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The power of a good principal

I met Dr. Sylvia Johnson several years ago when I was a doctoral student at the University of North Florida. I have been always highly impressed of her quality not only as an educational leader but more importantly her incredible human nature.

Dr. Johnson has worked for many years as a principal in our local public schools. Many lives have been touched by her, and I’m referring not only to her students, but teachers, parents and community members who had the privilege of being close to her.

After many years of helping our children achieve their highest potential, Dr. Johnson is retiring as the principal of West Riverside Elementary School, one of the hidden gems in our district.

I had the opportunity to visit her school a day before her retirement just to confirm the positive impact she has had in the lives of many in our community.

West Riverside is a small elementary school with less than 300 students that is innovating in many ways. Since 2014 West Riverside has the non-dedicated, PK-5 Dual Language Elementary School Magnet Program in which students receive half of their instruction in English and half in Spanish. This is one of the many innovative programs taking place on our local public schools.

I wanted to visit the school not only because they are the only school that offers first bilingual Voluntary Prekindergarten (which was created based on the results of my dissertation about early literacy practices among Hispanic families in Jacksonville) under the leadership of Christine Dahnke, Executive Director of ESOL department, but also I wanted to see the magic that Dr. Johnson brings wherever she goes.

The whole school was decorated by the children with many messages of love for Dr. Johnson. The halls were full of hugs and expressions of gratitude. Literally all students, parents, volunteers and teachers were celebrating her and thanking her for support during many years.

Dr. Johnson was very moved with so many expressions of love. Not only was she able, with the support of all teachers, parents, students and volunteers to improve their school grade to C, but I believe one of the most magical things she achieved was demonstrating that education is based on the human and personal relationships that adults can build to support children’s success.

Thank you Dr. Johnson for your generosity and your commitment to our city.