Why We Fight! In August 2014, the late Judith Johnson (former NYS Regent) was interim acting superintendent of the MVCSD. There was a posting for a Director of Arts and Gifted and Talented. She had interviewed numerous candidates but was not satisfied. She then interviewed Dr. Evelyn Collins and was thrilled. She stated at the end of the interview “You will be my gift to Mount Vernon.”
Dr. Collins researched, recruited, assessed, and launched the G&T program, ATLAS, in 2015 servicing over 300 students in grades 3-7. It remains a strong addition to the district.
Dr. Collins also created the Arts in Mount Vernon for the three high schools (MVHS, Thornton, and Mandela) where she auditioned students for theatrical productions. The first production was The Wiz (2015), Dreamgirls (2016), Raisin (2017), and The Color Purple (2018). The featured performers were all encouraged to later attend college and are now college graduates.
Dr. Collins submitted a proposal to Dr. Hamilton and the Board of Trustees to create a magnet school in 2015. Once approved Mount Vernon students and families were invited to a presentation for an overview of the school held in the Education Center where the audience included over 60 families.
Dr. Collins authored and was awarded a grant through the NYSED for 1.5 million dollars to support the launch and sustainability of the arts magnet program.
Fast forward to 2020 where the Arts Magnet Program became the Denzel Washington School of the Arts. The school’s enrollment was 400 students in grades 6-12.
The first graduating class, 2021, had a graduation rate of 100%, in 2022 (98%), and in 2023 will be 98%. The middle school math and ELA state test scores have outperformed schools in Mount Vernon and in New York State.
Graduates of DWSA attend colleges including NYU, CUNY’s Sophie Davis Medical School, and Rhode Island School of Design. Penn State, Morgan State University, Howard, Parsons, Binghampton, Purchase College, and many others. Most with a full ride.
The arts became a bright light for Mount Vernon where sold-out productions would include Seussical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Lion King, Jr., Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Wiz, and A Soldier’s Play. Patrons attended the productions from near and far contributing to packed and sold-out houses.
All students would perform in the Winter, Spring, and Summer Bridge Showcases. There were also additional performances in dance, orchestra, band, tap dance, jazz, musical theatre, high school theatre, and visual arts. All performances are supported by technical theatre students.
Dr. Collins is the recipient of numerous awards and was an honorable mention at the (2023) Tony Awards for Excellence in Theatre Education – 1 of 15 out of over a thousand applicants.
The Denzel Washington School of the Arts is a beacon in Mount Vernon that has served to return families to the district from private, Catholic, and Charter Schools. It has added the arts to a community solely known for its winning basketball team.
There is a proposal by the interim acting superintendent Dr. Smith, to replace Dr. Collins without an explanation as to why. In a recent parent meeting, she exclaimed that it was time for a change and that she had some ideas. She does not have a background in the arts nor has she ever served as a principal in any school. Her proposal is personal, political, and directed at Dr. Collins because she believes Dr. Collins is too powerful and beloved in the Mount Vernon community.
The DWSA has brought pride to the city of Mount Vernon as its students have performed across the city in various functions. Mount Vernon deserves the best.
Dr. Collins must be returned to DWSA or the school’s light will be forever dimmed. Schools require exceptional leadership to succeed. DWSA has outstanding leadership in Dr. Collins. There is no need for a change.