Beloved former U.S. History teacher Dorothy McGirt passes away from COVID-19

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Fox 5 Atlanta WAGA

Former U.S. History teacher Dorothy McGirt, 92, passed away Easter Sunday from COVID-19.

Lanier Pickren

In the sea of COVID-19 deaths, Atlanta Public Schools has lost one of its own. Dorothy McGirt, retired APS educator and former Grady teacher, passed away on Easter, April 12, from COVID-19.

McGirt, who was 92, lived at the Arbor Terrace Retirement Community in South Fulton. Fifteen people living in the community have died from COVID-19, including another retired APS teacher, Ernestine Miles.

McGirt taught at Grady for several years as an AP U.S. History teacher and head of the Social Studies Department. Current AP Language teacher Lisa Willoughby worked closely with McGirt for six years, while she was first, a student teacher, and then a full teacher. 

“I enjoyed working with her, she was a really nice lady,” Willoughby said. “She helped mentor me as I was starting out as a student teacher, then a teacher. She helped me figure out how to strike a balance between providing rigor and also being supportive to students and helping them be ready to do what they were doing.”

At the time, around 1984, the Advanced Placement program was very new to Grady. According to Willoughby, McGirt was a “trailblazer in terms of introducing the program at Grady.”

“Ms. McGirt was one of the first teachers to sign on,” Willoughby said. “The first two classes that we had in AP were AP English Literature and AP U.S. History.”

In addition to being a critical part of the AP program, McGirt made an impact in her classroom. Former student Michael Fishman, class of ‘87, recalls her teaching style as tough, yet beneficial. 

“She was a really good teacher,” Fishman said. “Very tough but you learned a lot from her. Out of all the history teachers I had, she was probably the most challenging to have. She didn’t give you book work or anything like that, you had good discussions in her class. She showed films at times, and again I learned a lot from her as a teacher.”

Fishman’s parents were friends of McGirt and her husband, yet Fishman said that she never treated him any differently because of it. However, the difference she made as a teacher is apparent. 

“I think she left a really good impact on us,” Fishman said. “She just let us know that the … outside world is much tougher.”

All around, McGirt is remembered by both Willoughby and Fishman as very kind. 

McGirt lived in the same retirement community as former Language Arts department chair Marian P. Kelly, who passed February of 2019. Willoughby recalled hearing that McGirt made an effort to visit Kelly during the last couple of weeks of her life. 

“Ms. McGirt was a good, kind, generous soul who will be really missed,” Willoughby said. “This is one of the horrible costs of this crisis.”

However, her legacy still stands strong at Grady. 

“I think she had a real impact as someone who had high expectations for students,” Willoughby said. “[She] didn’t settle for less than. She really wanted to help turn Grady around. At that point, Grady didn’t have the kind of reputation that it does today, and she was one of the people who was really instrumental in helping to transform Grady.”

 

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