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Mount Vernon City School District Hosts Superintendent’s Convocation

The Mount Vernon City School District kicked off the school year at its annual convocation on Wednesday, September 1, with inspirational messages for faculty, staff, administrators, and the community.

The theme of this year’s event focused on Rebuilding, Refocusing and Reimagining Education.

“This is the opportunity to shift gears and deliver a different educational approach,” said Superintendent Dr. Kenneth R. Hamilton. “Let’s learn to listen, empathize and provide a chance for students to re-engage with their peers and their teachers.”

The presentation that was delivered from the Phylicia Rashad Auditorium at the Denzel Washington School of the Arts at the Nellie Thornton Campus (DWSA) and broadcast via Zoom and Facebook LIVE. It began with welcome remarks by several dignitaries, including Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard, U.S. Representative Jamaal Bowman and Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a 1970 Mount Vernon High School graduate. The County Executive said the pandemic has made it nearly impossible to deliver the education our children deserve but the hard work of educators helps students open their potential.

Dr. Frances Wills of the state Board of Regents also spoke. Dr. Wills served for six years as superintendent in Putnam Valley, after spending three years as a consultant and coordinator of professional development for Pace University's School of Education. She retired in 2010 as superintendent in Briarcliff Manor, where she served for 16 years. She also served as superintendent in Belfast, Maine, for five years and prior to that served for 20 years as director of curriculum and instruction, middle school principal, assistant high school principal, guidance counselor, and middle and high school English teacher in Maine and Massachusetts. “Throughout the past year and a half, you have been asked to perform extraordinary tasks in order to reach Mount Vernon children and ensure that they have had the opportunity to learn and to grow even in this fraught moment,” she said. “Now you face another difficult year, yet we all know a great deal more about how to connect and affirm every child as they achieve and excel as learners and as confident, caring, and healthy youth with the promise of a future path that we must help them create.”

The event was primarily virtual due to Covid safety restrictions, but rather than dwell on what was lost since the start of the pandemic, the mood was positive and hopeful for the future.

“It’s up to us to create the environments that unlock the unlimited possibilities for our children,” said Bowman, a former teacher and dean who thanked teachers for their continued commitment and administrators for their leadership during these challenging times.

Dr. Natasha Hunter-McGregor, president of the Mount Vernon Administrators Group (MVAG) and principal of Graham Elementary School, thanked those in attendance for their commitment and sacrifice. She said the symbiotic relationships that exist in the district are an integral part of education.

“You never can tell the impact you may make on someone’s life through your action or inaction,” Hunter-McGregor said. “Thank you for loving the children of Mount Vernon.”

Hamilton emphasized creating a program that embraces equity, diversity and inclusion, and challenged those in attendance to ensure they are helping students reach their full potential.

“There are children who sit before us waiting for you to tap into something that may be hidden or buried,” he said. “We need to recognize how important it is to be innovative as educators. Don’t feel the need to be shackled to old practices that are not producing results.”

He discussed the challenges that some students face and how important it is to create equitable models for all students, make them feel valued and teach them how to be successful after high school.

“If we continue to provide the same thing, the student who soars continues to soar and the student who struggles will continue to struggle,” Hamilton said.

The program also included powerful student musical performances including the national anthem by Lauren Satchell of DWSA, instrumental selections, and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by the DWSA Choir. The event also included recognition of employees who have been with the district for more than 20 years, more than 30 years and five employees who have more than 40 years working for the district.

The student performances were praised by keynote speaker and educational consultant Baruti K. Kafele who gave a powerful message about community, challenges and overcoming adversity.

He has been a highly regarded urban educator in New Jersey for over 20 years, and has distinguished himself as a master teacher and a transformational school leader. One of the most sought-after school leadership and classroom equity presenters in America, Principal Kafele is impacting America’s schools, delivering over 2,000 conference and program keynotes, professional development workshops, parenting seminars and student assemblies over his 34 years of public speaking.

At the convocation, he focused on discussing a One Educator model and said everyone in the school building makes up that one educator and that one educator can “completely alter the trajectory of a child.”

Kafele, who attended four different high schools over five years and struggled in school starting in fifth grade when his father died, said educators should remember that when a child comes to school dealing with struggles, that does not mean the student won’t be “overwhelmingly successful.” Kafele told the participants they should create a blueprint for the school year and follow it. They should analyze their current situations and reflect on where they are now, review areas where they need to improve and set concrete goals.

He said it is very important to “meet students where they are, as they are” and ask if schools are creating a space where students can see themselves in what they are learning.

“Self-assessing is important each day,” Kafele said, adding that teachers need to tell themselves “I am the number one determinant of the success or failure of my students.”