Educator Dr. Margaret Hill Succumbs
By Dianne Anderson
Look around, and there is hardly an area in San Bernardino that hasn’t been nurtured, inspired, mentored or corrected by Dr. Margaret Hill, the rare Black Rose that grew out of the thorniest of ground.
She came to personify both its gentle and tough qualities, persevering to become a staunch advocate for academic justice, and other basic human rights that she missed out on during her childhood.
Dr. Margaret Hill passed away on Sunday. She was 81.
Her fight for the community and for equal education was born out of personal hardship.
In several interviews over the decades with the Precinct Reporter, she spoke of what it was like growing up as the daughter of a sharecropper and farm life that was relegated to the margins of society.
Before starting school, she worked the fields with her father. She got up early every morning, even on weekends at 4:00 a.m. to feed the chickens and slop the hogs. She picked cotton in the hot sun, worked holidays. Even as a toddler, she remembered pulling weeds. In her school years, she studied late into the night often by candlelight.
Education back then was secondary to farm work for most Black children coming out of the Great Depression. She said they all had to do their part to help keep the family from starving.
“Life for me wasn’t good even though I was where I was expected to be, on a farm being poor and not complaining. Nobody wanted to trade places with me. I didn’t want to be there myself,” she had said.
She couldn’t recall a time in her life when she didn’t work.
But her no excuses attitude has influenced generations. It is also illuminated in her books, “From Sharecropping to Non-Stopping: Reflections on Life from a Veteran Educator,” and “It’s All About the Children,” which highlights her journey with her students spanning three decades at Curtis and Serrano Middle school, San Bernardino and San Andreas High schools.
Amid an endless outpouring of love and condolences on social media, outgoing San Bernardino City Unified School Board President Gwendolyn Dowdy-Rodgers expressed the huge personal impact and legacy of Dr. Hill.
“I don’t know how to say goodbye right now because there are no words today or ever that can express the love and respect I have for my mentor, friend and community mother. So I will simply say so long Queen Margaret Hill until we meet again. You were faithful to the end,” she wrote.
Dr. Hill had come out of retirement to return to work in 2006 to serve another six-year stint as assistant superintendent of Administrative Services at the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools until her second retirement in 2012.
“Dr. Hill was loved for her warm heart and frequently encouraged educators to motivate kids with ‘more hugs than tugs,’” said Board President Dr. Scott Wyatt. “We are better because she led with strength, love and compassion for everyone. We will miss her everyday.”
In 2019, the school district also honored Dr. Hill, renaming their boardroom in her honor, the Dr. Margaret Hill Community Room.
“Dr. Hill’s tireless, kind and cheerful presence made her arguably the most admired leader in San Bernardino and among the greats statewide throughout the education community,” said SBCUSD Superintendent Doc Ervin. “She inspired me and I am thankful to have worked with her here.”
Dr. Hill began her career as a teacher in 1971 at San Bernardino High School, and served as principal for 16 years at San Andreas High School.
Most of all, she spoke of wanting to see educators meet students where they were with a gentler approach, which she found to be more effective than harsh confrontational ultimatums.
If students were disrespectful, she had said, it was probably because they were dealing with harsh situations in their own life, such as hunger or financial hardship. She wanted teachers to learn how to de-escalate situations, and educate students on the meaning of willful defiance.
While principal at San Andreas High School, she recalled pulling one very large disruptive student aside to ask him if everything was alright. He told her that he had missed breakfast.
“He only had one hotdog the night before with one piece of bread, no vegetables,” she said. “You can’t sit there and bait a kid that’s already frustrated and upset.”
In 2020, Dr. Hill was re-elected to the school board. Even in the face of COVID-19, she was determined to get back to the drawing board to rebuild local quality education.
When the virus first hit, she was concerned about ways to keep students out of danger, and educated at home. She also encouraged parents to get more engaged in the process, attend school board meetings online, and express their concerns in writing.
As president of the Black Culture Foundation, the organization honored numerous community achievers for their role in going above and beyond the call of duty in volunteerism. The Black Rose, Humanitarian and Community Service Awards Banquet and foundation have given out thousands of dollars in scholarships.
Among her countless community projects, Dr. Hill volunteered a term as the president of the Westside Kiwanis, just one of the Kiwanis clubs that she had been involved with since 1987.
She was also involved with Save Our San Bernardino Committee focused on a financial recovery plan in 2013 around the city’s hotly contested charter Section 186 that mandated high pay increases and pensions pulled from the city General Fund budget.
She argued that dollars were being pulled from basic needs and programs in the community. It also negatively impacted projects like the Black History Parade, which was sponsored by the Black Culture Foundation, but could then no longer count on the city for help or subsidies.
Dr. Margaret Hill, who had been involved with the parade since 1989, was excited when the Southern California Black Chamber of Commerce stepped up to fill in the gap for their 44th annual event at the National Orange Show, which she said would have otherwise been impossible to host.
One of her most memorable moments was the 2009 swearing-in of President Obama, and the warmth of strangers at the Capitol against the frigid cold. After hours in the freezing temperatures, her feet were tired.
Someone accidentally bumped her, and four strangers quickly grabbed her to keep her from falling.
“There were no strangers. I actually felt it,” Dr. Hill said. “There was so much love and compassion, that’s something I didn’t expect. I think that’s what that election had done, more so than anything else.”
About ten years ago, she stood another great test of time and strength through her struggle with cancer. She told the Precinct Reporter that she wasn’t going to let the chemotherapy bother her one bit.
“I told my staff, I don’t want a pity party because I’m not showing up,” said Dr. Hill, then San Bernardino County Assistant Superintendent.
Not long after, she announced her run for SBCUSD Board of Trustees.
Having grown up in the segregated South, she wasn’t surprised by too many things in life, but she was greatly disturbed at the 2018 racist slurs against a Black principal at Lankershim Elementary School. Black parents were also stressed that their kids were being exposed to either direct or indirect racism in the classroom.
But Dr. Hill was equally concerned about what was not being taught by prejudiced teachers who were teaching Latino or white kids.
“A racist can get their point over to kids without the kids even knowing it,” she had said. “They’ll cover MLK, Rosa Parks, but I don’t know how many have heard of Frederick Douglas, or how many have heard of Shirley Chisholm. Sometimes, it’s not what they’re teaching. It’s what they’re not teaching.”