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Top School Official Retiring

by ARLnow.com July 21, 2011 at 10:44 am 4,368 45 Comments

Mark Johnston, Arlington Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, is retiring.

During his seven years in the position, Johnston has overseen an increase in test scores and a decrease in the achievement gap between white and minority students. He also worked to create the school system’s career advancement program for teachers, which rewarded high-quality teaching.

Johnston will officially retire on Sept. 1. No successor has been chosen, and a national search process is being planned.

In addition to Johnston, the school system is seeking a replacement for Mary Beth Chambers, who is retiring in September as the Assistant Superintendent of Finance.

Photo via AGI

  • BerryBerryCold

    “and a decrease in the achievement gap between white and minority students. ”

    Was this by lowering white students’ scores or raising minority student’s scores?

  • Henry

    That is an immensely creepy picture. Good job by him though, if those achievements were attributable to his work!

    • Eric LeKuch

      yep, creeeeeepy!

  • KGM

    Umm, why are so many high level school district leaders leaving?

    • BoredHouseWife

      rats feeling a sinking ship? or the pay is crap

  • Bender

    Speaking of the picture —

    Retire? How old is this guy??

    From the picture he looks awfully young to “retire.” Are Arlington taxpayers now going to have to pay gold-plated pension benefits for the next 30 years for him?

    • Arlwhenever

      That’s like one of those real estate agent pictures — way old. He’s put on at least 50 pounds since that picture was shot.

      • Henry

        That explains the size of the picture, then–it was taken in the 1960s

    • doodly

      Ever hear of “early retirement,” Bender? Or “Just for Men” hair dye?

      • Bender

        Sure I’ve heard of early retirement.

        It is not an issue when early retirement is at the expense of the retiree.

        But when the public is expected to enrich a young and healthy former government employee who is capable of working simply because government employees have scammed the system into letting them “retire” with a huge pension after only 20 years of work, or less, then it is a huge problem. Such “legacy costs” is one of the reasons that local, state, and federal governments are going broke.

        • Maria

          Instead of making grand speculations about “gold-plated pension benefits” (really? I mean, the guy’s not a banking exec, you know), why don’t you just look up how old he is and what the retirement benefits are for his position. You might be right, but better to lead with facts than speculation.

        • doodly

          You are pulling this out of your ass though, Bender. You have no idea how much his retirement compensation will be.

          In general, no, state and local governments are not going broke due to retirement costs.

  • LisaDC

    When successful top level personal start retiring, it doesn’t speak well to top level management. Over the past 5 years, our elementary school has seen a mass exodus of respected educators who left their jobs of 20-30 years due to the tyrannical principal.

    • Rosslynite

      All successful top level personnel eventually retire. I expect that most would leave with 20-30 years of experience, given their age.

      • Louise

        They’re not retiring. They’re transferring to other schools to get away from the principal.

    • Louise

      And APS senior staff keeps her right there, causing your school and your students to suffer. When will they learn . . .

  • APS supporter

    Mark Johnston has been an incredible Arlington Public Schools teacher, curriculum specialist, and assistant superintendent. The fact that he is choosing to retire rather than work under Patrick Murphy makes me wonder…and worry.

  • C

    Retired or quit? I think the latter. Arlington schools also lost the head of the Mathematics Department and the head of Language Arts. I think the school board needs to take a serious look at whether or not these vacancies are due to Patrick Murphy’s leadership style.

    • Gairleog

      Completely agree.

  • APSnumberone

    This School Board hired Dr. Murphy, and continues to vigorously defend him. They are the five people who NEED to see what is happening, but continue to put their heads in the sand. Maybe this departure will finally make them face reality, and if not admit their mistake, then at least NOT renew Dr. Murphy’s contract when it expires.

    • Maeve

      Dr Murphy has become the “Elephant in the Room” — the problem no one wants to address. His “leadership” has resulted in the loss of many talented and forward thinking education professionals in Arlington. When will the School Board recognize this?

  • APS teacher

    I’m not sure if Johnston’s “retirement” is due to Dr. Murphy or not, but I have heard from multiple people at different levels (teachers, admin, etc) that nobody enjoys working for him and they are tired of his management style.

