TOWSON, Md. — Joe A. Hairston, who as the first Black superintendent of the Baltimore County public schools pressed for achievement for students across the socioeconomic spectrum, died on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, at age 71, a family member said.

Hairston's wife, Lillian, told the Baltimore Sun that he died on Friday at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore from complications related to a previous illness.

Hairston served as superintendent from 2000 to 2012. His tenure was marked by a rise in test scores and the graduation rate, as well as more participation in Advanced Placement classes.

"He was an equity leader when it came to education," said Verletta White, a former interim superintendent who served in 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."

Hairston began his career in 1969 in Prince George's County. He served as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. He was schools superintendent in Clayton County, Georgia, for five years before taking the Baltimore County job. Hairston later became a professor at Howard University.

In addition to his wife, Hairston is survived by two sons and four granddaughters.

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