After news broke throughout the district last December that Rockville Centre Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson would step down at the end of the 2017-18 school year, residents — donning T-shirts that read “Keep RVC Schools Great! Keep Dr. J” — packed a January Board of Education meeting to show their support for Johnson.
It appears they have gotten their wish.
John O’Shea, the new Board of Education president, opened the board’s Sept. 6 meeting with news about Johnson’s job status. “I’m very happy to announce that the Board of Education has reached an agreement with Dr. Johnson that will extend his current contract until June 30, 2020,” O’Shea said.
The extension, he added, would be on the agenda for formal approval at the board’s public work session on Sept. 19, at which time the public could comment on the matter. O’Shea added after the meeting that he would not discuss the extension further until then.
“I thank the board very much for considering the extension of my contract,” Johnson said at the meeting, “and I look forward to working with all of you for the next few years.”
He has worked for the district since 1979 and was named superintendent in 1986. Last fall, with his contract set to expire in June, the board extended it through June 30, 2018. Johnson made nearly $330,000 in 2016, according to SeeThroughNY. Mark Masin, president of the board at the time, told the public at the January meeting that Johnson had announced his intention to retire when the extension expired at a public work session on Nov. 2.
The decision was a mystery to some school leaders and community members. Asked whether he would consider rescinding it, Johnson said, “You’ll have to talk to the board about that,” the Herald reported in January.
Resident Jeff Greenfield was among those that criticized the board at a meeting that month for not making sure that the resignation announcement of a 30-year superintendent was done more publicly, at a meeting, as opposed to a public work session. “I’m delighted the new school board members listened to the community’s desire to have Dr. J continue to serve our award-winning school district,” Greenfield said after the recent announcement, referring to Tara Hackett and Susan McNulty, who were elected in May, replacing Gregg Spaulding, as well as Mayda Kramer, who did not run for re-election.
Chris Pellettieri, assistant superintendent for business and curriculum, said that educators and administrators alike were pleased by the board’s decision. “That steady hand of leadership that has meant so much to this district, these schools and this community for 30-plus years — to know that he’s still going to be here, leading [with] that one vision that drives us, I think it’s really unprecedented,” Pellettieri said. “I don’t see it happening elsewhere, and we are truly lucky, and, I think, blessed to have someone like him still lead us.”
Darren Raymar, principal of William S. Covert Elementary School, recalled Johnson’s hiring him 19 years ago. “He’s continued his focus again and again and again, which is that every child should succeed, and that we will make sure that every child succeeds,” Raymar told the Herald, calling Johnson the “heart and soul” of the district. “That’s the way we roll here, and that’s amazing.”
Johnson is known for challenging state curricula, which he has described as unfair to students. He is an outspoken critic of Common Core State Standards and the high-stakes tests that have caused high levels of anxiety among students. Most recently, he spoke out against the geometry Regents that spurred controversy throughout the state, telling the Herald that the questions on the test were “misleading, poorly written and very much laden with unnecessary linguistic concepts that cause confusion in how to respond.”
During his tenure, South Side High School was among the first South Shore high schools to adopt the International Baccalaureate Program, and along with other schools in the district, has been consistently recognized as among the best schools in the state.
“I am just pleased that I have the opportunity to stay on in the school district beyond 2018,” Johnson told the Herald after last week’s meeting. “I love my job. I enjoy coming to work. I still believe that there are things I can contribute to the quality of life in this community and to the educational system … and this board has given me that opportunity.
“This is not a change of heart,” he concluded. “I’ve always wanted to stay here.”