Maria Goodloe-Johnson, who worked as Seattle's school superintendent for 3 1/2 years, died Wednesday in Detroit.

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Maria Goodloe-Johnson, who served 3 1/2 years as superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, died Wednesday in Detroit at the age of 55.

Goodloe-Johnson left Seattle after the School Board fired her in March 2011 in the wake of a financial scandal involving the district’s small-business contracting program.

She later moved to Detroit as deputy chancellor of the Education Achievement System, a new district formed to oversee that city’s lowest-performing schools, with plans to expand statewide.

Some of her former colleagues said she was daunted but excited about the challenges of the Detroit job. She said little when she left Seattle, but colleagues said she didn’t hold hard feelings toward the district.

“I do know she understood and she was not bitter about it,” said Michael Casserly, a friend and colleague who directs the Council of the Great City Schools, a national organization of urban school districts.

“At the same time, she was committed to finding a place for herself in the education world.”

Casserly said Goodloe-Johnson was hospitalized recently with cancer.

If she was ill when she was in Seattle, however, many people did not know it, including Susan Enfield, who worked closely with Goodloe-Johnson as the district’s chief academic officer.

Enfield, who served as Seattle’s interim superintendent after Goodloe-Johnson left, said Wednesday her thoughts and prayers were with Goodloe-Johnson’s husband, Bruce Johnson, and their young daughter, Maya.

“I just hope everyone in Seattle will remember how hard she worked on behalf of the city’s children,” Enfield said.

Goodloe-Johnson arrived in Seattle in mid-2007 from South Carolina, where she led the Charleston County School District.

She was a private person who earned national respect for her work, but wasn’t always warm in public, which hurt her in Seattle.

As Seattle’s superintendent, she crafted an ambitious five-year plan, oversaw a new student-assignment plan, closed schools, revamped the way the district funded schools and created a new score card for individual schools and the district as a whole.

She also negotiated a new teachers contract that, for the first time, included student performance as one element in the way teachers’ job performance is evaluated.

“What I hope people don’t remember is how she left the district,” said School Board member Harium Martin-Morris. “What I want people to focus on are the things that she accomplished when she was here.”

The board fired Goodloe-Johnson after the state auditor’s office uncovered up to $1.8 million in losses or questionable spending in the district’s small-business contracting program.

Goodloe-Johnson wasn’t directly implicated in the scandal, but an outside attorney hired by the board concluded she knew enough that she should have acted.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or