By: Kit Faiella, Policy Fellow
Earlier this month, SBOE At-Large member Ashley Carter, Ward 8 member Markus Batchelor, and staff had the opportunity to visit John Hayden Johnson Middle School in Ward 8. We met with Principal Courtney Taylor, who has been leading the school for three years. She explained that Johnson is a “textbook” scenario of a school that serves majority disadvantaged households: currently 10% of the students are reading on level, and 5% of the students are on-level for mathematics. Her vision is to make all 270 students, or “scholars” as they are known at Johnson, academically ready for high school with the goal of exposing scholars to the unexposed – enabling them to explore a potential college or career choice at least once a month.
Johnson also has challenges with its facility as well. While the first floor underwent a beautiful renovation, the fourth floor is still unusable: broken doors, missing ceiling tiles, and broken lockers pepper its hallway. A lack of usable space is exerting pressure on Johnson as the number of scholars continues to grow. The school receives about five students per week, mainly from charter schools. The lack of an additional renovation on existing facilities also limits potential partnerships, which could be a source of funding to help the school better serve its scholars.
While Johnson is a story of challenges, it also a story of positive growth. The school is clearly on an upward trajectory. Every scholar receives special courses in art, music, PE, engineering or computer science, and they join clubs such as the college-career club to start thinking about future plans. Each scholar also receives a laptop to devote to his/her academics. Additionally, the main hallway entrance is decorated with numerous athletic triumphs – a mark of success on the field and on the court. Principal Taylor encourages many parents to come visit Johnson and see the numerous changes that have occured over the years to increase opportunities and academics for scholars.
Johnson is unique in that the school operates on an extended year: classes during this school year began on August 14th, 2017 and will last until Friday, July 13th, 2018, enabling more time for students to spend in the classroom. It is a unique structure within DC Public Schools, as not many other schools operate under this schedule. This can present a challenge as students from other schools are let out for the summer. Scholars within Johnson are required to stay in class, making it challenging for Johnson to retain students during this time.
Overall, the SBOE team enjoyed learning about all of the great things happening at JMS and the work left to be done. Thank you to Principal Taylor, student ambassadors, and the team at JMS for providing such an informative and interactive time during the tour.