For­mer schools chief dies at age 71

Joe Hairston was Bal­ti­more County’s first African Amer­i­can su­per­in­ten­dent

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - MARYLAND -

Dr. Joe A. Hairston, who served as su­per­in­ten­dent of schools for Bal­ti­more County for 12 years and cham­pi­oned an “all means all” credo of equal­ity in ed­u­ca­tion, died Fri­day at Si­nai Hos­pi­tal in Bal­ti­more from com­pli­ca­tions re­lated to a pre­vi­ous ill­ness, ac­cord­ing to his wife. He was 71.

Dr. Hairston, who started his ca­reer in ed­u­ca­tion as a teacher 50 years ago, was Bal­ti­more County’s first black su­per­in­ten­dent. He served three four-year terms, from 2000 to 2012, a long ten­ure for most su­per­in­ten­dents around the na­tion. He was su­per­in­ten­dent for an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents in one of the largest public school sys­tems in the coun­try.

At the end of his ten­ure, Dr. Hairston could claim im­proved aca­demic achieve­ment of African Amer­i­can stu­dents, a rise in test scores and the grad­u­a­tion rate, greater stu­dent par­tic­i­pa­tion in Ad­vanced Place­ment classes, a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in Na­tional Blue Rib­bon schools and more stu­dents go­ing on to two- and four-year col­leges.

Dr. Hairston guided the Bal­ti­more County sys­tem through sig­nif­i­cant de­mo­graphic shifts, as city res­i­dents and im­mi­grants came to the county looking for bet­ter schools and neigh­bor­hoods. Dur­ing his ten­ure, much of the sys­tem was seen as run­ning ef­fi­ciently and par­ents ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion with the ed­u­ca­tion their chil­dren re­ceived.

One of Dr. Hairston’s long-stand­ing core be­liefs was that strug­gling schools would im­prove only if stu­dents were held to the same stan­dards as those in the best schools, and that ev­ery stu­dent de­served a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. “He was re­ally com­mit­ted to that,” said Roger Plun­kett, who was an as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent for cur­ricu­lum and in­struc­tion un­der Dr. Hairston. “He wanted to em­power prin­ci­pals to do their very best for all chil­dren.”

Dr. Hairston in­vested heav­ily in get­ting more Ad­vanced Place­ment cour­ses into schools and en­cour­aged av­er­age stu­dents into tak­ing higher-level cour­ses.

“He was an eq­uity leader when it came to ed­u­ca­tion,” said Ver­letta White, a for­mer in­terim su­per­in­ten­dent who served in Dr. Hairston’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. “He of­ten re­minded all of us that ‘all means all,’ that re­gard­less of a child’s zip code or so­cioe­co­nomic back­ground, our job is to en­sure that they all get a high qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion.”

Bal­ti­more County Public Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Dar­ryl L. Wil­liams, who cur­rently leads the district, said in a state­ment “with ev­ery ac­tion, [Dr. Hairston] ex­uded the ‘quiet con­fi­dence’ that he of­ten ad­vo­cated.”

“His strong­est mark on Bal­ti­more County Public Schools was his recog­ni­tion of the ‘seis­mic shifts’ com­ing in ed­u­ca­tion and his de­vo­tion to ev­ery child,” Wil­liams said. “'All means all’ was his mantra, his com­mit­ment, and his goal. He will be missed, but his legacy lives on in the lives of ev­ery stu­dent, ed­u­ca­tor, and com­mu­nity mem­ber who ben­e­fited from his ser­vice.”

A na­tive of Vir­ginia, he was born to Tommy Joe Hairston and Vir­ginia Harper Hairston. Dr. Hairston earned an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree from Mary­land State Col­lege, now the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Eastern Shore. He re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree from Amer­i­can Univer­sity and a doc­tor­ate in ed­u­ca­tion from Vir­ginia Polytech­nic In­sti­tute.

