We at ArtsWestchester, along with our colleagues throughout the state, mourn the loss of Judith Johnson, widely recognized as one of the leading educators in the Hudson Valley, and member of the New York State Board of Regents. Generations of Westchester students benefited from the policies and values she promoted as Superintendent of Peekskill School District and, later, as Interim Superintendent of Mount Vernon School District. A sought-after speaker, Johnson often introduced her remarks by saying that she was “speaking on behalf of children and families.” – and that she did with eloquence and passion, driven by an unflagging commitment to public education, equity and the understanding that “no one approach can ever meet the needs of our very diverse student population.” She was an advocate for the arts and arts education, because she valued arts for their capacity to engage and motivate students; open minds and foster imaginations; develop critical thinking skills; and nurture talent.
She and ArtsWestchester first crossed paths in the mid-1990s. ArtsWestchester invited Johnson to advise us on developing a summer institute for teachers and artists who were participating in a National Endowment for the Arts funded initiative, Arts Excel. The initiative was integrating the arts into the curricula of six urban schools in Westchester. As was her wont, she did far more than provide guidance, signing on instead as a key presenter. Johnson remained a friend of ArtsWestchester throughout the years, most recently leading a discussion on her work as a Regent to enhance arts education throughout the state. At the time, she was championing Multiple Pathways to a New York State Regents Diploma, successfully advocating for the inclusion of an Arts Pathway.
We have lost a dear friend of the arts and an extraordinary educational leader, but her life’s work will have a lasting impact. “Are we investing in the right policies?” She asked in her testimony before the New York State Education Reform Committee?” In her memory, let us continue to ask.
A version of this article first appeared in the November issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.