Life has changed quite a bit for William Johnson. Within the last month, the principal of got engaged and announced his resignation from the school to relocate closer to his home in New Haven.
Although his tenure as principal was only two years, Johnson feels he’s moved Stark in the right direction in terms of student achievement, applied best practices throughout the school and is confident in its new leader to continue his legacy.
Johnson came to Stamford after spending five years as an administrator in the New Haven charter school Amistad Academy.
“Stark School is what brought me [to Stamford], to be honest," Johnson, who replaced Mary Savage after her 16-year tenure at Stark, told Patch. "My personal goal was figuring out what best practices can turn around public schools. There was a transition for everyone, myself included, during my first year, but Stark seemed like a wonderful community and I found that to be true once I got here.”
Johnson had a full plate from the get-go upon his arrival. Stark — like many urban schools in Stamford, the state, and across the country — was struggling to meet national standards under the No Child Left Behind Act. A CNN report by Allan Chernoff released in early May documented Stark as one school that is considered failing under national guidelines.
“I have absolutely no issues with accountability, but what I do have a problem with not looking at the whole picture,” Johnson said, responding to the CNN video.
According to Johnson, the school is making gains, but they are not recognized by national standards. For instance, a third grade student may enter the school knowing no English, but may be speaking and reading English by the end of the year. That is a huge accomplishment, Johnson said, but if they did not meet their goals on the Connecticut Mastery Test, that accomplishment is not recognized. He added that Stark is a transient school in that some students only attend seasonally when jobs are available here for their parents.
“These are not excuses, but this does create huge learning gaps and you find regression," Johnson said. "These are difficult obstacles that make the situation more complex. We’ve seen improvements, however, and reorganized our staff and team to meet the current needs of the students.”
Last week, the unanimously Mark Bonasera, vice principal of West Rocks Middle School in Norwalk, as Johnson’s successor as principal. Although he has not yet met Bonasera, Johnson looks forward to their meeting.
“I have faith in the Interview Committee that they made a great choice and I’m looking forward to answering any questions he has for me,” he said.
“I’m very excited about Mark coming in," Board Vice President Jerry Pia, said at the May 24 Board of Education meeting. "Stark is a great community and the people are excited. I was upset when I learned Johnson was leaving, but talking to Mark made me very happy.”
Johnson, who's contract expires on June 30, hasn't officially announced his next job in New Haven County, but is looking forward to being closer with his new fiancée and starting their family.
“Quality of life is important to me,” said Johnson. “I’m very dedicated to education and this does not mean that I want to work any fewer hours, but my family is extremely important to me. I want to find that balance.”