Before the pandemic, Bartram High Principal Brian Johnson, rewards students with tee-shirts designating their gaining the honor roll. Johnson, winner of a 2021 Lindback Distinguished Principal Award seems happiest when he can celebrate the achievements of his students.
2021 Distinguished Principal: Brian Johnson
By Ted Behr
Brian R. Johnson of John Bartram High School is one of seven Philadelphia school principals that were recognized by the Lindback Foundation for leadership and their humanitarian contributions to their schools for 2021.
“While this citation designates an individual, it’s a recognition of a partnership between Bartram’s partnership between students and teachers, administrators and the community that came together to overcome the tremendous challenges imposed by the pandemic this year,” he said to the Globe Times.
“It’s like the NBA,” he reflected. “While someone like Joel Embiid may win the MVP award, success is based on teamwork with the other guys on the floor, a strong bench, and committed coaching staff.”
“A lot of the credit goes to the teachers who had to adapt to the extraordinary conditions of virtual learning in order to sustain the educational gains made at Bartram during the past years,” he noted. “They had to jump into to the deep end and embrace this mode of teaching with no advance warning. They put together new plans and implemented them on the fly as they made the abrupt shift from traditional classroom instruction.”
He could not calculate the number of extra hours teachers spent in making these new teaching methods work for students with different learning capacities, technology skills, and home conditions. “In-person teaching had been going on for a thousand years and they had to change overnight!” he stressed.
“And we have to credit the school administration and those responsible for technology for their support for this difficult process,” he stressed. “At the outset, we estimated there were 160 students who didn’t have access to either the equipment or the wi-fi connection they needed.”
Most important was the hard work of parents and students as every home became a classroom.
“We have to recognize the collaboration of our alumnae and our community partners in dealing with this sea-change in education,” he noted. “It hasn’t been easy with all the other distractions in our society – violence and the trauma associated with poverty. In the end, again, we all have to work together to prepare our young people for productive lives and well-informed citizens of Southwest, our city, and the USA,” Johnson concluded.
Brian Johnson was raised in the town of La Mott just outside the city in Montgomery County and earned both his BA and MA degrees in Education at Penn State. He obtained his administrative certification from the University of Phoenix.
Brian began his education career in 1997 as a math teacher and basketball coach. He added experience as a department representative, assistant dean of students, and small school team leader before coming to Tilden Middle School in Southwest as principal in 2013.
Under his leadership, many of Tilden’s growth assessment (PVAAS) measurements changed from an unacceptable “red” to “blue” or “green” showing positive improvement. In the two years ending in 2018, the school improved its District Progress Overall score by 31 percent and its “Progress score by 60 percent. It also participated in the District’s School Redesign Initiative to transform instruction and school culture toward improving student learning, according to District data.
In 2019, he walked out the side door of Tilden Middle School and crossed the shared parking lot to become the principal of Bartram High.
He led his Professional Learning Community of principal colleagues (2014-2018), was a U.S. Department of Education Success Mentor Initiative Principal for the campaign to eliminate chronic absenteeism (2015 and 2016) and served on the School District of Philadelphia’s “My Brother’s Keeper” White House initiative to address absenteeism (2016).
The Lindback Distinguished Principal Award, funded by the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation of Philadelphia. The recognition is accompanied by a grant of $20,000 to further educational progress in the recipients’ school. Winners are cited for public service to schools and community; demonstrated compassion and kindness; commitment to developing people to high expectations; and ensuring conditions and incentives that support teaching.
“I value life-long learning and aim to make student learning experiences engaging and exciting,” Brian was quoted as saying for the District’s Lindback award announcement. “I am committed to integrating the community with student learning opportunities because I believe that students learn better with and through these opportunities. I love learning and seeing students, as well as staff, achieve, lead, and grow together.”