Our modern expectation of successful education is that it follows a typical trajectory—high school, then college, maybe graduate school, followed by a professional career. That, however, is just one possible path. There are many other roads that one might take on the journey to success; and even that concept takes on new meanings depending on who is making the journey. What if success followed each person’s unique path, with different signposts marking steps along the way? What if students knew that they could find success following a non-traditional path? When it comes to supporting the needs of all students, it helps to understand and communicate that there is not one definition of success and not one linear path in life.
Jeanne Johnson, new Assistant Principal at Acalanes High School, wants students to know that non-traditional paths are not just OK, they can be immensely fulfilling. They lead to success that is meaningful for each individual student. Not everyone gets on the path that will lead them to success
immediately after high school. Ms. Johnson knows a bit about that journey firsthand. Describing herself as a non-traditional student, she shares that “I was the first in my family to graduate from college at 34 years of age with two kids. I studied History at UC Berkeley while being a swim team mom and waiting tables on the weekends.” After successfully completing her degree, she embraced education as a career; but that didn’t mean she was settled. Ms. Johnson likes to keep moving on her path, and for her that means staying intellectually engaged in exciting growth opportunities. That love of learning led her to what she views as her biggest accomplishment. “I took a position as a Fulbright Scholar 10 years ago. I was teaching at Dougherty Valley High School and did an exchange with a teacher from France. She came here, and I taught for a year in Narbonne. We even did a house swap. My son completed his 8 th -grade year there. We just had our 10-year reunion in Brittany. It was an amazing experience!”
Ms. Johnson’s drive as an educator comes from this fearless desire for continual growth and life experiences. She is always moving forward on her path, looking for ways to stay fresh in her practice. Most recently, she served as an instructional coach in Mt. Diablo Unified School District, where she oversaw teachers in ELA, History, Social Science, and College & Career Readiness. In this role, she witnessed students falling through cracks. The instructional inconsistencies she observed sparked a desire to find a way to make an even bigger impact. Seeing a chance to evolve once more, she pursued a credential in administration. Now in her role as Assistant Principal, she is embracing the learning curve, saying “I’m looking forward to being supported and to developing as an administrator.” Most importantly, she loves her team. “Everyone is so supportive!” As she anticipates leaning into instruction and engagement, she is also looking forward to the support LPIE provides for professional development. Working with teachers to find out how LPIE can support them connects back to the love of innovation and collaboration that propels her forward.
This coming year presents a unique opportunity to deepen that desire for collaboration, reflect upon teaching practices, and evaluate the needs of students because it is a WASC year. WASC stands for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Every six years, schools throughout the region undergo a self-study as they prepare for accreditation. During that process, schools seek to demonstrate high-quality instruction and ongoing improvement. Ms. Johnson welcomes the opportunity to engage in this serious work. She is eagerly anticipating Learning Walks where peer observation can happen. When teachers observe other teachers demonstrating their best instructional methods, a profound opportunity arises to broaden and enhance everyone’s practice. Normalizing the idea of opening classrooms to collaboration is always beneficial to students. She is also looking forward to studying student sources of data like the Challenge Success Survey and the DONS Dialogues, so that she and the administrative team can make data-driven decisions that will help them reach all students, including the most vulnerable groups.
New challenges and WASC aside, Ms. Johnson, like many educators, is reflecting on the lessons taught by Covid: “Many things in education have been broken for a long time. Students across the country have unequal access to the best instruction. Covid pulled the curtain away and revealed the
discrepancies.” For Ms. Johnson, these revelations bring opportunities for transformation. “Covid showed educators we can do things differently!” Teachers needed to modify the way they did things, and some of those changes can be used to improve the delivery of instruction going forward. Everything from using online tools as platforms to delivering recorded lessons to trying reverse
classrooms can all enhance education, delivering a more equitable experience.
Looking ahead, Ms. Johnson eagerly anticipates getting to know the community and finding ways to reach all students. “Engagement is my main goal,” she says, as she discusses her desire to create excitement around learning. “I want to prepare everyone to be successful and I want to make sure that all students have a chance to attend a four-year university.” Remembering again that success takes on many forms, she emphasizes that “not everyone takes same path” citing fulfilling futures in the trades. Drawing once more from her own history, she shares that her dad is a great example of someone who took a non-traditional path which led to a lifetime of fulfillment. As a small business owner specializing in metal machining and fabrication of guitar picks and fenders, his craftsmanship is so impressive, he was honored by Mitchell Guitars. Her understanding of success as something unique to each individual has deep roots. As such, she is dedicated to career/technical education (CTE), a program that LPIE is proud to support.
For Ms. Johnson, being a new Assistant Principal in the Acalanes Unified School District keeps her moving forward on the path of innovation and growth. It brings not only the opportunity to collaborate with an incredible group of colleagues, but the chance to continue to evolve as an educator. Most importantly for Ms. Johnson, it means harnessing the resources of this community so she can guide all students towards a fulfilling future. One of the many gifts of the Acalanes Unified School District is the funding provided by the community through LPIE. This generous support makes the exceptional programs in our schools possible—programs that have the ability to develop the talents of each individual student. That kind of engagement goes to the heart of who she is and what she hopes all students can be—stewards of their own education. Her message to everyone as she takes on this role of guiding students onto their unique paths in life is simple, yet profound: “Be patient and enjoy the journey.”
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Grading for Equity (2018)
The Art of Coaching Teams Elena Aguilar