Farid Johnson brings special education, finance background to Siwanoy’s helm

After three years leading Stony Point Elementary as a part of the North Rockland Central School District, Farid Johnson is eager to return to work in Westchester, after graduating from Hastings-on-Hudson and working as an Assistant Principal at Hillside Elementary.

He’ll be returning to work in Westchester by way of Siwanoy Elementary School, replacing Susan Gilbert, who is retiring as principal at the end of the year.

Johnson noted that coming to Pelham Schools both fulfilled a previous wish to work there and helped him to better participate in the daily activities of his three daughters, saying that his move was “a win-win for me.”

Prior to his 15 years in education, Johnson’s path was less clear. He graduated Manhattanville College with a degree in business management and finance, but after taking an internship in the field realized “it wasn’t what I thought it would be.” Instead, after graduating, he took a job working at a day camp, which he credits for “solidifying everything for me.” After applying for a grant at Manhattanville, he went on to earn a Masters degree in Childhood and Special Education, “and the rest,” he says, “is history.” He would later go on to receive a master’s degree in leadership for educational change from Bank Street College of Education as well.

Farid Johnson, who will be the new principal of Siwanoy School in September.

After his transition into education, Johnson worked in a variety of roles in elementary level education, including as a special education teacher. As for what he takes away from his time in special education while serving as an administrator, he simply says “Everything.”

Johnson refers to himself as “a special educator first,” saying that his background allows him to fully understand the inherently diverse needs of a student body, citing a special connection to special education, saying, “My little sister growing up was a special needs student, so that’s always near and dear to my heart.”

“I’m always thinking about what the kids need first, and not leaving out special education teachers and students,” says Johnson. He goes on to note that “there’s nothing irregular about special education students…at all.”

Even after transitioning away from business and finance, Johnson recognizes that what he learned can still have a large impact, particularly as an administrator. He notes that managing budgets, and even marketing and advertising himself as a leader and Siwanoy as a school all will be made easier as a result of his education in the field.

As Pelham Schools moves into year two of its strategic plan, Johnson is ready to work to help achieve the district’s main goals. In her email to students and parents introducing Johnson, Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ discussed how he already reflected Pelham’s plan before arriving, noting his building of school culture and use of a positive behavior intervention support model while holding his current position.

As for his new position, Johnson says he will first work to “understand the norms (and) understand what people hold near and dear to their hearts.” Once he gets the idea of daily life at Siwanoy, he’ll be able to fully enshrine the goals of the strategic plan.

Currently, Johnson is making the best of being home, while also working from a distance and preparing for the new educational normal moving forward. He loves spending time with his daughters and being able to do work around the house, although he misses “being able to see the smiles on the (students’) faces on a daily basis.”

As for the impact of Covid-19 on the next year of school, he feels that his role as a principal is to follow the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Pelham Schools, but still be ready and able to give insight into his school when the discussion on the issue inevitably comes.

“There’s a lot of different things to think about,” Johnson says in relation to the new norms. “So, my mind is going at a hundred miles an hour right now trying to think of those things.”

“I’m extremely excited and grateful for the opportunity to be a leader in such a prestigious school district like Pelham,” Johnson concludes.

Johnson will take over as principal in July.