Pelham Principal Named NYS Elementary Principal of the Year

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Farid Johnson

ALBANY, NY (03/21/2024) (readMedia)-- ALBANY, NY – Farid Johnson, principal at Siwanoy Elementary School in the Pelham Union Free School District, has been selected as the 2024 New York State Elementary Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS). This award is given to a SAANYS member who is committed to excellence, has programs designed to meet the academic and social needs of all students, and has firm ties to parents and the community.

One of Mr. Johnson's most significant accomplishments as principal has been the Siwanoy CultureFEST. FEST is for Food, Entertainment, Stories, and Traditions. Mr. Johnson says, "the idea of CultureFEST was born out of the ideology of bringing everyone together to cultivate the idea that we are all different, and that is a beautiful thing!" He adds that "Cultural awareness, appreciation, and recognition are extremely important" to him as an educator and a father.

The Spring Festival is growing and brings together many individuals and families. Mr. Johnson explains that "Siwanoy did not have a cultural celebration to this magnitude before I became principal here, and if I ever leave, it is now a tradition that will always take place each spring. The impact on the community has been positive and overwhelmingly powerful." He adds that "Understanding how culture affects us as a society and school community is embedded in everything I do as an educator."

Best practices for Mr. Johnson include "visibility" and "building relationships to increase flexible thinking." He explains that a principal "should be seen throughout the school on a daily basis. Most of the time should be spent in classrooms. Spending time in classrooms with students helps you to build strong and positive relationships with the students and teachers alike."

Mr. Johnson further explains that flexible thinking is critical for a school principal, who should "be able to live in the gray area. My job is to prepare students for the real world, and the real world is not black and white. There are nuances and many experiences that will need to be handled in a flexible manner. I believe building strong and positive relationships will help navigate the gray area when leading a school."

At his previous school, Stony Point Elementary School in Rockland County, Mr. Johnson looked for a solution for a school that had undergone changes resulting in a large number of students being sent to the principal. He says, "one of my first goals was to change how behaviors were handled, and the focus was also on changing the behaviors at the onset." Collaborating with his administrative team and a parent, he helped develop HEART (Honesty, Empathy, Attitude, Respect, Teamwork).

The team "developed a matrix to exemplify what HEART looked like in different areas such as hallways, lunch and recess, the school bus, the classroom, etc." The initiative was successful as "extreme behaviors began to dissipate, students were sent to the office far less, and the school community was actually coming together to rally behind this initiative. Our test scores went up as well because the level of instruction rose, and students were coming to school feeling safe to now only focus on their learning. The HEART initiative at my former school is still something they use as the fabric of everything they do. It's a huge legacy piece for me that they still use what I started."

Madeleine Mercer, Siwanoy PTA president-elect and parent, says, "Principal Johnson is an extremely creative, collaborative, and innovative principal. He is always willing to work with teachers, students, and parents to bring in exciting opportunities for students, and engage the entire school community."

Alice Bowman, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning of Pelham Public Schools, speaks highly of Farid Johnson, "I have had the privilege of working with Farid for the past two years, and I can attest to his unwavering commitment to student wellbeing. He exemplifies a student-centered approach, demonstrating a genuine affinity for people and fostering an environment where students feel secure. Farid effectively engages with students and parents alike, building and nurturing strong relationships between home and school. His innovative mindset has led to the development of pertinent discussion topics for parents, offering insights into how they can support their children at home. Notably, Farid is known for his candidness and honesty, qualities highly regarded in our team. He prioritizes the well-being of students, holding staff to high standards while providing unwavering support. Furthermore, Farid's dedication to self-improvement is evident in his continual pursuit of knowledge and his commitment to becoming a better leader."

Mr. Johnson has been active in education in the state of New York since 2004. He received his bachelor of science and master of science from Manhattanville College, received a master of science from Bank Street College, and is currently pursuing a doctorate of education at St. John Fisher.

Mr. Johnson and fellow 2024 award winners will be recognized at SAANYS' annual awards celebration, taking place on May 3 at the Saratoga Hilton.

SAANYS represents nearly 22,000 school administrators, supervisors, and retiree leaders. As a professional association, SAANYS is committed to providing direction, service, and support to the membership in their efforts to improve the quality of education and leadership in New York State schools. SAANYS is affiliated with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).