The late Maria Goodloe-Johnson was remembered Friday night as a woman who loved her job as superintendent of Charleston County schools and cared deeply for students.

She was described as tough, smart and compassionate in her pioneering role as the first African-American female to lead the system; she was supertitendent from 2003 to 2007.

Goodloe-Johnson, who died recently of lung cancer, was more concerned about excellence than her popularity as she ferreted out waste in the local school system and strove to leave a legacy of better classrooms, her friends and colleagues said during a celebration of her life.

“I think we lost a good person at the time she left,” said Dot Scott, president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP. Goodloe-Johnson was “laser-focused” on every child in the county being afforded the opportunity for a quality education, Scott said.

About 300 people attended the tribute to Goodloe-Johnson at Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston.

The event wove together video interviews with the former superintendent, performances by a youth choir and speakers who remembered her in testimony.

“I very much wanted to be the superintendent. It was very exciting. I was thrilled,” she said.

The Charleston County School District was her first appointment as a superintendent. From here she went on to lead the school system in Seattle.

“She viewed her work and career as a calling,” said John Covington, chancellor of Michigan Education Achievement System.

Current Charleston County Superintent Nancy McGinley was recruited to come here as Goodloe-Johnson’s chief academic officer.

“Our hearts are broken. She was a visible symbol of change for this community,” McGinley said.

While superintendent, Goodloe-Johnson implemented a “Plan for Excellence” that included a standardized countywide curriculum, special programs for children who had lagged far behind their age group in the classroom and increased access to early-childhood education.

“Her tenure was the beginning of forward progress for our community, and I’m proud to stand on her shoulders,” McGinley said.

Goodloe-Johnson left Seattle in 2011 to work as deputy chancellor for instructional support and educational accountability in Michigan’s Education Achievement System.

She was born and raised in Omaha, Neb.