    I haven’t interacted with him beyond a “hello” in the hallways…maybe thats part of the problem?

  • Jo

    I worked with Mark Johnston years ago at Edison High School in Fairfax County. He was a dedicated teacher to his students and a committed professional to the field of education. Everyone loved him – school staff, the kids and their parents. Arlington County has been lucky to have had Mark these past years – we missed him when he left Edison. I wish him well in the future and am sure he’ll continue to contribute his energy and leadership wherever he chooses to go . . . .

  • Lookalike

    Johnston looks like Jack Black.

  • Paula T

    As a parent and citizen engaged in APS instruction, I’ve found Dr. Johnston to be very thoughtful, responsive, and very competent. While he is sometimes considered risk-averse, he does oversee curriculum and instruction in one of the most successful school systems in the region and in the country.

    Many people have held off retirement during the last five years as the economy soured, so I wouldn’t read too much into a high number of retirements now that things are improving. If he began teaching at a young age, and the sum of his age and years of service is over 80, he may be indeed eligible for retirement and a new career move (academia, another school system, etc.). We don’t begrudge our military personnel who retire at age 45, so let’s not be too critical of a other public servants in their mid 50’s moving on to another career.

    Dr. Murphy seems to have a very different reputation from the previous superintendent. Perhaps it conflicts with Dr. Johnston’s style. I’m impressed that he didn’t resign on July 1, and will be around to help a replacement get the new school year underway.

  • APSteacher2

    I too am at an elementary school and continue to see a mass exodus of wonderful, caring teachers and other staff members. No doubt–reason tyrannical principal and a superintendent who supports her behavior. I agree, the number of teachers, principals and senior staff who are leaving points to a big problem in Arlington Public Schools. Parents where are you? As a teacher, I am intimidated and need my job.

  • ballinakilla

    Dr. Johnston is younger than 47.

    • APS_Mom

      Dr. Johnston is 50 years old.

  • Resident and teacher

    Yoda: In the Sith, always two there are. No mo no less. A master… and an apprentice.
    Mace: But which was destroyed? The master or the apprentice?

  • Arlingtonrocks

    As an extremely involved APS parent I look forward to the future. This is good news! Mark is a very nice guy and no doubt a fantastic educator unfortunately he was raised as an administrator under Dr. Smith who was just awful and coasting through till his retirement. It was very obvious tha cirriculum decisions

  • Arlingtonrocks

    Over the past decade have set us back….I don’t care who’s fault it is …I just want it fixed! Dr. Murphy may not be warm and fuzzy but there are way too many APS employees coasting at the moment. It is time for everyone to wake up and start coming to work every single day and giving their all for the kids… just showing up isn’t good enough anymore!

    • Louise

      Would love to know what you mean when you say that “curriculum decisions over the past decade have set us back.” Could you pls. expand on that?

  • APSnumberone

    Wow, are you serious? My children have had incredible teachers who do far more than “just show up.” I have been continually blown away over the years by the things they do in the classroom to help kids learn. At all three levels, also as a very involved parent, I have certainly not witnessed any employees “coasting.” Principals, teachers, assistants, librarians, custodians, bus drivers–all have worked to make my children’s years successful at school.

  • Seiglinde

    As a employee of APS, on the low end of the totem pole, I can say that whenever someone leaves without disclosing their next employment position, or if they are leaving because of the climate they are working under, the county announces that they are “Retiring”.

  • Arlingtonbug

    Mark Johnston is an honorable person who is leaving with his dignity and a professional reputation as a smart, personable educator capable of making reasoned decisions in difficult situations. ANY school system would be fortunate to have him as an employee. Being approachable is a sign of STRENGTH lacking in some other APS leaders. Will be difficult to find someone with his abilities willing to take this position under the current regime.

  • APSnumberone

    Here, here, Arlingtonbug. I hope the School Board is listening.

  • Teacher2

    Look back at the comments and info from the spring when Kathy Francis resigned as principal of Williamsburg Middle School, alleging that the superintendent was harassing her. (By the way, the results of an outside firm’s investigation indicate there was no evidence of harassment. But … did they even talk to Kathy Francis?)

