/ Modified feb 23, 2023 2:11 p.m.

Sierra Vista school district honors longtime member, educator for decades of service

Connie Johnson has been a schools and civil rights leader in the area since the late 1960s.

Jacqui Clay Yulonda Boutte Connie Johnson Cochise County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jacqui Clay (left) and Sierra Vista Unified School District board president Yulonda Boutte (right) celebrate the legacy of Connie Johnson (center) for her more than 50 years of service to the educational community in Sierra Vista and Fort Huachuca.
Summer Hom, AZPM

In a community that tends to be as transient as Sierra Vista is, long-timers are hard to come by.

But it is these hidden figures who dedicate themselves to making the community better than it was when they arrived who carry with them a beacon and a ladder, shining the way for others and helping them rise up.

One of those figures in education and civil rights in Sierra Vista is Maudelynn “Connie” Johnson.

Since she first came to Sierra Vista in 1969 when her husband was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Johnson spent 25 years teaching at General Myer Elementary School on Fort Huachuca and served as the principal for an additional 20 years.

She said that education is in her blood, as her mother, father and grandfather were teachers.

“I just loved the kids and enjoyed seeing them progress, work hard and just had a love for children,” said Johnson in an interview last year.

During that time, Johnson also served on the Sierra Vista Unified School District Governing Board on-and-off for 40 years. She first joined the board in 1981, at which time, teachers were frustrated and were on strike. Johnson said that the complaints surrounded the board not taking the teacher’s voices into account, and she was encouraged by her peers to run.

Johnson’s educational activism was fueled by her own experiences of segregated schools and choked educational opportunities.

“Coming from Florida, I was in a town where it was still schools for Blacks and schools for whites,” Johnson said. “Where I went in a little town called Chipley, Florida, you could only go to eighth grade, and if it was time to go to high school, you couldn’t go to the high school there. The high school was just for whites.”

Additionally, she also served as one of the founding members of the Greater Huachuca Area Branch of the NAACP.

She said that the branch formed in August of 1969 amid discrimination and racial profiling complaints from Black soldiers stationed at Fort Huachuca. She said that housing discrimination was a prominent challenge.

“We had some people that would come and they would want a house,” Johnson said. “And this one couple. And they wanted to live up in Sierra Vista. Well, when they went to try to get this house, the people told them — even though it was advertised — that it wasn’t available.”

So, they turned to others to test that claim.

“What they did on post was they got someone that was not Black to go and check on the house,” she continued. “And when they did check on the house, they found out that the house had not been sold and it was available. They just didn’t want to sell it to anybody Black.”

She said that the branch would coordinate with the commander on Fort Huachuca to resolve most discrimination issues.

Johnson’s mark on the community is notable, as former colleague and SVUSD school board president Yulonda Boutte said, Johnson’s contribution to the educational community was outstanding.

“She’s been a moving force in the board,” said Boutte. ”She has done so much for education for all students. It’s been her life goal to help educate and to make sure that there was equity as she educated and also as she served on the board.”

Boutte along with her fellow board members presented Johnson with a plaque for her service with the district during a dedication ceremony on Wednesday at the Rothery Educational Services Center.

Jacqui Clay Connie Johnson Cochise County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jacqui Clay presents Connie Johnson with a certificate of appreciation during a dedication ceremony on Wednesday.
Summer Hom, AZPM

The dedication ceremony comes nearly a year after Johnson resigned from the board due to health issues.

Demetry Simonton said he organized the dedication ceremony for Johnson. He first met her through the Greater Huachuca Area Branch of the NAACP, where Simonton served as the youth president.

“And it was like ‘you know what, let’s honor Mrs. Johnson in life,’” said Simonton. “A lot of times people wait until people pass away, and then, they’ll honor them and so something like that. I’m like ‘no, let’s honor her in life.’ So she can see that we appreciate her, we appreciate the impact and investment that she made.”

He added that Johnson’s contribution to the community is powerful.

“She’s truly about the work and about the people, and it shows,” Simonton said. “And so, when you just look at how gracefully she’s led over the years and brought people together, I don’t know if I know another local leader who has done that for as long as Mrs. Johnson has. So, the way that I would really evaluate is where would this community be without Mrs. Johnson?”

More than 50 people attended Johnson’s dedication ceremony on Wednesday. Sierra Vista Mayor Clea McCaa, who was not able to attend, wrote a proclamation declaring February 22 Connie Johnson and Black school educator day. Simonton read the proclamation on McCaa’s behalf.

Cochise County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jacqui Clay also presented Johnson with two plaques: the first being from the Arizona Alliance of Black School Educators and the other was a certificate of appreciation from the Cochise County Superintendent of Schools’ office.

“There were times where I thought I couldn’t go on,” said Clay. “And there were times where I was being attacked. There were times where things were hard. But I could always — no matter what — I always had a mentor who had been through it before me. Thank you Connie.”

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