Hiawatha Foster, a longtime teacher who was an institution at Myers Park High School and a leader among her colleagues, will be remembered Saturday at a funeral service at Clinton Chapel AME Zion Church.
Foster, who was president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators in the early 1990s, died Sept. 2.
“She was one of those people who was bigger than life,” said former Myers Park principal Bill Anderson, who now works for the UNC Charlotte College of Education.
Foster worked for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools from 1975 until 2009, most of that as a biology teacher at Myers Park High, and returned after her retirement as a substitute. In her post-retirement years she often staffed the in-school suspension room at Myers Park, where she was known for giving them assignments and “preaching” about the importance of education. “She was stern, but a softy at heart,” Anderson said.
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Her former colleagues remember her as someone who cared deeply about students and teachers, working passionately on their behalf and holding both groups to high standards.
“If you say you’re going to do something, you’d better do it and you’d better do it right,” recalled Marian Yates, who met Foster when both taught at Myers Park in the 1970s. Yates is now a vice president at Communities in Schools.
Foster spoke often to the CMS board and lawmakers in Raleigh, advocating for better pay and conditions for teachers. She traveled internationally to talk about education, and served on the “Committee of 23” that advised CMS officials on a student assignment plan in 1999 when the courts overturned race-based assignment.
Yates and CMS Board Chair Mary McCray said Foster believed part of being professional was dressing with style, including a hat when the occasion called for it. She showed her flair when she attended conventions of the North Carolina Association of Educators and the National Education Association and served as a delegate to Democratic national conventions.
Anderson said Foster was known for speaking her mind about her Democratic politics and her passion for social justice. “She didn’t tolerate prejudice and she didn’t tolerate racism,” he said. “She didn’t care who you were and she wasn’t intimidated easily.”
McCray, who is also a former CMAE president, said Foster urged her to run for school board in 2011 when McCray retired from CMAE. Although Foster quit reporting to Myers Park High in recent years, McCray said she stayed engaged with local education until the end.
On Aug. 9, less than a month before Foster’s death, she watched a CMS board meeting that opened with heated comments and accusations from people opposed to the district’s new plan for transgender students. McCray said Foster called her to thank her for maintaining her dignity and voice sorrow that the board had to go through that.
“She was old school,” McCray said, “but she had some great ideas in her head.”
Foster’s funeral will be at noon Saturday at Clinton Chapel AME Zion Church, 1901 Rozzelles Ferry Road, with visitation from 11 a.m. to noon.