Educational Leadership for Change '12
It was Bank Street’s leadership program that taught me how to truly listen to people and how to be consciously thoughtful and kind, and it’s how I now lead my school.
In 2016, when Dr. Asya Johnson became the principal of Longwood Preparatory Academy in the South Bronx, she inherited a persistently struggling school determined by a historically underserved community.
She had spent years preparing herself for this type of challenge, both as a college student and as a classroom teacher. She had earned a BA in English from Delaware State University and an MEd in Special Education from Holy Family University, and she had served as the director of special education programs for District 79, which serves students incarcerated on Rikers Island and in Passages Academy, a secure detention facility.
Asya knew she wanted to take on a larger leadership role, so she came to Bank Street Graduate School of Education, where she earned her MsEd in Educational Leadership for Change in 2012.
“After teaching for many years, transitioning into a leadership role as a school principal is challenging because there is no on-the-job training for becoming a leader, especially in a historically underserved community. Bank Street was the place where I knew I could learn how to improve, dismantle, and disrupt the system and not just be a part of the status quo. I grew up in poverty, and I want kids to have the experiences I didn’t have,” Asya said. “I always wanted to do this work to fight against unconscious bias and for racial equity in education. That is 100 percent my life’s work. It was Bank Street’s leadership program that taught me how to truly listen to people and how to be consciously thoughtful and kind, and it’s how I now lead my school, which is located in one of the poorest congressional districts in the nation.”
While working as a principal, Asya earned her EdD in Education Management and Leadership from Drexel University. With education and experience in hand, she implemented innovative programs at Longwood Prep that strengthened student access to extracurricular activities and increased parent involvement in support of their student’s success. In 2022, Asya gained recognition and praise for her work: she had increased Longwood Prep’s graduation rate from 44 to 86 percent and lowered chronic absenteeism from 77 to 32 percent. She works to help close achievement and opportunity gaps by ensuring that her students are efficient readers. She also exposes them to a wide variety of activities, including skiing, the New York Stock Exchange, business, media technology, and design courses.
Asya said, “I am proud that I closed the achievement gap and that we are now sending countless students to top universities across the country.”
Asya’s accomplishments were noticed by New York City’s Department of Education, and she was selected by School Chancellor David Banks for his Master Principal Initiative for the 2023-24 school year. This highly competitive honor gives Asya the opportunity to present scalable New York City public school initiatives at citywide and district events, where she uses the tools she learned through Bank Street’s Educational Leadership for Change program to develop ways to improve communities with few resources.
She said, “As a school leader, I want to remind other leaders to tap into the potential of finding other educators who are leaders in their own schools. It leads to new streams of funding for trips and partnership opportunities where different organizations can come in and teach kids something that elevates them.”
When it comes to improving educational systems, Asya says she makes sure that her innovative partnership programs provide her students with activities that are culturally relevant, teach pride and dignity, and elevate how students see themselves in the world.
She said, “Witnessing them expand their knowledge also helps me grow as an educator.
Every activity we put together, I’m always looking at it from a cultural standpoint. Are we changing who or what they may become in their lifetime? Because that’s what I truly want school to be able to do. It’s not just about learning how to read or do math. It’s about learning how to be a lifelong learner. I learned this from my instructors at Bank Street—to always seek more learning, to keep educating yourself, and keep going.”