America Loses a Champion’s Champion

Joe A. Hairston, a lifelong educator who spent more than half a century in the profession that he loved and was admired by many, died Friday, Dec. 27 at the age of 71.  

Joe-500According to his family, he died while in the hospital due to several complications.

A beloved member of the AASA family, Hairston held positions as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent before becoming a superintendent of schools with the Atlanta area’s Clayton County Public Schools for five years.

Hairston also served as superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools for 12. While in his first year, he chartered a direction for the school system through the Blueprint for Progress, which presented key strategies and concrete performance indicators.

Hairston joined the faculty of the Howard University School of Education in 2014. It was there where he played a key role as co-founder of the AASA/Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy, a cross-institutional partnership that offers a dynamic approach to urban superintendent preparation and certification.

Joe 1Launched in 2015, the Urban Superintendents Academy was designed to offer superintendents and aspiring superintendents a revolutionary new approach to ensure success in urban settings.

“This is all about preparing you for the next dimension of leadership. You can’t turn your back on people who are depending on you for sound judgment and more importantly, a vision of where you’re going,” Hairston said when he addressed the 2020 Urban Academy cohort gathering in Alexandria, Va., last summer.

“The AASA/Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy is thriving by preparing a new generation of school district leaders who are providing a voice for children in urban communities. We would never have come this far without the leadership of Joe Hairston,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director, AASA. “At a time when more than half of our students are economically deprived, Joe will always be remembered for someone who broke the barriers on behalf of the vast number of children in America not receiving the quality education they are entitled to.”

For his achievements, Hairston has been honored with dozens of local, national and international awards, including The Washington Post’s Outstanding Distinguished Educational Leadership Award. He has served on the Board of Trustees for Western Governors University and as past president of the Horace Mann League.

Joe7“Dr. Hairston will receive the Dr. Effie H. Jones Humanitarian Award at the AASA 2020 National Conference on Education for his commitment to diversifying the field of education with high-quality leaders and ensuring the best education for all students regardless of zip code or socioeconomic status,” said Sharon Adams-Taylor, associate executive director, AASA. “Joe never stopped giving, never stopped caring and never stopped mentoring others. He will be missed, but his legacy lives on in the lives of every student and educator who benefited from his service. May he rest in power.”

“From his unwavering dedication, what he brought to his work and what he brought to the children of America, I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with this man,” said Mort Sherman, associate executive director, AASA, and co-founder of the AASA/Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy. “To me, he was a my brother and a person I truly loved.”

“It was that ‘forever friendship’ that enabled Mort and I to come together to realize this vision that we had. Please understand that relationships are forever. In this profession, we have a job to do. We can’t do it alone. We have to do it with each other,” said Hairston during the academy cohort meeting in 2019.

“Dr. Hairston was a visionary and progressive leader. He was also a servant leader with a steadfast commitment to ensure that all schools have effective leadership,” said Dawn Williams, dean, School of Education, Howard University. “The Howard University community will continue to keep the Hairston family, including his wife Lillian, in our thoughts and prayers.”

Joe3“Since 2015, I have had the honor of working closely with Dr. Hairston and his wife Lillian on the Urban Superintendents Academy. Over the years, I watched in admiration as he challenged up-and-coming leaders to think ‘beyond the moment’ and to make connections on a systems level when looking to serve all students effectively,” said Bernadine Futrell, director, AASA, Leadership Network. “He was a professor to professors, a superintendent to superintendents and a leader among leaders.”

The Celebration of Life Services will be held on Friday, Jan. 3, at Morning Star Baptist Church, in Gwynn Oak, Md.