The Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) and State School Superintendent Richard Woods selected Stephanie Johnson, who is considered a successful turnaround principal with 22 years of education experience, to oversee the Department’s School Improvement Division.
The School Improvement Division was recently lead by Avis King, who had over 40 years of experience in education. The School Improvement Division’s role is to help improve low-performing schools and stay in compliance with federal school improvement grants needed for school effectiveness efforts using the federal government’s turnaround model to increase performance in low-performing schools.
A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education stated that the School Improvement Grants (SIG), despite their $ 7 billion price tag, generated no academic gains for students it was meant to help. Failing schools that received multi-year grants from the program to “turn around” ended up with results no better than similar schools that received zero dollars from the program.
The new hire of Johnson comes after the passage of the School Turnaround bill (now called First Priority Schools), HB 338, which was signed into law by Governor Deal. The First Priority Bill was considered Deal’s “plan B” after voters rejected his Opportunity School District in Nov. 2016. Also, there were letters exchanged by Governor Deal and Superintendent Woods about the lack of improvement in failing schools under Woods’ leadership. During this time, Governor Deal decided to make low-performing schools his major legislative priority and sidelined the discussions to correct the state’s education funding formula.
HB 338 will allow the State Board of Education to appoint a Chief Turnaround Officer (CTO) who reports only to the Board and is part of the GA Department of Education’s internal organization. The elected State School Superintendent is expected to be part of the collaborative efforts to help turnaround low-performing schools, but will CTO will not be under the State School Superintendent’s full direction – only the appointed State Board’s.
The new Deputy Superintendent of School Improvement, Stephanie Johnson, is not the CTO; however, it is expected that she will collaborate with the Chief Turnaround Officer in conjunction with HB 338. Moving forward, Johnson and her team will focus on implementing a tiered, proactive system of supports, ensuring that all schools have the supports they need and are improving student achievement.
Currently, the Deputy Superintendent of School Improvement will work at the pleasure of the State School Superintendent to turnaround low-performing schools. The School Improvement Division has an annual budget of $15 million where the annual salary of the Johnson will be $144,199.92 according to the last payroll record for June 15 for this position.
The Chief Turnaround Officer has not yet been selected by the State Board of Education.
After leading the turnarounds of Sequoyah Middle School and Jonesboro High School in Clayton County, Johnson served as the turnaround principal of Maynard Jackson High School in Atlanta, and was a finalist for National Principal of the Year in 2017. She will serve as the GaDOE’s Deputy Superintendent for School Improvement.
“Stephanie Johnson is a dynamic leader with a proven track record of beating the odds and eliminating barriers for students,” Superintendent Woods said. “I’m confident she will make a great addition to our team at the Georgia Department of Education as we work to provide all schools with the meaningful support they need to improve student outcomes and expand opportunities.”
Johnson brings thoughtful, data-driven decision-making and a clear sense of urgency to the crucial work of supporting under-performing schools. She has a proven record of success with at-risk populations and cleared three schools from No Child Left Behind’s “Needs Improvement” status, while expanding gifted education and accelerating academic opportunities for all students. During her time at Maynard Jackson, the school’s College & Career-Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) score increased from 53.8 in 2012 to 76 in 2016.
“To me, mediocrity is never an option,” Johnson said. “I believe educators should motivate students to be lifelong learners by providing educational experiences that are relevant to real life. In addition, I feel that all schools and districts have the ability to be highly effective. In a highly effective school or district, all stakeholders are actively engaged in all facets of school life. Data drives the critical decisions that are made about financial allocations and instructional models. Customer service and community engagement are cornerstones of school culture. Effective leadership requires inspired vision, clear communication, and thoughtful decision-making.”
Prior to her work as a principal, Johnson served as an assistant principal, a school counselor, and a classroom teacher. In addition to being recognized as a 2017 National Principal of the Year finalist, she is the 2016 Georgia Principal of the Year, the 2016 Atlanta Public Schools Principal of the Year, and the 2017 Shining Star Leader of the Year, and in 2016 Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp recognized her as an Outstanding Georgia Citizen and Goodwill Ambassador for the state.
Johnson serves on the boards of the Georgia State Principals Center and the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and English from the University of Alabama, master’s degrees in secondary education and English, guidance and counseling, and educational leadership from the University of South Alabama, and a specialist’s degree in educational leadership from the University of South Alabama. She will complete her doctoral studies in December 2017.
Johnson and her husband, Gary, are the parents of three children: Taylor, Jacob, and Stephen.