He be­gan his ca­reer as an ed­u­ca­tor in 1969 in Prince Ge­orge’s County. He was a high school and mid­dle school teacher for seven years be­fore be­com­ing an as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal and prin­ci­pal in the 1970s. As a prin­ci­pal, he turned around a poorly per­form­ing high school in Suit­land. “It went from be­ing a school no­body wanted to go to, to one where peo­ple were stand­ing in line to reg­is­ter their chil­dren,” said Dr. Hairston’s wife, Lil­lian, a re­tired so­cial stud­ies teacher. The re­forms he in­sti­tuted at Suit­land earned Dr. Hairston recog­ni­tion from the White House and a Na­tional Award of Ex­cel­lence.

Dr. Hairston be­came an area su­per­in­ten­dent in Prince Ge­orge’s County in 1989. He then served as schools su­per­in­ten­dent in Clay­ton County, Ge­or­gia, for five years be­fore tak­ing the job in Bal­ti­more County in 2000, re­plac­ing An­thony Mar­chione.

Dur­ing his long ten­ure, ques­tions were raised about Dr. Hairston’s man­age­ment of the sys­tem. He was viewed by many teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors as a com­plex fig­ure who pro­vided a steady hand but didn’t take crit­i­cism well. By 2011, some par­ents, law­mak­ers and county res­i­dents were an­gry about the lack of prepa­ra­tion to deal with over­crowd­ing at el­e­men­tary schools along the York Road cor­ri­dor and protested a rule that kept school build­ings from be­ing used as of­ten by the public. And Dr. Hairston was twice sum­moned to Annapolis by law­mak­ers, who in one in­stance had re­ceived a del­uge of let­ters from teach­ers and con­stituents an­gry about sev­eral is­sues.

Dr. Hairston tried to in­sti­tute a com­puter grad­ing sys­tem, called the Ar­tic­u­lated In­struc­tion Mod­ule, which an em­ployee had cre­ated on pen and pa­per and copy­righted. But teach­ers com­plained and he backed away from the idea.

Dr. Hairston forged a strong re­la­tion­ship with teach­ers but lost their trust over time. That ten­sion was ex­ac­er­bated by Dr. Hairston’s de­ci­sion to not fill nearly 200 va­cant teach­ing po­si­tions, which came amid the hir­ing of a $219,000-a-year ad­min­is­tra­tor.

In a pro­file in The Bal­ti­more Sun in 2010, Dr. Hairston spoke of­ten about the dif­fi­cul­ties of a su­per­in­ten­dent’s life, with weeks spent ne­go­ti­at­ing with adults in­stead of think­ing about chil­dren and with a sched­ule that had him at leg­isla­tive hear­ings early and awards ban­quets late.

Of the de­ci­sions that came to de­fine his ten­ure, Dr. Hairston did not apol­o­gize for his ap­proach, as­sert­ing that he made tough de­ci­sions through per­sonal re­flec­tion. “I’m not some­one who’s go­ing to call for ad­vice all the time,” he said. Asked at his farewell news con­fer­ence, if the public crit­i­cisms of his ad­min­is­tra­tion made him re­think any of his de­ci­sions, he said, “No.”

Af­ter leav­ing Bal­ti­more County schools, Dr. Hairston turned to some­thing he loved: pre­par­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of ad­min­is­tra­tors for ur­ban school sys­tems. He be­came an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Howard Univer­sity, teach­ing classes in ed­u­ca­tional lead­er­ship and pol­icy. He helped co­or­di­nate a su­per­in­ten­dents academy, a part­ner­ship of the univer­sity and the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of School Ad­min­is­tra­tors.

“He be­lieved in ser­vice lead­er­ship, that we ex­isted to serve schools, teach­ers and stu­dents first,” Ms. White said. “He was al­ways in­ter­ested in groom­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of ed­u­ca­tional lead­er­ship.”

Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Johnny Ol­szewski called Dr. Hairston, “a pi­o­neer for eq­uity and in­clu­sive­ness in our schools.”

In ad­di­tion to his wife of 48 years, Dr. Hairston is sur­vived by two sons, Jah­mal Hairston, a physi­cian in Ge­or­gia, and Ja­son Hairston, a project man­ager with T. Rowe Price in Owings Mills; and four grand­daugh­ters.

Fu­neral ar­range­ments were in­com­plete.


Dr. Joe A. Hairston, who died Fri­day, smiles as the newly named 2012-13 Teacher of the Year in Bal­ti­more County Public Schools. He served as su­per­in­ten­dent for 12 years.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.