R5 Head of the Class

Judith Johnson, Superintendent of Schools for Peekskill City School District 

Peekskill Schools Superintendent Judith Johnson recently was recognized as the 2008
New York State Superintendent of the Year. Under her direction, Peekskill has seen an increase from 40 to 67 percent in the number of high school students passing all their subjects and more than a 50-percent increase in AP course enrollment. Here’s what Johnson had to say about herself, her work, and the challenges facing the public education system.

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Q: What career would you have pursued if you hadn’t become a school superintendent?


A: I was in a pre-med program at Brooklyn College, and I got in the labs and we were doing some dissecting and that was it—I was out of there.


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Q: What makes a schools superintendent good?


A: You can’t hold the job if you can’t accept criticism. But I think we are doing a far better job of educating our children than most people think. We may be the only country on this planet that educates everyone.


Q: If someone gave your district one million dollars, what would you spend it on?

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A: I could easily spend a million dollars. I’d spend it on a full-day pre-K program for every child in the city and to extend the school day and school year—the notion of 180 days a year and an eight-to-three day is obsolete. And I’d invest money on the ongoing continuing professional development needs of teachers.


Q: What’s most difficult—dealing with teachers, students, or parents?


A: Dealing with the parents and kids who have lost hope.


Q: What advice can you offer parents who want their children to succeed in school?


A: Number one: ask questions on a regular basis. Talk to your kids and stay involved in your child’s education. Check the backpack, use e-mail to ask questions of the teacher, attend all teacher conferences. Finally, spend a lot of time reading together—even parallel reading.


Q: What is the greatest challenge facing educators today?


A: We need to think planet, not just North America, and recognize that our kids are competing for a seat at the global marketplace and the international forum. They should be learning to understand all cultures—their own and others.


Q: What educational innovation is next on the horizon?


A: We haven’t even begun to explore technology in education. We can’t forecast the future or even forecast the problems. The jobs that will be available in 2010 haven’t even been created yet. Schools are going to be dramatically changed. A lot of kids ultimately will be learning online.


Enjoy this article? The conversation with Judith Johnson continues at WestchesterMagazine.com

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