Joseph Childers, principal at Atkins Academic and Technical High School, died unexpectedly Sunday night. He was 65.

“This is a sad and difficult time for our students, families and the staff at Atkins High School,” said Angela Hairston, superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. “This morning we shared the news of Joe’s passing with the staff and families of Atkins. Joe has created a unique, one-of-a-kind atmosphere that promotes learning at the highest levels. His creative thinking, passion for learning and leadership skills will be sorely missed.”

Childers joined the school system in 2005 as principal of Hanes Middle School. In 2010, he was promoted to principal at Atkins. He had more than 40 years of experience working in North Carolina Public Schools.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, the students who loved and respected Joe, and the staff at Atkins,” said Malishai Woodbury, the chairwoman of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education. “He was an exceptional leader.”

The school district said that its WS/FCS Crisis Counseling Team is at Atkins High working with students and staff who are experiencing grief and sadness.

Jan Atkinson will be interim principal at Atkins High. She retired as principal from the Downtown School at the end of the 2016-17 school year, the district said.

Other people within the local education community spoke of Childers’ death.

Val Young, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, said that Childers’ death is a great loss to the education field.

“Our children in high schools really do need strong males who are positive” Young said.

She added that Childers’ more than 40 years of experience “is something you can’t learn. You can’t gain it without that experience.”

Shelia Burnette, the principal of Konnoak Elementary School and the president of the Forsyth Principals’ Association, knew Childers for 10 years.

“Today, we just felt like a bell rang throughout the district of heartbreak and loss because Mr. Childers is not only an excellent leader in schools, but he also has always looked out for colleagues — other principals and teachers.”

Burnette said that Childers also advocated for equity for all students and programs.

She said he was more than a good-natured person, saying that he acted on and did what he believed.

“He is leaving a legacy for the rest of us to continue to follow,” Burnette said. “I said this to someone today: What I do know is that he led with heart and that he was able to leave his school knowing that he had given them his best and his all. He left a footprint that will be there forever and here in Winston forever.”

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