No more pencils, no more books

“Education has been the most gratifying and fulfilling career I could possible have had,” says St.
Anthony Park Elementary School principal Ann Johnson, who is retiring in June. Photo by Kristal
Leebrick

She’s been taped to a wall, milked a goat, colored her hair pink, dressed up as a chicken and wiggled through the “Chicken Dance” in every classroom at St. Anthony Park Elementary School. On April 13 Ann Johnson donned an inflatable Minion costume and hosted a Minion Dance Party in celebration of the school’s students reading an accumulated 300,000 minutes in 12 days as part of its annual read-a-thon.

The dance party marked her last read-a-thon, an annual fundraiser that had Johnson promising to do something crazy each spring if kids made their reading goals. Johnson is retiring in June after nearly four decades in St. Paul Public Schools. Her leave-taking from St. Anthony Park comes just as the school will undergo a $12.4 million twoyear remodel that will add more than 7,000 square feet of classroom space, expand the school’s cafeteria, and add windows and skylights to bring natural light into each classroom.

“I won’t get to be here for the cool new building,” she said, but she made the choice to retire now, in part because of the remodel and new programming that will go with it. “It’s best for a new principal to step in” to help orchestrate the changes, she said. That new principal should be named by the end of the school year, she said.

Johnson came to St. Anthony Park as principal in fall 2008. She grew up in St. Paul, attending Homecroft Elementary School and Highland junior and senior high schools. She attended the University of Minnesota for her bachelor’s degree and Hamline and St. Thomas universities for her graduate work. Her first job was at St. Paul Public Schools Open School. She then spent many years as a kindergarten teacher at several district schools. She was assistant principal at Expo Elementary School before coming to St. Anthony Park.

“I have loved my job here,” she said about her time at St. Anthony Park. She described the community of parents, students and teachers at St. Anthony Park as a collaborative group. “We all work together; we have tight relationships here,” she said. “I have felt highly supported and have always felt in partnership with the parents.”

She recalls her first read-athon in spring 2009: She was asked to sit atop a dunk tank outside while students lobbed balls at the machine in hopes their ball hit the mark and the principal would land in the water. For many of them, that’s exactly what happened.

“It was my first year,” she said. “People weren’t sure what they thought of me. I was really nervous.” But after she climbed out of that tank, cold and wet, she thought, “I think I can call this year a success.”

“Education has been the most gratifying and fulfilling career I could possibly have had,” Johnson said, as she pulled out a poster board tucked behind a file cabinet in her office. The board is filled with classroom photos from her first 17 years as a teacher. She can still name most of the children in each photo.

She pointed to her first class at Expo. That was her first time getting to know refugee families, she said. “I learned so much about racial equity awareness and never to assume anything and to be a good listener.”

Johnson described herself as a smart, active student in grade school, and one of those kids who was often told to sit down and be quiet. “I wanted school to be engaging,” but for her the learning was by rote and “a lot of memorization.”

She recalls two principals in her grade school, each with a very different administrative style: the first “was so kind and wonderful I just wanted to please her,” Johnson said. The second walked around with a ruler that she often used “to swat students on the head if they were misbehaving.”

The contrast between the kinder educator and the authoritarian was pivotal for her. Learning “with an iron fist” doesn’t work for many children, she said. She considers kind, generous and experiential learning environments more conducive to learning.

After she hangs up her principal’s hat in June, Johnson plans to do “typical retirement things,” like travel. “The biggest deal is time is whizzing by,” she said. “I’m taking time to enjoy life.” And her book club friends say they are looking forward to her finally finishing a book.

Johnson doesn’t plan to leave education entirely. With her early-childhood background, she may get involved in advocating, either legislatively or in an educational setting, she said.

A celebration for Johnson will be held Thursday, May 18, 5-7 p.m., at the school, rain or shine. The community is invited. Treats will be provided by Leprechaun’s Dreamcycle and food will be available for purchase from the Foxy Falafel food truck.

5 Responses to No more pencils, no more books

  1. Michelle Riehle says:

    Ann Johnson is wonderful leader for SAP elementary school. She works tirelessly, listens carefully to students and parents, and takes the time and energy to engage with any student wishing to do so. Its obvious how much she loves this career and how much she has given to the SAP community. As a parent of two students at SAP Elementary, we wish Ann the very best as she retires, travels, reads her book club books and has more time for her family. My 2nd grader summed it up as he ran up to me on the day he learned this news “Its a sad day for us as Mrs. Johnson is the best and I really hope they find someone just like her to be our next principal, but she gets to spend more time with her family.” Thanks Ann! You’ve left a lasting and mark on SAP Elementary and we are incredibly grateful.

  2. Sonia Ellis (Becerra girls) says:

    Thank you Ann for all these memorable years! Both our daughters are better people because of you and your kind, fun and fair leadership, along with the amazing staff and teachers at SAP Elementary of course! Enjoy every minute of retirement, you so deserve it!

  3. Melissa Williams says:

    What a nice write-up of a wonderful educator in our community! We are grateful to have had two years at SAP Elementary with Ann Johnson at the helm. Thank you for your patience, wisdom, sense of humor, and above all your love for our kids, Ann; you will be missed.

  4. Julie cook says:

    I’ve known you since childhood Ann,it’s been so fun to have you be at Gus’s school. I’m proud to say ive danced with a Minion. Mrs Halper would be proud of you.

  5. Juliana James says:

    Ann Johnson was my principal at St. Anthony Park for five years. She was the most inspiring leader I ever worked with. She listened, helped the teachers grow, expanded the deep love of learning the students and staff had, and helped us through difficult times with changing policies and expectations. She was so dedicated she was often in the office until the sun went down. I am so happy she gets to retire, travel and enjoy her own life and family now it is so well deserved. Thank you Ann for all you did for the SAP community.

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