Building Relationships At The Core of Johnson
East Middle’s Johnson set to retire in June
Looking back on the past 33 years of working in public education, the last 27 of which have come inside the Jackson County School System, one thing will stand out to East Jackson Middle School principal Kim Johnson over all the rest when she retires this summer.
It isn’t the math tests she administered, or the chaotic mornings of school closures due to weather, but rather the relationships she built among her students and colleagues that she will hold closest to her as she steps into the next chapter in her life.
“I hope people remember that, when I was a teacher, I put kids first,” Johnson said. “When I was an assistant principal and principal, I put kids and teachers first. It is the people who matter.”
Johnson coached basketball and track for five years. She also coached volleyball for a year, out of necessity for the school system and students. Johnson jokingly admits “they needed a warm body” for the volleyball coaching position.
But in reality, the decision to coach, despite little knowledge of competitive volleyball, is at the core of who Johnson is as a person. She stepped up when the students needed her the most, in order for them to have a season of athletics.
“Coach Jimmy Williams said, ‘I need you to coach. If you don’t, I won’t have a (junior varsity) team.’ So I got on the bus with him and traveled with the JV team,” Johnson said. “Kids shouldn’t suffer because we can’t get an adult to participate in things.”
Johnson admits that as the school calendar dwindles away and summer vacation quickly approaches for students and educators, she doesn’t have the time to fully reflect on her upcoming retirement. She is too busy focusing on the students and finishing the year as strong as possible.
“I am not trying to avoid it, but we are just so busy right now. You look up and three weeks have past and you’re like ‘oh my gosh, we have only five more Mondays with kids,’” Johnson said. “It is going by fast.”
While Johnson says she is looking forward to taking time away during her upcoming retirement, and the opportunity to spend more time with her adult children, working in her yard and exploring other opportunities of involvement within the community, she says the thought of retirement is still something that doesn’t quite seem real.
“It blows my mind,” Johnson said. “This is year 33. It feels just like yesterday I was starting here, teaching and coaching.”
Among the different avenues Johnson will be looking into for retirement is volunteering with local organizations. Johnson admits that her husband, North Jackson Elementary principal Troy Johnson, is trying to talk her into volunteering at the elementary school in the near future.
“He keeps hinting at it, but I don’t know, I have always been in the middle schools. Those little ones scare me,” Johnson said, laughing. “I might step away from school a little bit. I want to work with Habitat for Humanity and iServe ministries, something different.”
Johnson spent the majority of her career on the west-side of Jackson County. She served as a teacher at West Jackson Middle School and then as an assistant principal for seven years. It was not until Johnson was named a school principal that she experienced the east-side of the county. That came in 2017 when she was named the principal at EJMS.
“There were parts of it that were difficult because I was at West Jackson Middle for such a long time. But because of the fact that my husband and I have both been in the county; at one point he was on the east side and I was on the west side, it was still just Jackson County to us,” Johnson said. “I have always worked with people and collaborated with colleagues on both sides of the county, when I was a teacher and assistant principal.
“But between going to Georgia and being a Panther, all I had was red and black (clothes). Everything was red and black until I got over here.”
Jackson County is a place Johnson and her husband hold dear to their heart. They knew it would be a special place when they decided to move here to raise their two daughters.
“When Troy and I moved up here to Jackson County, we wanted to be able to work and send our kids to the same place. That was important to us,” Johnson said. “Both of our kids graduated from Jackson County and we are very proud of the fact that we have worked here and our kids went to school here.
“We have always known it was a great school system and a great place to live and work. Even as it continues to grow, continues to improve, the system has evolved. It hasn’t stayed a static entity.”
Now as she prepares for retirement, Johnson said her advice for new educators is simple. It goes back to the root of who she is as a person.
“I would definitely tell them that the most important thing they can do is build relationships with kids, build relationships with colleagues,” Johnson said.”That is where you are going to make the difference, in those relationships. And in those relationships, that will define how far you will go in a teaching or coaching position.
“Kids don’t care about what you know until they know you care. That is the truth.”
Despite admitting she hasn’t had a lot of time to reflect on her career, Johnson did say one of her core memories from education is watching her students excel and hearing from past students who come back to visit.
“I remember one year when every one of our — mine and my co-teacher I was working with — every one of our kids passed what was then the CRCT. I remember going through and looking at all those kids and that was a special moment,” Johnson said.
“I won’t forget winning the middle school basketball championships. I won a few of those. I won’t forget the kids coming back a couple of years later and saying ‘hey, I really enjoyed that class’ or saying ‘you were right, Mrs. Johnson. You told me not to worry about this or that.’ Those types of things are more precious to me than anything else.”
Johnson’s retirement will begin this summer, but the relationships she has built will ultimately carry her a lifetime.