“Extraordinary” is the word that Bexley Schools Superintendent Mike Johnson likes best to describe the Bexley Education Foundation. “I think it was Linda Kass who started using the word,” he said. “Just that singular word gives a description of the relationship and the purpose of the foundation in the school district, and if you think about the history of what has been provided to the district, it is extraordinary.”
Johnson, who will retire in June from the position he has held in Bexley for 16 years, sat down with us recently to talk about his partnership with the BEF during his tenure.
Dr. Johnson said that he had heard about the BEF long before moving to Ohio to lead the Bexley schools, when he met former Bexley Superintendent Loren Thompson, who told him about the foundation that had been created during his tenure. “The foundation was very impressive to me,” he said.
When Johnson was hired in Bexley in 2001, the school district was already planning renovations and new construction, including a two-story addition to the Cassingham Complex that is now known as the Arts Wing. Concurrently, the BEF launched a $2.1 million Capital Campaign for the Performing Arts to transform the high school and Cassingham theaters into state-of-the art facilities and enhance the performance space at Maryland Elementary.
“The theater project set the tone for the extraordinary,” said Johnson. “I think it’s one of the best things we’ve done.” Continued support from BEF in the form of grants for wireless microphones, video equipment and more, he said, have helped keep the program current.
Johnson said he has valued the BEF both for its support of high-impact capital projects like the $250,000 Impact Grant in 2015 that supported the introduction of 224 mobile devices in in elementary classrooms throughout the disctrict and the 2012 installation of district-wide Wi-Fi, and for its support of smaller seed projects initiated by teachers that serve to test innovation in the classroom.
The $376,000 2008 Impact Grant that placed a SMART Board in every classroom, Johnson pointed out, followed a smaller grant that placed the devices in some Bexley Middle School classrooms in 2005. The project gave the administration a chance to see if the boards worked well, if they were helpful, and if they would hold up over a period of years before asking the Foundation to fund their installation across the District.
In the end, he said, the SMART Boards, quite uncommon at the time, especially in elementary classrooms, “made a significant difference. They provided a level of motivation for children and for teachers. I think it changed the way we taught. “
Smaller projects, too, that are funded with BEF grants, such as STEM carts or wiggle seats, get a look for possible broader implementation. “It’s another way the foundation is helpful to the district; it incentivizes new things. Being creative.”
Johnson and his wife Berta have personally supported BEF throughout their time here with gifts to the Annual Fund, the Thomas A. Boster, PhD Endowment Fund for Bexley Operation Respect, and sponsorship of BRAVO! He said he’s been impressed by the Foundation’s growth and development. He credits the vision of BEF’s founders, who departed from the norm by hiring a full-time director early on, as well as of leaders who joined later and helped the organization stay fresh and new.
Johnson is especially excited about the Foundation taking the Bexley High School Alumni Association under its umbrella last year. “I think having the alumni association will, over time, yield things that people haven’t expected yet. Unexpected positive things.”
At BEF, he said, “there’s strategic conversations that go on that I don’t think go on other places. Constant efforts to refresh and renew the board. It’s renewing itself all the time.”
Johnson is the same way. An avid pilot and cycler, he looks forward to spending more time outdoors after his retirement next spring. But he might also go back to teaching, this time at the college level. There’s always something new to learn and teach.
We at the BEF thank Dr. Johnson for his support and partnership, and wish him well in future endeavors.