Interim principal plans to lead with enthusiasm

By Nadia Sanburn, Co-Online Editor

Cynthia Johnson, Lawrence High School’s interim principal, met with faculty and community members on May 16. Johnson also sat down with The Budget for an interview.

Johnson, whose official first day is July 1, is bringing new concepts to LHS.

“Well first of all, I want to build upon the successes that are already here, and one of the visions I’m bringing to the table is to ensure that students are fully equipped,” she said. “Now, I know that’s terminology that people may not be used to, but fully equipped, for me, means that students are not only receiving the academic resources that they need to be successful, but they are also receiving those social and emotional leadership type skills that they need to be successful in today’s society.”

Johnson plans to lead with effective communication.

“Communication is key,” she said. “First of all, communicating with students, I’m going to meet with students weekly. Different groups of students, so you always know what’s going on. Being where they are, whether it’s competitions, or whether it’s different events, different clubs, but getting to know, what is the lifeline of the school. Making sure that for communication with staff, making sure that you are completely transparent. Because when you are transparent, even with something it may be difficult to understand or grasp, but when you’ve laid it out on the table, and you are transparent about that conversation, it’s easier to swallow.”

One of the most important things for Johnson is connecting with students.

“I will be where they are,” she said. “I will be out and about. The students are my lifeline. That’s why I received the nickname, well over 30 years ago, ‘Mama J.’ I didn’t give myself that name. But students gave me that name, because they said, ‘You take such good care of us. You’re like our mama, so we’re going to call you Mama J.’ “

That’s why Johnson began visiting events and classes in the building last week.

“I said, ‘I want to start talking to students,’ I said, ‘Before they leave, I want them to see my face. I want to see their faces,’ ” she said.

Johnson wants to hear from students about what needs to be improved at LHS.

“I want to come in and be able to see what they already have in place,” she said. “I’ve just sat down and started saying that I want to talk with students, because I want to know what students need. What do you need to be successful at this school, and what do you need to be successful in your future plans? I’m not going to guess what that is. I’m going to listen to what you have to say.”

Past experiences working in schools have prepared Johnson for this position, she said.

“My past experiences in schools has set me up for success because I know what it means to be a principal,” she said. “I know what it takes, what it takes to successfully lead, and leading is not a one-person job, it’s about working collaboratively, bringing in a vision to the table, also making sure that people are buying into that vision, and what they have to bring to the table. That’s very important to me.”  

Johnson has experience working in schools with the same situation as LHS.

“This actually will be the fourth school that I’ve been a part of in the midst of a construction process,” she said. “So, there is a lot of give and take during that time, there will be parts of the building that will be closed down or blocked off. It takes a lot, but it is very doable. You have to keep the end vision in mind, and that gives you a little bit of extra strength to make it through.”

She has also worked as an educational consultant.

“My role as an educational consultant is going on 27 years, and I started off as an educational consultant, started working with students, and as part of the RILA, the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, and that’s how I started becoming a speaker,” she said. “My consulting, I’ve worked in 40-plus states, working with elementary, middle, high school communities, parents, whatever needs a particular school district needed. I would come in and do it. My particular areas are reaching and teaching today’s youth, effectively educating children of poverty, ensuring that you are engaging with diverse student population, but, my research area is all school connectedness. School connectedness focuses on building relationships and the power of building relationships to transform schools, and to transform schools into villages of hope.”

Johnson has recently started becoming active in the LHS community, in preparation to take her place as the principal.

“I love it here,” she said. “I came two weeks ago, and I got a chance to walk around the building, had a chance to participate in part of the special ed triathlon that was absolutely phenomenal. I got a chance to just briefly talk with some students and faculty members. I love the heartbeat that I saw and felt here.”