School No. 2 Principal Atiya Perkins has been chosen as this year’s Black History Month honoree by the City of Linden. She was recognized at the city’s Black History Month Celebration on Feb. 15. 

By Gary Miller

After a 45-minute ride up from Hamilton, the northbound NJ Transit train pulls into Linden station around 7 a.m. This is where Atiya Perkins begins the final leg of her daily commute – walking the familiar streets of her hometown.

She walks down South Wood Avenue for about a mile, through the neighborhood where many of her students live, to begin her day as principal of School No. 2.

Linden – the schools, the city, and its streets – are a vital part of what made Perkins who she is today. She attended Schools No. 4, 5, and 9, and McManus Middle School, and graduated Linden High School with the class of 1991.

She was raised by her father after her mother died when she was a baby, and things weren’t always easy for the family. But she took inspiration from watching her father attend community college despite struggling with epilepsy. She developed a reverence for education and a drive to build a better life for her and her family. She also found her love for walking because her father couldn’t drive.

“It’s part of who I am, because of the lack that we had,” Perkins said. “I tried to help my dad, and I learned that I can’t look back because there was nothing back there. The only thing is for me is to look forward. And I need to have more, I needed to contribute.”

Her father is now gone, too, but she is still driven to contribute in her calling as an educator. Perkins instills in her students the lesson that education is the key to whatever they want to be in life, and she is continuing her own studies with the goal of attaining her doctorate and authoring children’s books.

“One of my favorite quotes that I use all the time is by Nelson Mandela: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon used to change the world,’ ” she said. “I truly live by that, because it is so valuable.”

Because of her deep roots in Linden and her inspirational work in the Linden Public Schools, Perkins has been chosen as this year’s Black History Month honoree by the City of Linden. She will be honored at the city’s Black History Celebration on Feb. 15, 6 p.m., at the Linden Multipurpose Center at 1025 John Street.

“She leaves an impression on me and other parents in the district that she has a sincere love for her job and the families she serves,” said Councilwoman Rhashonna C. Cosby, founder and organizer of the seventh annual event. “Educators are often not recognized for all that they do; however, they are one of the most vital components in the community. As an administrator, Mrs. Perkins has brought positive and impactful initiatives to the schools.”

principal speaking

School No. 2 Atiya Perkins speaking at the school's "Fathers Matter, Too" program in September.

After graduating from LHS, Perkins earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and psychology from Seton Hall University, where she also earned her master’s degree in education leadership.

She has worked in Linden Public Schools for 14 years, starting as a substitute teacher, then serving as a fourth-grade teacher, vice principal at Schools No. 1 and 4 and McManus Middle School, principal at School No. 6 – and now in her second school year as principal at School No. 2.

Perkins said she is humbled by the Black History Month honor, but that it also makes her hopeful because she is being held up for her academic achievements and work as an educator.

“In the African-American community, children look at athleticism as a goal,” she said. “ ‘When I grow up I want to be a basketball player,’ or ‘I want to be a football player.’ And you don’t hear much about the academic component.

“So I’m grateful to be able to see growth in using education as a strength – using the brain muscle.”

Perkins said it is important for young African-Americans to have role models to look up to because race is still at the forefront of many conversations.

“There are so many different talents and abilities out there and, I’m sorry to say it, but sometimes race supersedes that,” she said. “So to have a young girl say to me, ‘I want to be like you when I grow up’ because they are able to identify with me first because of my race, I’m thankful. Then that gives me the opportunity to go a little bit deeper.

“I’m thankful to be in an environment where people get to see beyond race. You get to see a full person. If I can inspire anyone, especially within the African-American community, it’s to definitely understand the importance of getting your education. You need it. This world needs it.”

Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi said Perkins should be proud of all her achievements, and that she is an inspiration to her students and colleagues.

“Mrs. Perkins has filled so many key roles in her career in Linden,” he said. “It’s wonderful that her students can see someone who came from Linden and rose to be such a tremendous role model for the power of education. The City of Linden couldn’t have made a better choice in selecting this year’s Black History Month honoree.”

Over her career, Perkins established a multicultural event at School No. 1, helped School No. 4 receive a character education grant, and helped implement the “Leader in Me” program at School No. 6.

At School No. 2 she has established a public speaking club for third- through fifth-graders, a book club and blog, and the “Fathers Matter, Too” initiative. The first session of the latter saw over 300 fathers come to the school for a morning visit meant to emphasize how important fathers are to their children’s success in school.

Perkins sits on the board of directors as the education specialist for InspiHER, a non-profit with a mission to heal, empower and restore the image of young girls though self-exploration, education and mentorship.

“We take this whole month for Black History Month, and what does that mean? It means that we’re talking about people who have impacted our history,” Perkins said.

“And I’m elated to be a part of making history for someone.”