    Then, continue to check the administrative vacancies on the APS employment page. Since Francis left, the principal and director of counseling of Swanson have resigned, the director of counseling at Williamsburg has resigned, the County supervisors for English/Language Arts, Math and Counseling have resigned, and now Mark Johnston and Mary Beth Chambers, another asst superintendent, have resigned. Yes- it was probably time for some of these folks to go, but not all of them, and not all at once. The mass exodus is unsettling and is a direct result of a lack of functional leadership at the very top.

    I am an APS parent and teacher and have been around for almost 20 years. Whatever problems people had with Dr. Smith, the previous superintendent, teachers at least felt as though he understood what it was like to be in a classroom with kids and that he had kids’ best interests at heart. I have not met or heard of ANYBODY in the APS system who feels that way about Patrick Murphy.

    He is leading a 3-ring circus of “initiatives,” all at once and without much thought or serious input from stakeholders, despite his statements to the contrary. Teachers are asked to devote 20-30 hours of their personal time to sit on committees to rewrite the grading policy, for example, or evaluate and recommend a new gradebook software package, and then discover that their efforts have been ignored and he has gone with what was his own preference all along. I have heard from administrators that “the decision has already been made, and this committee is just for show,” several times.

    I have been very concerned as a parent, too, and have seen in my child’s school that the kids who are not in danger of failing the SOL’s, like my child, are very often overlooked as staff focus their efforts on the “bubble” kids, those on the bubble of passing. I see this in my own school as well.

    Things are not well at APS. Ask questions of the school board, because they are the only ones who can right them.

    • MickeyInArlington

      I agree that something is terribly amiss when this many top people leave in such a short span.

      I have heard some pretty damaging things whispered about the new supt.

      The School Bd, being elected to their positions, will not entertain that there is a problem, as it would reflect so poorly on them. They hired the guy, afterall.

  • Teacher2

    Arlingtonbug’s comment about finding someone to fill Johnston’s position is correct. It WILL be difficult. The 3 supervisor positions- English, Math and Counseling- were all posted in June, and were re-posted again in the past week or so. That says to me that nobody is interested in working for Murphy.

  • ArlingtonTeacher

    Under Smith an impenetrable fiefdom was created. Johnston was behind every decision and every initiative. The good the bad and the ugly. Johnston is a sharp guy, but spiteful and vindictive. He unfortunately needed some serious training in effective leadership. Unfortunately all we got was an incompetent buffoon as superintendent. I would bet Johnston was forced out over the fiasco with the calendar change to support the additional 1.3 million dollar professional development day for all staff. This will apparently be just a day to look at data and talk about why there is still a gap…

    Our schools waste extraordinary amounts of money on every new shiny program, equipment, or whatever and the real and important work of the schools is ignored.

    As a taxpayer I am outraged.

    The school board has no idea what they are doing and buy every lie that murphy and the others feed them.

    Get rid of Murphy and the entire board.

    • Patti

      Clearly you were not an Arlington language arts teacher. If you hadn’t use the word “apparently” in the 8th sentence, every single sentence in your post would have been hyperbolic.

    • ballinakilla

      # 1 Is there something wrong with writing being hyperbolic.

      #2 Unfortunately for all of us, I was being reserved and insightful not hyperbolic. If I were going to be hyperbolic you would be shocked at what is really likely going on in the county and why it costs so much.

      #3 I think sentence 7 would be considered conjecture and not hyperbolic.
      it is after all a line item in the budget 1.3million. There was indeed a fiasco. Look at the school board video record. Not really an overstatement.

      #4 By your comment you imply that hyperbolic writing is bad. Why is it then that students(my kids) have to spend hours on homework listing “action verbs” etc… to make their writing exciting and not pay more attention to dry facts… Never mind. Keep making them learn how to write creatively and exciting.

  • APSnumberone

    Teacher2, the principal of Jamestown also just recently retired. I implore the school board to please look at the overall picture and get rid of this guy. He is toxic for the school system, and I agree with one of the comments above, that I have found NO ONE who thinks well of this supt. except for the school board members.

    • MickeyInArlington

      “Toxic” — this is the exact word I have heard about him, the Supt., (not Johnston).


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