Atlanta elementary school principal dies leaving legacy as caring educator

Susan Crim-McClendon, principal of Atlanta's Woodson Park Academy, died this week.  Photo courtesy of APS.

Susan Crim-McClendon, principal of Atlanta's Woodson Park Academy, died this week. Photo courtesy of APS.

Susan Crim-McClendon, the principal of Woodson Park Academy and daughter of Atlanta Public Schools’ first black superintendent, died in her sleep Wednesday.

Crim-McClendon, 60, was the daughter of former superintendent Alonzo Crim, a leader known for his progressive methods who held the post from 1973 to 1988, and a respected educator who spent more than a third of her 34-year career working for the Atlanta school system.

Grief counselors will be at Woodson Park on Monday, when students return from a midwinter break.

"Susan epitomizes that real educator and scholar," said Brian Williams, director of the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence at Georgia State University. "Susan truly understood what it took to educate children; she always centered that work in love."

The center, where she previously worked as associate director, is named for her father who died in 2000 at age 71.

Crim-McClendon had been scheduled to attend the center's 30th annual Benjamin E. Mays Lecture on Wednesday night. It's a tradition for Crim family members to go to the lecture, and she was listed on that night's program, Williams said. But shortly before, Crim-McClendon called to say she would be unable to make it because she wasn't feeling well.

Susan Crim-McClendon is shown in this 1998 photo taken during an event in which she spoke about science in the media. (NICK ARROYO/STAFF)

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Atlanta superintendent Meria Carstarphen described Crim-McClendon’s death as “an incredible loss” to the school district and Woodson Park.

"Dr. Crim-McClendon brought a great legacy and love for education to APS and this school. That love was instilled in her as a child of educator parents. Her father's belief in a 'Community of Believers' and work toward the education of all Atlanta's children directly informed his daughter's work," wrote Carstarphen.

In 2011, Crim-McClendon became principal of the former Woodson Primary, one of a couple dozen new principals tasked with giving Atlanta schools a fresh start amid a massive test-cheating scandal.

The school board voted in 2016 to merge Woodson with Grove Park Intermediate to create Woodson Park Academy, and she was named principal.

Crim-McClendon was remembered as a beloved educator who looked out for students and their families.

“Each family could tell you something personal that she did for them. That was just her nature,” said Edwin Cook, whose son, now in seventh grade, attended Woodson.

Cook said the principal gave him a part-time job in the cafeteria, an opportunity he appreciated as a single father. He said he worked with her on leadership committees, and she supported programs such as summer camp and a food pantry.

“She would always do more than what was expected,” he said. “What I loved most about her was her, who she was.”

Crim-McClendon graduated in 1976 from Atlanta’s former Northside High School and attended the University of Georgia, where she studied pre-veterinary medicine. She earned her master’s degree and a doctorate from Georgia State University.

She taught in several school districts, and while at the Crim Center she co-founded an annual education conference and nurtured teachers.

“This idea of children first, that was evident in her leadership of the center,” Williams said.

In a welcome message on the Woodson Park website, Crim-McClendon laid out her beliefs: That children "deserve excellence."

“Every student has the right to be academically successful. Every teacher has the capacity to meet the needs of every student in every classroom,” her message states.

Next school year, the academy will be turned over to KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools to be operated by the charter school group through a contract with APS. KIPP named Dwight Ho-Sang, who served as principal of one KIPP's other schools, as the incoming Woodson Park principal.

For the remainder of the current school year, assistant principal Diana Luckett will serve as Woodson Park’s interim leader.

Read and sign the online guestbook for Susan Crim-McClendon