MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – With new leadership at the top, and a clear vision in place for students, optimism is reaching a new high in the much-maligned Mount Vernon School District.
With New Jersey educator Kenneth Hamilton poised to take over from interim Schools Superintendent Judith Johnson on Aug. 11 , and a multi-year rebuilding plan in place, things are finally looking up for the district.
Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis said that it was important to shake things up in the district with such radical changes.
“If our educational system is not producing what is necessary to serve our children, then we need to change the educational system,” he said. “From a citywide point of view, this is our future. I’m hopeful that the new superintendent will provide the energy and sustenance needed for the children in our community.”
Last year, as the state adjusted to the new Common Core Learning Standards – which Hamilton said he has “mixed feelings” about – Mount Vernon students scored among the lowest in the state on standardized testing.
State Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who represents the city and is a product of the school district, said that if the community and schools hope to continue turning things around, all hands are needed on deck, from maintenance workers on through Hamilton.
“(Johnson) galvanized the community around the fact that our children required us to be a participant in their education, and she created an involvement among people in the community that had never been involved before,” she said. “My office and all of its power is behind (Hamilton) and the children of this district to ensure they have the greatest opportunity for success.”
In an effort to continue building ties between the school district and community, there will be a pair of events next month for the public. On Aug. 2 there will be a cookout at the district office and on Aug. 30 there will be the annual Back to School Fair, where volunteers distribute bags filled with various supplies.
“This gives us a chance to partner with city organizations,” new Board of Education member Omar McDowell said. “We want to partner with anyone willing to partner with us. We want to bring the new superintendent into a community that is engaged and ready to watch our students succeed.”
Hassel-Thompson added that the situation at the school district rapidly improved under the leadership of Johnson.
“Johnson came to us at a time we were feeling a sense of hopelessness about whether or not we could educate our students,” she said. “Now, success is dependent on all the people who participate in this educational process. I’m excited about a lot of things and I’m more hopeful than I’ve been for a very long time.”