Dr. Sara Johnson is superintendent of Crook County School District, a Central Oregon rural district nestled below the great plateaus of the Crooked River Basin. Under her leadership, the district has become known regionally for offering an excellent education to students resulting in outstanding graduation and on-track rates for students in all subgroups, celebrating graduation rates of over 98%. Dr. Johnson and her team have led the district to be a stand-out school system, excelling in Career & Technical Education (CTE), Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Robotics is a core program with opportunities for all students from Kindergarten through high school. Dr. Johnson and her leadership team focus on preparing students for life after high school and supporting career and college-bound paths.
Dr. Sara Johnson grew up in Burns, Oregon, with five brothers and developed a quick wit (a necessity as the only sister in the house!) and a tenacity for always doing things better. She began her career in public education as a first-grade teacher in Burns before moving into administrative roles. As a school leader, her schools produced outstanding achievements. As principal, her schools were honored multiple times, as a National Title I Distinguished School and Exceptional Achievement Award winner nine times in two different districts. In 2007, she was named Oregon Principal of the Year due to her many years of high student achievement. Dr. Johnson has served eight years as a superintendent, four as assistant superintendent and human resources officer, as Director of School Improvement, Assessment, and Equity, and as both an elementary principal and elementary teacher. She has worked at virtually all levels of public education.
Sara believes deeply in the power of public education to change lives and communities. She understands that great schools are inextricably linked with healthy communities. “When our schools thrive, the positivity overflows into our community, “states Johnson. Also, as a former teacher of kindergarten and first grade, Sara is committed to every student becoming a reader. Reading has been extremely impactful in the personal growth of Dr. Johnson, and she wants every student to be able to read to learn.
Dr. Johnson credits her leadership success to being mentored by incredible leaders who helped shape her philosophy of servant leadership, as well as focusing on her intense drive to attain excellence and high achievement in public schools. People who know her well jokingly state that she is all acceleration and no brakes. She has a fire burning within her to make a difference in education and leads others to succeed. She intensely feels the urgency of students’ needs and believes educators have the power to create systems that will propel students to reach their goals and dreams. Dr. Johnson was educated in outstanding programs in Oregon, including Eastern Oregon University, and Lewis and Clark College, and received her Ed.D. from George Fox University. Always the lead learner, she is currently in her third year of an Education Specialist degree in School Psychology. She is an avid reader and continuously seeks out and studies the most effective ways to lead and improve systems.
Dr. Johnson is team-centered and proud of the significant work the district has accomplished and believes the improvement model will lead to additional success. She applies system improvement strategies, including improvement and implementation science, and leads her team in the development and improvement of a dynamic public-school system that has the agility and expertise to serve every student as educators embrace strengths, increase self-efficacy, and exercise a growth mindset. She believes the best way for educators to excel is to collaborate with fellow team members to combine strengths – leading the whole team to success. Sara embraces challenges and focuses on what we CAN do that find ways to break down barriers, persevere in adversity, and stay focused on the “wins” educators can deliver for students.
Dr. Johnson and her husband live in Prineville, Oregon. She says Crook County offers the best of rural living in a tight-knit family-centered community. Johnson and her husband have two adult children, who are both registered nurses. Her son lives in Eugene, Oregon, and her daughter, son-in-law, and 6-year-old grandchild live in Klamath Falls, Oregon. When she can find free time, Johnson enjoys quilting, and loves to create and hand-stitch with wool. She seeks out stitching projects designed by artists around the world. Dr. Johnson remains excited about serving in education, “My priorities are learning, safety, and facilitation of continuous improvement. Public education is powerful and important. It has the potential to change the world by developing knowledge, skills, and attitudes in children. I believe all educators must continuously learn and improve, responding with agility to the children and culture.”
Past AASA Oregon Superintendent of the Year Winners:
2021 Oregon Superintendent of the Year: Christy Perry
2020 Oregon Superintendent of the Year: Gustavo Balderas
About the Award:
The Superintendent of the Year program, sponsored by First Student and AASA, pays tribute to the talent and vision of the men and women who lead the nation’s public schools.
State-level winners are selected on the following criteria:
- Leadership for Learning
- Community Involvement