Perhaps School District of Beloit Superintendent Dr. Thomas Johnson has so much respect from staff and students because he once walked in their shoes.
He still fondly recalls sitting in Mrs. Linda Schelman’s first grade classroom at Morgan Elementary School in a math and reading intervention. She told him he could do anything if he focused and gave it a try, something which propelled him to succeed.
He also remembers the day he learned BMHS Principal Jim Fitzpatrick was leaving.
“ I couldn’t get a single word out other than ‘thank you’ amidst a lot of tears. He has been an inspiration to me throughout my life and continues to this day,” Johnson said.
Johnson was officially hired to lead the district on May 6. He most recently was working as interim co-superintendent with retired administrator Pam Kiefert. Former Superintendent Steve McNeal announced his retirement in December and left the district Jan. 30.
Johnson had held other positions in the district, including principal at Hackett Elementary School and Beloit Memorial High School and assistant superintendent of operations.
Johnson is never shy about his Beloit roots.
“I love Beloit’s diversity. I love the small town feel and yet it is a thriving city in so many ways. Beloit has so much to offer as a city and I especially love the ability to bring people into our schools who have misperceptions only to walk out with a completely different, and positive picture of our schools and city. We have our problems in Beloit, but we don’t bury our heads in the sand. We confront them and aim for improvement at every corner,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he hopes to bring a measured approach, transparency, good relationships in the community. He said he has a student-centered focus to academic and school improvement, a listening and responsive ear and a commitment to make the district and community stronger.
Johnson is taking the helm as the district wraps up the referendum projects. Currently he is busy planning for staffing and enrollment for the fall, preparing for renovations at Aldrich this summer, conducting internal audits of alternative programming in the district, planning for the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards and working on hiring the best staff possible.
His next priority will be creating a master facilities plan, evaluating the district’s strategic plan and doubling down on early literacy efforts.
“We have been faced with so many distractions in education in recent years that it’s time to get back to playing school and minimize all the fringe things that keep us from doing that. Make school rigorous, but fun. Make school relevant and engaging,” he said.
Johnson found himself engaged in the community at a young age. Always independent and hardworking, Johnson began volunteering at Beloit Memorial Hospital in the “Volunteen” program at age 12. After he obtained a work permit at age 13 he worked at Mercy Hospital in Janesville in radiology — developing X-ray films, transporting patients and working in the file room before working in the emergency department as a unit clerk.
At age 20 he enrolled in an EMT program at Madison Area Technical College (MATC). He continued working at Mercy as well as McFarland EMS during his undergraduate years.
As a sophomore at UW-Madison a friend told him how her parents were quitting their jobs to teach in the inner city of Milwaukee.
“They wanted a change and wanted to do very fulfilling work. So inspired by their bold career decisions, I knew at that moment that I wanted to teach and serve inner city schools, which I did, in Milwaukee following my graduation,” Johnson said.
He first worked as a science teacher at Brown Street Academy in Milwaukee.
Johnson attended UW-Madison in 1998-2002, receiving a bachelor of arts in behavioral science and law and bachelor of arts in sociology; MATC in 2000 to become a emergency medical technician; and attended the Milwaukee Teacher Education Center (MTEC)/UW-Milwaukee Teacher certification program in 2002-2003. He obtained a master’s of science in curriculum and instruction in 2004 and a master’s of science in administrative leadership 2005 from UW-Milwaukee.
He graduated from Edgewood College with a doctorate of education in 2011.
In 2005-2006 Johnson served as interim assistant principal at an elementary school for a semester maternity leave (Siefert School) and a middle school for a semester as an interim assistant principal at Grand Avenue Middle School.
In 2006-2007 he served as a member of the NEA Focus Schools team while working in some of Milwaukee Public Schools’ most struggling schools as a curriculum administrator. He was accepted into the New Leaders for Schools program in 2007 and was about to embark on a principalship in Milwaukee when he saw the posting for assistant principal at BMHS.