Shirley Johnson, Seeley Elementary's new principal, greets students each morning with a contagious smile, certain to help start a day off in the right direction.
By Beth Hutchinson
For the Pathfinder
November 12, 1998
Do you remember that record breaking NY Times bestseller, All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Surely there must have been a lot woven through it about the importance of not losing your energy and enthusiasm for life. That sort of upbeat vitality marks both the person and message of Seeley Lake's new elementary principal Shirley Johnson.
A Butte native and twenty year primary teaching veteran, Johnson exudes a love of life, challenge and opportunity. She delivers that sense of abundancy to students, teachers and community alike and anticipates not only a compatible response, but also a shared commitment to get-up-and-go.
For Johnson, assuming the parttime principalship at Seeley Lake Elementary School meant taking a leave of absence from her kindergarten teaching position in Missoula, adjusting to a reduction in income and commuting over a hundred miles a minimum of three days a week. Added to those hurdles is her awareness that the school board will be reviewing the administrative structure this month to decide whether the position itself will be continued.
Knowing those things, but choosing to focus on the positive opportunities of having her first independent administrative assignment and of bringing her coherent visions of thriving education to a special setting, Shirley Johnson is not deterred.
A self-described risk-taker, Johnson is accustomed to "speaking out if something needs to be done and with getting things addressed." Beginning with her service as a Head Start board member before heading to college, Johnson moved on to obtain her college degree while caring for two sons. She then balanced family needs while teaching, continuing her education, and, at one point, helping with the program design and implementation for the new Edgerton School in Kalispell.
Johnson is clearly in a position to provide both empathy and support for the staff at SLE. She remembers well the challenge of dealing on her own with classes of 25-26 in kindergarten and not enough chairs on the first day of school. Characterizing herself as a "natural teacher", Johnson learned rapidly how to manage resources and prioritize needs.
These skills lend themselves handily to the situations she encounters in managing the elementary school. Aware of the stress arising from the death of a teacher, a drawn-out building program and calls for budgetary conservation, Johnson decided that her biggest challenge and key priority would be to reinvigorate the system's spirit and morale.
Under Johnson's leadership noticeable moves have been made among the students and long-term staff to make use of the stimulation resulting from the arrival of several new educators in the system this year. Children and staff members have allowed their interests to surface and to become more public. People having positive ideas for improving the school receive the full commitment of their principal to help them reach their goals.
Johnson's responsibilities as principal include overseeing staff development, teacher evaluation, curriculum implementation and computer coordination. She monitors the Title 1 and Focus (G/T) programs and serves as a S.A.T. (student assistance team) member.
Johnson is also committed to encouraging community interest and involvement in the educational program and hopes that a "feeling of welcome" is passed along to all who need or wish to interact at the school. She, herself, appreciated the welcome she enjoyedwhen invited to a gathering by the Forest Service Ladies and Wives early in the school year.
One thing Shirley Johnson realizes is that it won't pay to entangle herself with is all work and no play. In the time Johnson carves out for her personal life, she runs a basket business which she hopes will carry over into a retirement activity. She enjoys Griz games, performances at the Performing Arts Center and Missoula Children's Theater and travel. Times of quiet and solitude at a cabin on Flathead Lake are also appreciated.
Johnson shares many of these activities with her husband, a school psychologist. She also looks forward to adventures with her two grown sons Eric and Shawn and stepchidren Nathaniel and Katherine when they can arrange time together. And then there's puppy Obie, and we all know what that's about.
Principal Shirley Johnson knows that energy begets energy and that enthusiasm begets enthusiasm.
She wants to share the best of both with Seeley Lake.