Alonzo A. Crim was very influential in helping to build the foundation for urban education in the Atlanta area. Crim graduated from Roosevelt College in 1950 with a degree in Sociology, obtained a Masters degree in Education from University of Chicago, and earned his doctorate in Educational administration from Harvard University in 1969.
Dr. Crim’s most influential contribution to education was during the time that the Atlanta Public Schools system in Georgia was going through the process of desegregation. Surrounding this cultural event was turmoil and heated conflicts in which African-American and Caucasian students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the surrounding communities were engaged. In 1972, the Atlanta Compromise was proposed as part of the settlement of the federal de-segregation suit and constituted that Atlanta Public Schools had to adjust their administrative staff so that 50% of the staff would be African American. In addition, APS had to hire an African American superintendent of schools. The county needed a strong African-American leader that would be able to withstand the emotional, political, and social hurricane that characterized the process of de-segregating the schools. Dr. Benjamin E. Mays was the President of the Atlanta Board of Education at that time and was instrumental in the recommending Dr. Crim for the position.
In 1973, Alonzo A. Crim, who was serving as the superintendent of a school county in Carmel, California at the time, became the first black superintendent of a school county in the South. He made it his mission to focus on providing quality education to every child in the district regardless of the complexion of their skin. Upon accepting his invitation, he remarked that he wanted to create a county “where students would know that people cared about them”, and provide them with the tools necessary to achieve their greatest potential. Dr. Crim turned the focus from race to that of learning by initiating what he termed a “Community of Believers” – a network that consisted of Atlanta organizations and individuals who believed in the potential of the city’s children and who were willing to invest time and money in that potential. To Dr. Crim, “belief by the community at large must include the following factors: 1.) Each student is a valuable person fully capable of learning, 2.) our school system can bring about learning, 3.) the economic failure of the nation is dependent on the academic achievement of all students, and therefore, 4.) every person in the total community is a stakeholder and has a vested interest in the Atlanta Public School System.” By 1986, Dr. Crim managed to increase the students’ performance level in basic skills to above the national average, significantly increased attendance rates to higher than 92%, and brought the graduation rate up to more than 70% (Page, 2000). He was longest tenured African-American superintendent in the nation by 1986.
Dr. Crim retired from the Atlanta School System in 1988 after 15 years of dynamic leadership. He later served as the Professor of Education at Georgia State University and established the Chair of the Benjamin E. Mays Professor of Urban Leadership. Both men were committed to a philosophy of requiring excellence in the education of those typically least well-served by the larger society.
Today, Dr. Crim’s legacy continues through the activities of the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization at Georgia State University’s College of Education. His daughter, Dr. Susan Crim McClendon, is the immediate past associate director of the Center where she continued the legacy of Dr. Crim and of his mentor, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, who served as president of the Atlanta Board of Education for twelve years.