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Johnson oversees RUSD, teaches

Ups, downs of guiding Ripon Unified

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Johnson oversees RUSD, teaches

Ripon Unified School District Superintendent Louise Johnson.

JAMES BURNS/The Bulletin


POSTED February 8, 2013 12:34 a.m.

Louise Johnson will be the first to warn you. Her office is “cluttered.”

She settles behind two computer screens, which sit next to two water bottles. There are stacks of files and rows of binders and a cluster of what looks like blueprints. The space is adorned with a signed football and dream catcher.

Such is the life of the Ripon Unified School District superintendent, also an active instructor and mother of two.

While her schedule is water-tight and the demands on her stressful and abundant, Johnson’s focus is uncluttered:

It’s about the kids.

Johnson recently found time to “Talk Supe” with The Bulletin:

Q: With all the responsibilities of heading up a school district, remarkably, you haven’t left the classroom?

A: I coach the Academic Decathlon team at Ripon High School. A few years ago I laid off the teacher and told the kids that if they came to zero period, I would coach them. They do, so I do. If teenagers can be that committed to show up every morning at 6:50 to study and take tests, how can I not be committed to them? In the fall semester, I also had a chance to teach graduate students in school administration for Cal State Stanislaus on Thursday nights so my day started at 6:45 with my high school group and ended at 9:30 with my graduate students. I was totally energized at the end of the day. It is so exciting to meet such energetic young people who want to be our next generation of school administrators.

Q:  What has been your biggest challenge?

A:  The budget cuts of the past few years and having to give layoff notices to my wonderful young talented educators. I tried to do it with as much grace and compassion as I could muster. I would visit each of them privately at their school and tell them what was going to happen. I would sit with them and listen to their heartache. I would be as honest as I could, whether or not I thought I would be able to bring them back. … I have laid off and hired back some of the same people year after year and it is agonizing each and every time. In my opinion, the California education code timelines and requirements are completely inhumane because they force us to disrupt people’s lives every year months before we know what our budget really will be. It is unconscionable and I have made my feeling known emphatically to our policy makers in Sacramento.

Q:  You returned to college after having your second child. Was it difficult being a student and a mother?

A:  One of my proudest accomplishments is raising my two children to happy, healthy productive adulthood. My daughter teaches sixth grade in a middle school and my son is a software developer for mobile devices in the Bay Area. The hardest time was when they were teenagers and I was a single parent. I received my doctorate through one of the first online programs. Several of my friends were in a program in San Francisco which was every other weekend Friday night and Saturday. There is no way I was going to leave two teenagers alone to their own devices every other weekend. The online program worked for me because there was so much reading and writing.  Each course required multiple books and about 60 pages of writing so when it was time to do my dissertation it was easy because I was in the reading / writing mode.

Q:  What aspect of the Almond Blossom Festival do you look forward to the most?

A:  The queen contest.  I was speaking with the young women at the kickoff dinner. The skills they are learning will serve them well throughout their lives. …  And, I appreciate the Almond Blossom focus this year on Bethany Homes. Mom passed away a few months ago and my brother and I would like to bring our father out to California to be closer to us. I have been looking for a place for my dad and when I visited Bethany Homes, I thought, “Wow, I want to live here.”  In her queen speech, Anna Fassler quipped, “I can’t wait until I am 62.”  I agree.

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