Retiring Jordan superintendent to be remembered for coining ‘every child, every day’
Jun 18, 2019 03:35PM
By Julie Slama
Those around her say they’ll miss Jordan School District Superintendent Patrice Johnson’s enthusiasm and hugs. Here, she greets schoolchildren with a smile and a wave. (Photo courtesy of Jordan School District)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
When people hear of Jordan School District or Superintendent Patrice Johnson’s name, it’s likely the next thing they’ll think of is her motto, “every child, every day.”
“It depicts the journey we teach all our children,” she said. “All children are not all the same; they have their strengths and weaknesses, and we need to build upon them to empower and help them to grow.”
It’s something that most everyone — teachers, principals, PTAs, families — have embraced.
Now ready to step down on July 1 after eight years as the district’s first female superintendent, the atmosphere is a far cry from when Johnson arrived. She replaced Barry Newbold about two years after “the split” when the east side of Jordan School District, now Canyons School District, split off and left Jordan District with $400 less per student in annual funding.
“The culture was hard at the time,” Johnson said. “I needed to be out there every day, telling them how important they are as students and as employees. I’m fortunate the board was unified and that all I had to be was the leader with the voice who shared the same vision. We had a common purpose early on: to bridge, mend and unite. We needed to recognize their hard work and have that human interaction, which helped to lift them. We went back to focusing on learning, and that went along with the trust that we would provide the best education to students.”
Jordan Board of Education member Marilyn Richards said Johnson was a “breath of fresh air at a time when it was needed.”
“She was the one who has been our cheerleader — whether it’s for a bus driver or a student — always energetic, pulling for you, knowing who everyone is and at the same time, increasing the quality of learning and teaching in our district,” she said.
Her mantra of “every child, every day” and her enthusiasm has filtered to the 2,900 district teachers as recently as at the Jordan Education Foundation luncheon when she recognized a Welby teacher for ensuring that her kindergartner got the right tools he needed to be able to see to learn.
“The hearts that live and work in our district are all in the right place,” she said. “It’s the people here, who lift others up, whether it’s a painter, maintenance worker, cafeteria worker, teacher, board member. It’s those who make our district, and its those who I’ll miss.”
Jordan Board of Education Vice President Tracy Miller said the District may be a team, but every team needs a leader and that is what they have found in Johnson.
“She’s been fabulous, a real leader who has taken hard feelings and done so much to unite us and lift our morale,” Miller said. “She truly cares about the kids, teachers, staff and community. She is warm, caring and has a great heart.”
That’s true, according to Jordan Education Foundation Executive Director Steven Hall.
“The superintendent knows all the people, not just the faces,” he said. “She goes right up to them, hugs them and asks about things that are important to them. She interacts with people every day, calls them by name, and treats everyone as if they’re the most valuable person to her. It’s something she does 24-7. She never quits.”
District Administrator of High Schools Brad Sorensen agrees: “She is a hugger. She just makes you feel loved and that you’re the most important person.”
However, for some, it may be hard to believe that behind her caring, supportive smile and hug, there’s a powerful leader, said newly appointed Superintendent Anthony Godfrey, who served as associate superintendent under Johnson.
“She built a sense of community and lifted our morale so we could move forward,” he said. “She is always visible and connects with people — our board, district administrators, elected officials, students – she even has a monthly lunch with student body presidents. While she’s a positive role model, she is always focused on student education and makes sure that is in the forefront.”
Johnson recalled a time, as president of a California teachers’ union, when the teachers “weren’t getting the raise they thought was fair.” So, she led the union to picket outside the school board president’s office.
“It worked; we got the raise, and we’re still married,” she said with a laugh, adding that now she has learned to collaborate more than antagonize.
Her 46-year marriage to John has withstood her working in Utah, while the family remained in Las Vegas, where she worked 20 of her 27 years of education before coming to Utah. She will plan to spend time with her 17 grandchildren, eight of whom live in Las Vegas; the rest live within five hours away. She also plans to learn to play the bass hand on piano.
Johnson began her teaching in Kentucky after earning her degree at Brigham Young University. In California, she taught every grade from kindergarten through eighth grade. She also earned her master’s degree from Fresno Pacific University and her doctorate from University of Southern California and went from being a school administrator at the largest school in Nevada to assuming the duties of associate superintendent of the district.
“I never would want to relive that first year of teaching, but I learned so much,” she said. “I know each community advocates for their children and wants the very best for them. Our parents, our cities, our communities work together to bring the best education for our children so they can be successful citizens.”
Even though Johnson hasn’t taught for a while, the classroom remains at her roots.
“What has been very dear to my heart is Jordan Education Foundation awarding the outstanding educators in every school,” Johnson said. “It’s amazing to see how humble they are about their life’s work and to see the joy in the students’ eyes when they see their teacher receives the outstanding educator award. They’re in the classroom with them every day, and they know their teacher is a rock star, standing right there in front of them.”
Johnson also appreciates how hard they work.
“I wish people knew that it’s not a one day per week job, but it’s a lifelong process to get the right information into these young minds,” she said.
While board member Janice Voorhies calls Johnson, with her 43 years in the field an “education expert,” it may be her legacy of supporting every person — not just child — every day that will live on and was celebrated at her May 22 retirement party.
She also was honored to have a Jordan Education Foundation scholarship named after her that will be awarded in her honor annually to student who exemplifies her motto as well as who leads and inspires others.
While Jordan District has tremendous growth in both population of students — now at 55,000 students — and increasing from 57 schools to 62 this fall, Johnson said Jordan has risen to be the flagship. And even on the announcement of her successor, Anthony Godfrey, she wasn’t melancholy.
“I’m not sad at all; this is a celebration,” she said. “I’m excited for Dr. Godrey and what we’ve accomplished as a team, how we are united, on the same page, what we have built and have. It’s been fabulous journey, and I am grateful to work with professionals in the school district and community. Jordan District is in my heart, and it’s in the heart of the community, who value education and love young people.”