Slow and steady
When the Minneapolis school board hired Johnson in winter 2010, they didn't consider any candidates other than the woman who had become then-Superintendent Bill Green's deputy. A former financial analyst who came to education as a second career, Johnson had experience as a school administrator in Memphis and Minneapolis, the place where she first served as a principal.
As superintendent, Johnson has set what she considers manageable goals for all students. By 2015, she hopes to cut the achievement gap between white students and those of color in reading by half and by a third in math.
Under Johnson's watch, the reading results of Minneapolis' black, Latino and American Indian students have increased during the last two years of state testing. Still, Johnson has failed to meet several goals the school board will evaluate her on, most of them related to the performance of the district's non-white students.
"Despite years of effort and a lot of money, we have not broken the code," said Pam Costain, a former school board member who voted to hire Johnson. Costain is now president and CEO of AchieveMPLS, a foundation that supports the work of the school district. "Other places have done better, so it's possible."
The challenges are daunting: When the state Department of Education identified 19 of the state's lowest-performing schools last summer, seven were from Minneapolis and fewer than half of Minneapolis' minority high school students earn a diploma within four years.
'Remember to delegate'
A consultant's report completed this year suggested that Johnson was spread too thin and trying to take on too many challenges herself. In response, she hired a deputy superintendent to oversee the district's day-to-day operations and assigned an associate superintendent to oversee the lowest-performing schools.
Letting go hasn't been easy though. Johnson's executive assistant still signs her daily schedule folder with a reminder: "Remember to delegate," with a smiley face underneath.