Statement By Rockland County Legislator Harriet Cornell On The Passing of New York State Board of Regents’ Judith Johnson

“I am so deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my friend, Regent Judith Johnson. We have lost an educator who devoted her life to the truest of causes – the betterment of children – all children everywhere. She developed policies and programs to guide comprehensive school reform and improve student achievement. She was truly one of the most outstanding people I have ever known – in any field of endeavor.

“I knew Judith for many years and was so honored to have her attend and speak at a gathering of the Rockland 21st Century Collaborative for Children and Youth earlier this year. She had been so impressed with the 22-year effort of 21C to work with families and children from birth on, to ensure that every child reached optimal development.

“When she thanked me for being an important partner in the work of Rockland 21C, her profound remarks reflected the work that is necessary to ensuring positive contributing members of society: ‘Schools are far more than results on standardized tests. A comprehensive education prepares our most precious resource for assuming adulthood in a country that still believes in democracy.’

“Judith Johnson’s life was the stuff of dreams that are possible in a democracy – dreams achieved through a tremendous amount of hard work. From her earliest years as an elementary school teacher in New York City to her rising through many ranks, including service as the Director of Curriculum for the Nyack Public School District, the Superintendent of Schools for the Peekskill City School District, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education. When she was one of many candidates being considered for the important post of New York State Regent, I was thrilled and wrote letters on her behalf.

“Judith lived in New Hempstead and her deep caring and devotion to children and their best futures made us all feel like she was truly our neighbor. She recognized the issues facing our schools and students in the Hudson Valley, New York State and across the nation and pressed for the fair and equal treatment of students across economic classes and races.

“Judith was named New York State School Superintendent of the Year in 2008, becoming the first African American to receive the honor, and for her many contributions, she was inducted into the Rockland County Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2015. We also recognized her for her many contributions during the Rockland County Legislature’s Black History Month celebration in 2017.

“It was only 2-1/2 weeks ago that I saw Judith at the first Women’s Hall of Fame in Rockland, sponsored by the Center for Safety and Change, where 40 of us were being inducted – but few of us could match Judith’s career, accomplishments or brilliance. To think that a neighbor had reached such heights as an educator and had been elected to serve as a NY State Regent was truly overwhelming but not surprising. It was so clear that this truly brilliant educator, thinker, public speaker, and witty human being was someone special!

“Judith’s work and inspiration will live on, not only through the directives and policies she helped establish, but through the success of the thousands of children who have and will experience the fruits of her best efforts.”