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Dr. Joseph Anthony Spagnolo, Jr.

November 12, 2020

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Joseph A. Spagnolo Jr., a former State Superintendent of public education for the states of Virginia and Illinois, died of a heart attack on November 12, 2020.  He was 77.

Spagnolo began his career in education as a science teacher at Henrico High School.  He then transitioned to school administration, serving as an Assistant Principal, Principal, and Assistant Superintendent of Schools in the City of Charlottesville, Chesterfield County, and Henrico County, respectively.  In 1973, at the age of 30, he was selected as the Superintendent of Schools for the City of Lynchburg. He remained in this position until 1990.  During his tenure, Lynchburg student performance improved dramatically in terms of test scores, college admissions, and other metrics.  In 1990, Spagnolo was appointed as the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Virginia, a role that he held for four years before becoming Superintendent of Education for the state of Illinois. Throughout his career, Spagnolo took an innovative approach to education with special emphasis on addressing the needs of at-risk students.

Spagnolo was the recipient of numerous professional awards and personal recognitions, including the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, an Honorary Doctor of Letters for Public Service from the National University in Chicago, Illinois, and the Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews in Lynchburg, Virginia.

After his retirement, Spagnolo’s keen interest in furthering the educational development of young people did not wane and he found himself back in the classroom, teaching oceanography and marine science to students at Broadwater Academy in Exmore, Virginia. He established a popular and successful marine science program at Broadwater, which grew from 11 students to over 60 students in the 8 years that Spagnolo oversaw it. Spagnolo then was tapped as Broadwater’s Head of School and served in that role for four years.  Most recently, Spagnolo taught courses at the University of Lynchburg.

In his personal life, Spagnolo enjoyed recreational activities related to the ocean. His children fondly recall many family vacations spent boating and fishing in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean from points on the Virginia Eastern Shore.  He also was well-known as a loyal and zealous fan of UVA sports.  His travel plans often included attendance at key UVA basketball and football games, typically with some or all of his children accompanying him.

Spagnolo earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and a Master of Arts degree in education from Fairleigh Dickinson University.  He earned a doctorate degree in Education, magna cum laude, from the University of Virginia.

Spagnolo is survived by his four children: Patricia A. Exposito of Washington, DC, Joseph W. Spagnolo of Forest, VA, John P. Spagnolo of Charlottesville, VA and Steven N. Spagnolo of Austin, TX; his sister, Margaret A. Meara; his niece, Jennifer Herbert and her husband, Brian Herbert; and six grandchildren: Avelina Exposito, Michaela Exposito, Aiden O’Connor, Joseph Anthony Spagnolo, III, Natalie O’Connor, and Sophia Spagnolo.  He is also survived by his children’s spouses who he loved as if they were his own children: Lorenzo Exposito, Casey O’Connor Spagnolo, Jessica Swope and Allison Rahrig Spagnolo.

A private family service will be held to memorialize Spagnolo’s death.  In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Spagnolo’s name to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science Foundation (

 Tharp Funeral Home & Crematory, Lynchburg, is assisting the family.

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