When it comes to achievement and excellence in the classroom, Sara Johnson said she dots the Is and crosses the Ts.
“I focus on excellent instruction in every classroom, for every student, every day,” said Johnson, the new superintendent of the Sumner School District. “It’s all the little things that get put together that build the success of your students and school district.”
Johnson, who started as Sumner School District’s superintendent on July 1, boasts a track record for fostering high performance.
In 2007, she was named Oregon Principal of the Year, attributed to raising and sustaining student performance across three schools.
As principal of Grand Haven Elementary in McMinnville, Ore., she completed three years of sustaining high performance. In the high-poverty school, 65 percent of the student body was meeting or succeeding state benchmarks. At the end of three years, Johnson had that percentage up between 92 and 99 percent.
Johnson also received the National Distinguished Principal Award in 2007 in Washington, D.C. She said she hopes to bring that same concept of sustaining student performance to the Sumner School District.
“The whole idea is to build that system on a district-wide scale,” she said.
Johnson stresses she’s not the only one who makes sustaining high performance possible.
“It takes the help of everyone in the system,” she said. “Because it’s people work, I believe in building relationships with parents, students and community members. That’s what makes kids successful.”
Johnson was hired by the Sumner School Board last February. Her previous work was as an assistant superintendent in the Lincoln County School District along the Oregon coast.
Starting this fall, Johnson will oversee an $85 million general fund budget, which was approved by the school board last Wednesday.
Johnson said she appreciates the state Legislature’s $1 billion investment in education, represented in the 2013-15 biennial budget. Despite falling short of the $1.4 billion recommendation from the Legislature’s Joint Task Force on Education Funding, Johnson said the state’s commitment is a step in the right direction.
Johnson said working as an educator in Washington is vastly different than in Oregon.
“Oregon is really underfunding schools,” she said.
For example, Johnson said the Oregon state Legislature doesn’t allow school districts to run operation levy elections, only capital bonds. For the most part, Johnson said Oregon schools look only to the state for funding.
The Sumner School District will ask voters for an operations levy next February. The current levy expires at the end of 2014. The levy provides the school district more than 20 percent of its operating costs. The other 80 percent is supported through a mix of state, federal and grant dollars.
Johnson said her goals for the new school year include celebrating what’s done well in the district but also identifying areas where correction and improvements can be made.
“My expertise is in teaching and learning and improving school systems,” she said. “We need to identify everything that is good, and take it to great. I’m a big believer in public education. It’s key to a better tomorrow in our country for everybody. We create a system that serves the kids. It’s an amazing job and an amazing project.”