For Patti Johnson, taking the reins as principal of Ashville High School isn’t just transitioning to a new job. As an AHS alumna, it feels more like a homecoming.
Johnson, the former Ashville Elementary School principal, was hired Thursday to take over for former principal Dr. Jason Baker, who departed for the principal position at Leeds Middle School.
“It is a little overwhelming because I haven’t been at a high school, but, of course, this is my alma mater, so I have great memories here. I cheered here, I was in the band before that,” Johnson said. “My son just graduated in 2010, and my daughter will be a ninth-grader this year, so I just have a lot of strong connections here. I’m excited. It’s home.”
Johnson has been a mainstay in Ashville schools for more than 20 years.
She began teaching at Ashville Middle School in 1990, where she taught special education for a year before transitioning into teaching fifth-grade for another eight years.
During that time, a conversation with current Board of Education member and former Ashville Middle School principal Marie Manning encouraged her to pursue licensure in school administration.
“We were having a conversation one summer about the fact that there weren’t many people in administration, that the county was having to look outside to get administrators, and she said, ‘Why don’t you go back and do that?’” Johnson said.
While she was hesitant at first with a new baby in tow, she eventually decided to return to Jacksonville State University to complete the course load.
“She convinced me that’s what I would love to do, and it is. I’ve really enjoyed it,” Johnson said.
After receiving her master’s and education specialist degrees in school administration, she took her first administrative job as assistant principal at Moody Middle School in 1990. By 2000, she moved up to principal at Ashville Elementary School, where she continued to work until accepting the AHS principal position.
While the idea of serving as a high school administrator is a bit daunting, Johnson said her familiarity with the students will be a great help as she transitions to her new role.
“All of the students here came through the elementary school while I’ve been there, except those that have moved in or transitioned over here from Steele, so I know almost all of the students, so that’s not hard. And of course my daughter’s group is in ninth grade, so I know all of them, and I know all of the parents. That part will be easy,” Johnson said. “The hard part is just getting everything together before Monday [the first day of school.]”
Johnson said her elementary background has given her more of a hands-on approach than other administrators may have, and she intends to use that to the school’s advantage in helping to increase test scores and the school’s graduation rate. Johnson noted that the former administration and faculty were working hard on making Adequate Yearly Progress, as required by the No Child Left Behind act, and the high school succeeded at making AYP this year.
“At the elementary school, I signed every report card, every progress report, and I knew what they all said. So, I’m going to kind of take on that same role here, trying to know more about the kids,” Johnson said. “Right now, I’m just looking forward to adjusting, making a few changes and trying to increase school spirit. I think I’ll have a good time.”