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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Johnson Takes Reins at Laveen Elementary

When Bill Johnson was asked to apply for the job of associate superintendent of business and operation for the Laveen Elementary School District, he and his wife Ravae did some investigating.


Pretending to be a couple interested in relocating to the area, the Johnsons visited several of the Laveen schools as “secret shoppers.” They toured facilities, met staff and saw kids playing at recess. Said Johnson: “it was a very positive experience.”


Laveen seemed like a place he wanted to work. An education administrator with then 12 years of experience, he was eager to serve in a business role, drawing on his undergraduate degree in construction from the engineering college at Arizona State University to help the district build new schools.


Johnson was hired in 2005. In April, he became the Laveen district’s interim superintendent, and in July his appointment was made permanent.


Johnson said the Laveen area has “that same feel we used to enjoy in Tempe” before it grew bigger. School districts, he added, “play a foundational role in establishing the climate and culture of a community.”


Anita Carlos, the district’s finance manager, described Johnson as “the best boss I’ve ever had.


“I always rave about him to everybody—and I’m not overplaying this: this is what I tell people all the time,” Carlos added.


Indeed, colleagues describe Johnson as extremely bright and an exceptional fiscal manager, someone who appreciates others, gives praise for work well done, and offers individuals the space to do their job.


“He is very fair,” added Trailside Point Elementary School Principal Sarah Zembruski. “He’s very level-headed and won’t react quickly to anything.


“He’s definitely a man of his word,” Zembruski said. “Integrity is key.”


Raised in Tempe, Johnson thought he might one day become a painter. As a child, his mother decided her son had artistic potential and signed him up for private watercolor and oil painting lessons.


At first he was hesitant; he said he didn’t think painting was for boys. But his mother insisted, so he went—and ultimately fell in love with it. Part of the allure was getting to be as messy as he wanted in his teacher’s porch-turned-studio, splashing paint on the concrete floor. And, he added, she “cared about me. I could tell.”


Johnson almost pursued a career in art but ultimately decided on a profession that would more easily provide for a family. Today, the 55-year-old father of four also has eight grandchildren.


Johnson strives to care for young people the way his art teacher demonstrated care for her students. Growing up he was a swim coach and volunteer with the Special Olympics, and as an adult he has been engaged with the Boy Scouts of America as a troop leader and in other roles: “I’ve always served youth—I’ve always found a lot of joy, a lot of pleasure in that.”


It still is unusual in the education sector for a leader to rise to the top without paying dues in the classroom. Johnson was working in construction as a project engineer and manager when he was first approached to work for the Alhambra School District in Phoenix. He had found his professional calling. From there he pursued his master’s and doctorate in educational supervision from ASU.


“Because I enjoyed it so much I went back to school,” he said. “I found I absolutely loved it.”




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