downtown and out

George Washington High principal, symbol of changes to storied IB program, leaves school for undetermined post

The recommendations call for George Washington High to get $6.7 million for upgrades or renovations.

[Updated at 6:20 p.m.] Denver George Washington High School’s principal Micheal Johnson, who became the target of vocal criticism over changes to the school’s International Baccalaureate program, is leaving the school to take a central administrative job. 

“[I]t has been my honor and privilege to serve your students as the principal of George Washington High School,” Johnson said in a letter sent this afternoon to parents. “It is with deep gratitude for your engagement in our community that I announce that I am moving into another leadership position with the Post-Secondary Readiness team of the Denver Public Schools.”

Jose Martinez, a former Jeffco Public Schools principal, director of diversity, and principal supervisor, has been named the school’s interim principal. Martinez’s first day will be Aug. 6.

Susana Cordova, DPS chief schools officer, said the change was part of the district’s ongoing effort to “support our teams and have people in places where they can be most successful.”

While leading George Washington, or GW, Johnson was paid $112,175. He’ll continue to be paid that salary in his new role, a principal on special assignment for post-secondary readiness at a yet-to-be determined school. Cordova said details are still being worked out on the school or schools where Johnson will be assigned.

Tension between Johnson, who was named principal of the southeast Denver high school two years ago, and the George Washington community escalated last spring as Johnson and DPS officials introduced parents to their plan to open access to the school’s IB program.

The strain was exacerbated by Johnson’s alleged unresponsiveness to teachers’ and parents’ concerns over the changes and next year’s teacher assignments.

Micheal Johsnon
PHOTO: SCORE
Micheal Johnson

The IB plan, slated to take effect in the 2015 school year, is intended to make the  program  accessible to a larger number of students. Currently, the program is highly selective, and only students who enter as underclassmen are allowed to pursue the prestigious IB diploma. The re-imagined program would mirror admissions policies at other IB programs across the nation.

Cordova said that Johnson’s departure in no way signals a weakening of the district’s resolve to make changes to IB, or to beef up GW’s Advanced Placement and lower-grades honors program. “Most definitely, the work will continue. Our commitment to keeping parents engaged [in planning the changes] is critical. Our commitment to keeping students engaged is critical.”

She also said that one of Martinez’s strengths is communicating effectively with a diverse student and parent population “and bringing people together around a common agenda.” A 2006 story in the Denver Post portrayed him as a no-nonsense school leader.

Johnson and district officials believe the IB program, as it is currently structured, has produced unintended achievement gaps between the school’s middle-income and poor students.

Just over 400 of George Washington’s 1,424 students are enrolled in the IB program. And only 14 percent qualify for free- or reduced-lunch, a proxy of poverty, while more than half of the school’s entire population qualifies by the same standard.

Critics, parents and students alike, packed the school’s library in May to voice their concerns about the changes. They fear the proposed changes will water down the elite program’s rigor.

Since then, a vocal group of IB parents have called for Johnson’s resignation.

The news of Johnson’s exit comes one week after the Denver teachers union filed a formal grievance with the district claiming Johnson cut the school’s leadership team of teachers out of the development of the master schedule.

“This continues to fit the double standard that Denver Public Schools has for administration versus other employees,” said union leader Billy Husher. “Administrator after administrator is moved out of their position for district-level positions when they are ineffective as leaders while teachers and other employees are hung out to dry and told that they cannot work in the District for a minimum of 3 years before they are eligible for rehire.”

According to Johnson’s letter, instructional superintendent Fred McDowell will lead the transition, which includes finalizing the schedule, naming an interim-principal, and hiring nine teachers.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Micheal Johnson had earned a masters degree from Harvard. He received his masters from the University of Colorado. He also, according to his resume on Linkedin participated in an educational leadership program at Harvard. 

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.