Wondering who REEP students are? Looking for fellow educational visionariesâthe ones who would never call themselves as such yet are undeniably special? Lucky for REEP, we get to work with these individuals every day; today, you get to know one, too.
Brian Johnson is an Assistant Principal at Kingwood High School in Humble ISD and he is currently enrolled in the REEP Business Certificate Program at Rice University. When I contacted Brian to schedule an interview within a narrow time frame, I learned that although he would be driving from South Carolina back to Texas over the next few days, he was happy to meet me the very morning he returned. This, I think, has got to be quintessential Brian Johnson. Thoughtful, committed, straightforward, no frills, results driven. Interview after hours upon hours of driving? No problem. I was overwhelmed by Brianâs kind willingness to meet.
A Long-Time Humble Connection
During his last year of elementary school, Brian and his family moved to Humble, and he graduated from the Humble ISD school district to attend Texas A&M University as a business major. Upon graduation, Brian shared, âI didnât really find anything that I enjoyed doing. I sure didnât want to put on a shirt and tie and go downtown to work every day. My mom was a teacher and she suggested trying subbing.â His motherâs advice in hand, Brian took a long-term substitute position in a third through fifth grade sheltered autism program and soon began pursuing his alternative teaching certification. The following school year, Brian taught 6th grade math, a role he retained for four years before starting as an Assistant Principal. Reflecting on his decision to pursue a career in education, Brian shared, âI love it. I love what I do now. I wouldnât trade it for anything in the world.â
Over the course of our discussion, we spoke about numerous topicsâcharter and public schools and their corresponding virtues and areas for improvementâand settled upon the concept of school culture. âI think the key to running a school is culture and relationships,â Brian confidently stated, âeverything else will follow after that. Itâs the foundation, in my opinion.â
Kingwood High School
Approximately 425 students count on Brian Johnson for support, but you can bet that around 2,700 students admire him. âI was always around kids, even in high school and college,â Brian shared, âduring summers in college I worked for a nonprofit company called YouthWorksâŚ so I was always around kids and youth growing up, and teaching was just a really natural thing.â
Nearly a lifelong resident of Humble, Brian believes strongly in the power of community and values his familyâs connection to it: âIâm the type of person that, yâknow, I put down roots. And I believe very strongly in living where you work, as a teacher and a principal. I wouldnât want to do it any other way. I craveâŚ that sense of community. I love going into a restaurant and one of my students is waiting on me and my family. Itâs important for me. You get to know them in different ways. To me itâs just part of the service of being a teacher or a principal. I think that should be part of the deal. I know some people who, when they leave work, they want nothing to do with workâbut I couldnât do it.â
Students arenât the only ones Brian seeks to support in his school-community network; his focus is also on teachers. Although it is apparent that as an AP Brian would have high expectations, he is a reflective leader who seeks opportunities to facilitate teacherâs growth rather than direct it himself: âI tryâŚ very hard not to micromanage. I decentralize the decision-making to try and give [teachers] space to create and develop and become leaders themselves.â
The Promise of Public Education
The majority of our visit revolved around exploring the nature of public education and identifying its implicit promise to students, parents, and communities. Below is one of our key interview questions.
AN: What is the promise of public education?âthat implicit, agree-upon understanding between a school and its student, or a school and its parents and community?
BJ: âThe amazing thing about public educationâŚis thereâs not too many places in the world anymore that open their doors to everyone. There are doors that are open and there are doors that are not. I think the great thing about public education isâŚ truly everyoneâs there. Everyoneâs coming. And [their education] is whatâs going to open doors that might otherwise not be open to them.
You have to meet kids where theyâre at. You have to figure out âwhere are you?â on so many levels, yâknow, and thatâs where I go back to loving what I do, because itâs about building relationships with each and every kid.
When you walk down the hall and just say hi to a kid, you have no idea where theyâre coming from. You have no idea what they dealt with at home the night before. So, I guess I think the unspoken promise between parents and the schools is: âIâm going to get to know your kid academically, Iâm going to get to know who they are, and where they are coming fromâwhat theyâre dealing with and going throughâand Iâm going to meet them where theyâre at and Iâm going to try and push them as hard as I can and get them to learn as much as I can in order to open up those doors later in life.â
It Never Turns Off
For Brian Johnson, each moment offers a chance to contribute or reflect, whether itâs to his broader community or his school. Even when heâs not physically on campus, Brianâs there in heart and mind: âIt never turns off.â