Real PEOPLE of East New York
Janet Huger-Johnson’s pre-med plans were derailed after a question from a professor at North Carolina Central University (NCCU).
“I was asked by my professor to think of a place or person that has helped me to see my future and think of a way that you can give something back. I remember coming back to my neighborhood and seeing that children were different and I felt like the best way that I could give back was to become a substitute teacher and just spend some time talking to young children.”
From that point onward, Huger-Johnson transitioned from her dreams of becoming a socially conscious-doctor to stepping into the role of an educator.
Over the last 30 years, Huger-Johnson’s journey to educate and lead the next generation saw her go from being a substitute teacher at her childhood elementary school to becoming the Principal at East New York Elementary School of Excellence.
A Life-long Member of the East New York Community
There’s something powerful about being able to play a significant role in the community you came from, and Huger-Johnson is doing just that. Her childhood was spent in the Boulevard Houses on Schenck Avenue.
And before she was changing classrooms for the better, Huger-Johnson began her education at PS 273 and George Gershwin JHS 166. She discussed the huge impact these schools had on her growth and creating a foundation for success:
“I have great memories as a student in those schools. I credit all that I am and whom I became on the love that I received from my Boulevard Family!” From there, Huger-Johnson went on to have that career-altering moment at NCCU that led to the rest of her career.
Eventually, she returned to the East New York area and climbed the New York City Department of Education career ladder, furthering her knowledge of the profession while leaving her influential mark on students and staff alike.
“I also enjoy inspiring others to see themselves as leaders and game-changers”
Teacher, instructional designer, United Teacher Federation (UFT) chapter leader, and eventually principal, Huger-Johnson, has worn many hats in the education arena. Still, ultimately, her work is all about seeing her students achieve success:
“My most rewarding moment has always been seeing the success that my students have achieved in their life. I pride myself on staying connected with my babies, and I am so proud of the way that they maintained themselves and worked hard to be someone. I also enjoy inspiring others to see themselves as leaders and game-changers. The most rewarding thing has always been the look on a student’s face when they have achieved something they really worked hard for.”
Huger-Johnson has complemented her passion with hard work to make an impact on her students and colleagues. Over the years, she has racked up numerous certifications to further her knowledge and keep her work relevant. She has been a leader of equity and access, certified reading specialist, teacher career pathways mentor, and the recipient of the 21st Century EDSVP Grant.
Not only is Huger-Johnson supporting the students in her community, but she has also spent ten years advocating for and supporting teachers as a UFT chapter leader. Huger-Johnson described the importance of this work:
“I believe in advocating for adults and helping teachers understand the real meaning of union support. As a chapter leader, I helped teachers understand the resources that the UFT offered to the members. I wanted the teachers to know that the UFT is there to help them strengthen their practice as an educator.”
She also went on to discuss how this experience helped to prepare her to step into her current role of principal, “The experience and knowledge that I acquired during my ten years as a chapter leader helped me to become a strong Principal with every stakeholder being validated. The partnership between teachers and school leaders is vital to the success of the school.”
The Impact of The ENYESE Whole School Racial Equity Project
In 2018, Huger-Johnson’s enriching work at ENYESE resulted in her being the recipient of the prestigious Obama i3 Innovation Grant with the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. The goal of the project was to help the school community see the importance of equity and diversity.
“It helped us to have strong and meaningful conversations around the impact of the construct of race and how important it is for children to learn at an early age the disparities that are present in the world. The students developed voice and awareness and were guided towards healthy thoughts about self-awareness and the need for change regarding the narrative around their community.”
This project continues Huger-Johnson’s legacy of representing the quote she often heard her parents say throughout the years: “Knowledge is power!”
Hope for a Future That Propels Students and Involves Their Families
By putting together initiatives like the racial equity project or dedicating her career to educating the next generation, Huger-Johnson is empowering today’s children and teachers. This is particularly important at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting education.
Huger-Johnson hopes—much like what happened in her youth—that education will involve and harness the power of the family unit:
“I hope that the conversation around education begins to move more towards student needs and family involvement. The pandemic has shown me that parent involvement in education is a vital part to a child’s successful future. Education must lead the conversation around the change we wish to see in the world.”
For 30 years, Huger-Johnson has supported students, teachers, and families alike. Ultimately, her work will leave a legacy that promotes educational attainment for East New York’s children, and for that we salute Janet Huger-Johnson!
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