Q&A: New Woodland Hills Assistant Superintendent
Alan Johnson was hired this summer to take on some of the district's issues and help fulfill the school board's vision.
Newly hired by the Woodland Hills School District, Assistant Superintendent Alan Johnson was born and raised in Johnstown, beginning his career as a police officer in Cambria County where he worked for 10 years. When he realized he had a passion for working with young people as a narcotics information officer, he decided to go to college for secondary education.
Johnson has experience in urban school districts in the Philadelphia area and had been appointed to a position in the past in which he facilitated a grant to turn around a high school that had been struggling for years. Johnson shared some of his goals and experiences recently, as he officially started his new post in July.
Johnson has degrees in chemistry and secondary education from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and later received a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Gannon University in Erie. He is commuting from Johnstown and plans to move closer to the district in the next few months.
What are your goals in this new position?
My mission is to really understand and support the vision of the superintendent and the board of directors here at the school district and try to do what I can to make sure that is fulfilled. They have a very clear vision for what they want the district to be here, and as a result of the superintendent’s work and the board’s input, we have a strong board with awesome ideas. That’s not something you see in every school district. I see my job really as making their vision come to fruition.
We want to see strong, core academics, we want to reach our AYP and we want to be able to offer a real robust program of diverse studies for students at the high school level so that when students leave Woodland Hills, not only have they got those core literacy and numbers strengths, but they also have the experience of lots of other educational opportunities. That includes dual enrollment programs.
First impressions of the district?
We have all of the pieces that we need to have. What we need now is for all of those pieces to articulate and make them all work together. I think that is what we need to work on and that is something I can help them do.
How can that vision be reached under new budget pressures?
I think the vision is, at the elementary level, we want to offer a coordinated curriculum - what we are doing at Fairless is what we are doing at Shaffer, to make sure we are all doing the same thing and doing it well, so that when we have students coming out of the elementary level, they are highly literate, have good number skills, can speak and articulate well and are ready for the rigors of the secondary education system. That’s one piece of the board’s vision. Then, you need to continue those core academic strengths in reading math and so forth, so you have a solid foundation and then add onto it from there.
How that works when you have a highly constrained budget situation like we do right now, and we are not the only ones, is really not that hard. So much research has been done in the past 10 years on education. Today, we know everything we need to know to make sure a student is successful. We know what has to happen and we understand the importance of a reading-centered curriculum and the importance of collaborative planning time for teachers and the importance of using research-based strategies. We know these things and that doesn’t cost money.
Our job is to look at what we are doing at each level of the system here and say, 'How can we bring these best practices and research, how can we bring this reading centered curriculum and a good model for staff development and put it in place?' The good news is, none of that stuff costs more than what we spend right now. It’s a matter of taking the resources that you have and deploying them differently - thinking outside of the box.
What will your daily job require?
It’s critical for me to be in the schools as much as possible. In an area when you don’t have a lot of resources, it really comes down to your curriculum and your instructional practice. I am a big believer that one of the answers to our problems is having the best instructional practices in place that you can. I am not going to know what those practices are unless I am in the building to see them myself. Once I have been able to see the curriculum in action, then I see my job as putting the principals together as a team. We have to be an administrative team and identify our weaknesses, strengths and how we can build on those strengths.