By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – On her last day of school, when she addressed teachers and students for the final time, Brenda Johnson quoted a verse from Ecclesiastes.
There is a season for everything, the Rankin Elementary principal said as she announced her retirement May 28.
“I feel like it is time for me,” Johnson said earlier this week, sitting in her office at the school. “It is time for me to play with my grandchildren and to write that children’s book I’ve always wanted to write.”
Johnson’s retirement after 32 years in education officially begins July 1. Tupelo Superintendent Randy Shaver said the district is searching for her successor and already has received 22 applications.
Johnson leaves after spending 18 of the last 21 years in the Tupelo Public School District.
“I think she’s a fantastic leader, and I love her professional demeanor,” said Rankin Elementary teacher Traci Wardlaw, who has worked with Johnson for the last seven years.
Johnson’s resume is filled with awards: the National Presidential Award for Excellence in Elementary Science Teaching and a Milken National Educator Award.
She’s won three Mississippi Presidential Awards for Excellence in Elementary Science Teaching, been named Tupelo’s Teacher of the Year and been inducted into the Mississippi University for Women Hall of Master Teachers.
But some of her most noteworthy work came during the past year, her first as principal at Rankin Elementary School.
The district had just reorganized its schools and Johnson, who had been principal at Joyner for the previous six years, was moved to the newly constituted third- to fifth-grade school.
She was placed in charge of a faculty that had been cobbled together from several schools across the district and a student body whose geographic makeup was rearranged.
“She was able to handle the challenge of combining teachers from different schools and creating a cohesive faculty,” said Wardlaw, who taught at Joyner before moving to Ranking with Johnson.
“She took into account that different teachers came from different schools and taught different areas. She always stood behind us, and her educational expertise got us through this year. She is very professional but also very caring and kind and considerate in understanding it would take time for the change.”
Johnson grew up in Shannon and spent the first three years of her teaching career in the Lee County School District as a teacher at Plantersville Junior High.
She later returned to Lee County Schools and spent seven years at Shannon Elementary School.
She’s also taught in the Itawamba County School District and was an instructor of adult night literacy classes at Itawamba Community College.
“Her real strengths are her ability to communicate her vision to her staff and students and her desire for them to learn,” said Leona Ramey, school counselor at Rankin who was also a counselor at Joyner when Johnson was there. “I’m going to miss that.”
Johnson taught second-, third- and fourth-graders for 11 years at Rankin before becoming principal at East Corinth Elementary School for three years, beginning in 2000.
During her time in the classroom, she devised a science project in which students would design rooms inside a cardboard box. They then had to electrically wire the room so that they were able to turn on a light bulb.
“She sees skills in her students, teachers and staff and she allows them to use them to be successful,” said Rankin Assistant Principal Kimberly Foster.
Johnson said she missed being in the classroom after becoming principal. But she also has enjoyed working to provide teachers resources to help them improve their students.
She said the support of her husband, Stuart, and four children have made the years of hard work possible.
Now that she’s retired, Johnson said she wants to learn golf and travel with her husband.
She plans to do some consulting and to write a fiction book based on her experiences growing up in Shannon. She’s had the idea for years, but now she will have the time to write it.
She also plans to spend a lot of time with her 2-year-old grandson.
“See that face,” she said, pulling up a photo. “He is begging me to play with him.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.