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UPDATED: Ashburn principal who died after being struck by SUV left legacy of innovation

photoTimes-Mirror Staff Photo/Aaron Koepper. Mourners left cards, flowers and other memorials at the sign marking the entrance to Sanders Corner Elementary School for former principal Kathleen Hwang.

Nov. 26 marked the first day in seven years Sanders Corner Elementary School has gone without its principal, Kathleen Hwang.

Hwang, 60, died Nov. 20 after she was struck by a SUV in Lowes Island.

She was attempting to cross Whitewater Drive about 3:15 p.m. when she was hit by a 2001 Dodge Durango that was traveling west.

The Durango was driven by an 18-year-old man from Sterling. The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office has not released his name since he has not been charged, according to a report released late Nov. 23.
She died at the scene.

According to a preliminary investigation conducted by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Crash Reconstruction Unit and information provided by independent witnesses, Hwang was not crossing at a crosswalk/intersection.

She apparently did not see the oncoming SUV approaching from a curve before stepping into the roadway. No charges are pending at this time.

Throughout her tenure as principal, which began in 2005, she strove to work with teachers and parents to create a more interactive learning environment.

She was the voice of the morning and closing announcements in the school, and would stand at the entrance to greet students.

She started the “I Read to the Principal Program.” Students could come into her office, pick a book off the shelves, read it and bring it home with them, said assistant principal Beth Cipriano.

She also spearheaded the Watchdog Dads program, which brings fathers into the school in volunteer roles.

School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) had three of his children attend Sanders Corner.

“She was a remarkable woman, dedicated to providing the best education possible,” Hornberger said. “She pursued excellence and clearly she’s going to be incredibly missed.”

Newton Lee Elementary School Principal Carol Winters first met Hwang when their schools moved into the same high school cluster
Winters said she and Hwang had the same philosophy running their schools – that their job was not governed in a top-down fashion, but as a community and family.

“If it wasn’t good enough for her grandchildren, it wasn’t good enough for anyone else,” Winters said.

Winters said the two often met about how to create a better learning environment in their schools.

“It took all of us and all of us wanted what was best for the children,” Winters said.

Sanders Corner fifth-grade teacher Ginger Brennan, said Hwang took extra care to work with the teachers to create more interactive learning environments for students.

“Kathy is a teacher of teachers,” Brennan said. “She brought a lot of active engagement.”

The first day nevertheless passed without her. Winters said she thought the school handled its first day without her well.

“It’s a real testament to her how well this building did today,” Winters said. “They did what they had to in terms of taking care of the children first.”

“It’s OK be sad and it’s OK to have those thoughts,” Cipriano said she told students. “But it’s also OK to have happy thoughts about her.”

Winters took Hwang’s spot greeting students for the day. The school will be in Cipriano’s hands until an interim principal can take over.

She said she plans to continue the culture and philosophy that Hwang built at the school and expects help and guidance from fellow teachers and the school’s parent-teacher association.

A visitation will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 27 at Adams-Green Funeral Home in Herndon.

Hwang’s online memorial at the funeral home is filled with tributes to the beloved educator.

“I remember meeting Mrs. Hwang for the first time when Ruby started 1st grade. She spoke at the parents meeting and I felt so excited and lucky that she was going to be Ruby’s principal. Over the last four years, those feelings have solidified and got even stronger as Mrs. Hwang greeted Ruby in the car loop every morning, joked with me at a class event, and took the time regularly to make every student and parent feel special. Mrs. Hwang will be missed,” wrote one family.

– Assistant Editor Crystal Owens contributed to this report.


While all involved certainly deserve our thoughts and prayers, we should also not lose site of potential lessons learned from this tragedy.  Pedestrian safety is a major problem.  Whether it is recognizing the dangers of distractions for drivers AND pedestrians or recognizing the impact of street design on safety, the bottom line is this and ALL “accidents” are preventable.  It’s not about assigning blame, it’s about improving our community.

I was always impressed when I would drop off my daughter at school the Principal was always outside greeting the kids as they came to school.  She was a true professional and it is a very tragic accident.  I wish her and her family our thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time.

Kathy was a wonderful principal and person. When I ran for LCPS school board last year, I contacted every principal in the Ashburn District. Kathy was the only one who responded and met with me regarding her school, Sanders Corner, and the issues that concerned her students. A true professional and someone our community will miss terribly. Prayers for her family and all involved in this accident. Chris Souther

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