains in the family, with Leola’s granddaughter still living on the property.
Raised by her grandparents, the importance of a strong work ethic and discipline was deeply instilled in Leola. Recalling the hard work of her grandfather, a farmer, Leola describes him as a generous and giving man who would raise pigs and share the meat with the community to ensure no members of the community ever went hungry. Leola remembers her grandmother as a disciplinarian who always ensured the grandchildren understood the importance of hard work, but also as a woman who loved and valued her family. Family was hugely important to Leola and the other residents of Holt Lane. Residents of Holt Lane cared for each other deeply and always remembered the importance of community.
Leola began school at only four years old. She quickly took a liking to education and excelled in mathematics. As one of the only children her age attending school, Leola recalls feeling left out as the other children worked in the tobacco fields and begged her grandmother to allow her to work alongside the other children in the community. After one grueling day in the fields, Leola vowed to focus on her education so she would never have to work in tobacco again. Keeping her promise to herself, Leola graduated from Carter Parramore in 1957 as part of the school’s second-ever graduating class.
As Leola’s fondness for knowledge and education grew, she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Florida A&M University and eventually earned a master’s degree. After graduating from FAMU, Leola went on to teach high school math in Gainesville for two years before returning to Quincy to teach at Carter Parramore, the same high school she graduated from. Leola recalls being grateful to be home in Gadsden County, finally fulfilling a desire to serve the community that raised her.
Leola spent her 37-year teaching career working with students of a wide range of ages and in different settings. She worked with high school, college, and non-traditional students. Mrs. Francis went on to become the first black teacher in Gadsden County to teach white students when the school district integrated in 1971. Leola’s tenacity and certainty in herself are apparent, as she never shied away from unfamiliar territory. While never a volleyball player herself, Leola stumbled into coaching in 1975 when Shanks High School was in need of a coach for the school’s volleyball team. The team had a winning season, and Leola won the title “Coach of the Year” due to her achievements. Leola credits her success as a coach to her love for education, describing how she knew if she put her mind to it she could learn anything.
Since retiring from teaching, Leola still works part-time as a consultant and tutor. She is currently tutoring a group of nine students from Gadsden High to prepare them for the SAT test. Mrs. Francis focuses on teaching students both academic and life skills. Leola continues to serve her community through her passion for education and is as excited to teach as her students are to learn.