As District educators take Teacher Appreciation Week 2022 (May 2-6) to reflect on what has been a highly contentious academic year, officials at John Hayden Johnson Middle School in Southeast have their sights set on the future.
Toward the end of last month, Johnson Middle School met an important enrollment season benchmark when at least 60 percent of the student body committed to returning next fall.
Fulfilling this goal required staff members to engage families over several weeks and encourage them to seek guidance, if needed, when filling out applications. Now, within the next few weeks, officials will establish contact with potential new enrollees. They anticipate 25 percent of students participating in Johnson’s athletic programs.
“So many families appreciated the phone calls and support,” said Latisha Coleman, Johnson Middle School’s principal.
Coleman, formerly an assistant principal at Anacostia High School in Southeast, became principal at Johnson Middle School in the aftermath of Dwan Anthony Jordon’s transfer to D.C. Public Schools’ (DCPS) virtual instructional program last summer.
Jordon’s transfer culminated a staff-led campaign to oust the administrator criticized for ostracizing teachers and community members. Since entering her role, Coleman said she has done her best to foster an atmosphere of joy and collaboration among teachers and parents whom she described as some of the most active in the District.
In the aftermath of sixth-grade quarantines earlier this academic year, some parents questioned social distancing protocols and highlighted incomplete workspaces for sixth graders.
Months later, as she recounts her conversations with parents, Coleman said she continues to hear concerns about some of the same issues.
“They had a lot of COVID questions,” Coleman said. “People are really looking forward to what we’re going to offer and how it would be different coming out of having to wear masks.”
Launching the Connected Schools Model
Figures released in December showed that DCPS enrollment dropped for the second consecutive year, due in part to families choosing to homeschool and parents not enrolling their young ones in pre-kindergarten.
For some public school stalwarts, charter school encroachment has also been a deterrent. A survey conducted by Coalition for DC Public School and Communities in April found that most of the 15 candidates for public office who responded said strengthening neighborhood schools would ensure educational equity. In recent years, as new charter schools opened in eastern parts of the District, parents in Wards 7 and 8 continued to question the availability of quality public school options in their neighborhood, especially at the middle school level.
In response, Coleman said she’s focused on programming initiative and remains committed to establishing Johnson Middle School as a quality neighborhood place of learning.
Earlier this year, Coleman, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and other leaders commemorated the launch of the DCPS Connected Schools model at Johnson. As one of 11 Connected Schools in the public school system, Johnson Middle School would be better able to meet the academic, economic, socioemotional and psychological needs of students through partnerships with the DC Department of Behavioral Health, Black Nurses Association, DC Food Project, Martha’s Table, Black Swan Academy, Sasha Bruce and other entities.
“Through our Connected Schools program, we’re opening a food pantry, expanding laundry and mental health offerings, boosting our arts programming and giving our children access to drums [while] partnering with tutoring partners,” Coleman said.
In outlining her vision, Coleman said she wants Johnson Middle School to provide the STEM and arts instruction that students desire in an increasingly technological society. Johnson currently uses a blended learning model in which students, in small groups, use technology during activities that combine multiple academic disciplines.
Coleman has also mulled over the inclusion of a dedicated STEM instructor and science offerings to students, particularly those in the 6th and 7th grades. A few weeks ago, Johnson Middle School hosted its first STEM fair with more planned in the future, particularly in the form of community partnerships.
“My vision is for Johnson Middle School to be the STEM powerhouse in Southeast that embraces athletics and the arts,” Coleman said. “We want to nurture students’ genius, leadership skills and excellence.”
“Those are our core values and it’s what we strive to do every day,” she said. “When you think about Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Roosevelt High and combine them into one middle school, that’s who we are.”