Elevating excellence: Superintendent Johnson introduces 5-year strategic plan

Published 10:40 am Saturday, July 15, 2023

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RESERVE — Rebecca Johnson never intended to become superintendent of St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools. Yet, less than a year after taking on the Director of Federal Programs role in Central Office, Johnson found herself at the helm of a school district rebounding from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida.

Johnson became interim superintendent in May 2022 and was officially appointed to the position in December 2022. She hit the ground running by initiating a “Journey to Excellence” during the 2022-23 school year and plans to build upon the success by “Elevating Excellence Every Day” in 2023-24 with the guidance of a five-year strategic plan.

“God always places you where you need to be, and I felt like it was time for me to step up and take over a school system that I know the community wants to be successful,” Johnson said. “Last August, I brought it up to the School Board that I would like to engage in partnership with a vendor provided through the Louisiana Department of Education to develop a strategic plan for the district, which would include five years of initiatives and priorities to make sure we set attainable goals and become a higher performing district.”

The process started in September 2022 with diagnostics allowing community members, teachers, parents, administration and students to fill out surveys regarding their outlook and perspectives on the school system. Data assessments and classroom walkthroughs were also conducted.
Soon, three priorities were identified for school district growth:

  1. Exceptional student experience – cultivating a joyful, engaging and inclusive student culture.
  2. Excellent instruction- strengthening implementation of our high-quality curriculum.
  3. A thriving team – grow, recruit, hire, retain talented teachers and foster a positive staff culture through progress and accountability.

Each of the priorities has initiatives spread out over a five-year period. For an exceptional student experience, the first step is to diagnose current strengths and weaknesses. District leaders will then dive into providing training around student discipline and partner with school leaders, teachers, students, families and alumni to develop a shared vision for rigor, achievement and high-quality learning experiences. Student leadership programs will be designed and implemented, and work will be done to strengthen communication about students’ overall performance and well-being.

The second priority, excellent instruction, involves increased and refined professional development opportunities for principals, teachers and school staff. Central office leaders will align course offerings and schedules to fit student academic needs, with adjustments made to ensure targeted intervention in literacy and math.

To achieve the third priority, a thriving team, Central Office leaders will work toward developing mindsets of accountability and ownership over student academic outcomes. Leaders will design and implement a near-term plan to stabilize talent while ensuring teachers are evaluated rigorously.

While strategic plans are not required by state law, Johnson believes they are a crucial to the success of a school district.

“I believe every school district in the state should have a strategic plan because if you don’t have goals set, you’re just working without intention of a final product. I feel that some of the challenges we have faced in the past is because we didn’t set those goals on a yearly basis to make sure they were attained and to see the progress,” Johnson said. “The strategic plan is usually five years because you have to progress through the initiatives to achieve the goals. To see the fruits of your labor, it’s a three-to-five year change and transformation process.”

Before the strategic plan was in place, Johnson stepped into the superintendent position knowing she wanted to change the culture surrounding St. John the Baptist Parish Public schools, especially as it involved transparency, communication, and the perception of the community.

She was thankful that the 2022-23 school year was uninterrupted by natural disasters or COVID-19 concerns, providing a sense of stability needed to foster growth.

“I feel like we have been able to change the perspective. We’ve been more visible in the community with showcasing the great things that are happening in our school district. I anticipate growth in our school performance data. Even though it’s still not where it needs to be, we have increased our communication,” Johnson said.

She added that her first year as superintendent was “a joyful but challenging experience” that taught her a lot about the St. John the Baptist Parish community.

“This community was one of the hardest hit by Ida, but they never gave up, and they counted on the school system to make sure we did what was best for the children during those times,” she said. “You can see the pride of the residents here when they talk about their community. People want the school system to be successful because it is the backbone of this community. It produces lifelong learners and citizens, and they want what’s best for St. John.”