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Judith Johnson, Longtime Hudson Valley Educator, Dies

New York State Education Department Regent Judith Johnson has died.
New York State Education Department Regent Judith Johnson has died. Photo Credit: Contributed

Former New York State Education Department Regent and prominent Hudson Valley educator Judith Johnson has died.

During her career, Johnson, 80, spent time serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary for Education under President Bill Clinton and spent decades educating students in the Hudson Valley.

Johnson spent 10 years as the Schools Superintendent in Peekskill, becoming the first African American to hold that post. She also took over at the helm in Mount Vernon in an interim position in 2012 as the district underwent wholesale changes and sought a permanent superintendent.

While serving as Superintendent in Peekskill, the district earned “most improved” accolades twice from the New York State Education Department. Under Johnson’s guidance, graduation rates rose in every district where she took the helm.

Johnson started her career as a teacher in the New York City school systems before moving into administrative positions in Mamaroneck, Southern Westchester BOCES, Nyack and White Plains.

In 1990, Johnson was named once of the 100 Executive Educators in America. In 2008, Johnson was honored by the State Council of School Superintendents as Superintendent of the Year. In 2009 she was named Alumna of the Year by Brooklyn College, her alma mater. The Biondi School added her to its Black History Wall of Fame in 2017.

Throughout her career, Johnson was also a fervent supporter of “leave no child behind.”

Elected officials in the Hudson Valley expressed their respect for Johnson following the news of her death.

“Judith Johnson devoted her entire life to the notion that every child deserves a quality education,” Assemblywoman Amy Paulin said. “She was an award-winning teacher, a supportive mentor, a passionate advocate, a thoughtful administrator, a visionary Superintendent and finally, a knowledgeable and incredibly candid member of the Board of Regents. She was trusted and respected by parents, teachers, administrators, and legislators alike, and her contributions toward improving public education for the students of Westchester County and New York State will last a lifetime.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “Judith Johnson was a champion for students across New York, dedicating her life to promoting equity for students of all economic and racial backgrounds. My deepest condolences to her family, friends, and loved ones.”

"It is a sad day in Rockland County as we learn of the passing of Judith Johnson. Regent Johnson was one of the staunchest advocates for children and their education that I have ever seen," Rockland County Executive Ed Day stated. "Our school community is worse off from her loss but her legacy of fighting for equal education for all children will not soon be forgotten. My deepest condolences to her family and friends.”

Kevin McGowan, the President of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, called Johnson “a leader of leaders.” 

“Judith Johnson was a leader of leaders. Her work on the local, state and national level was marked by a dogged pursuit of equity for all children. Her unyielding advocacy on behalf of civil rights was only matched by her passionate connection to students, parents and educators in her districts and across the state. We mourn the loss of this former Superintendent of the Year while cherishing the ways in which her legacy will continue to inspire us to do more each day for each child." 

Said State Sen. David Buchwald: "We’ve lost a champion of all children and a vital supporter of our public schools. Her selection to New York’s Board of Regents signaled a new era of education policymaking in New York."

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