Cathy Johnson begins third stint as South-Western City School District board president

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group

Cathy Johnson said she is honored to have been selected by her colleagues to serve as the South-Western City School District's board president for 2021.

It would be a pleasure if she again would have an opportunity to sit with her colleagues during school board meetings, Johnson said.

Cathy Johnson

"I'm looking forward to hopefully being able to switch from virtual sessions back to in-person meetings later this year once everybody has a chance to be vaccinated," she said. "These are unprecedented times, and we've had to make some adjustments because of the pandemic. But it hasn't taken us away from our goal of doing what's best to serve the students in our district.

"I appreciate the faith my colleagues have shown by electing me as board president," she said. 

Johnson is in the last year of her fifth term on the school board. She first was elected in 2001 and last won reelection in 2017.

She previously served as board president in 2008-09 and in 2016-17.

The board voted Jan. 4 to name Johnson as 2021 president. Robert Ragland, who served as board president last year, was elected as vice president for the coming year.

The pandemic remains front and center in the new year, Johnson said.

The district returned to a blended learning model Jan. 5, with students attending school for in-person instruction two days a week. The "blue" group attends school Mondays and Tuesdays, and the "green" group attends classes Thursdays and Fridays. Students participate in remote learning activities and assignments three days each week, and the school buildings are given a deep cleaning on Wednesdays.

"We want to get our students back in their schools full time as soon as we can," Johnson said.

That decision will be made by Superintendent Bill Wise and his administrative team, she said.

"We have empowered our superintendent to make that determination," Johnson said. "The board serves as the eyes and ears for the community. We communicate with people in our community and report their concerns back to the superintendent."

South-Western has "the best superintendent in central Ohio," she said.

"It makes our job as board members easier knowing we have a superintendent, treasurer and administrators in place that we trust in and know will make the right decisions for our district and our students," Johnson said.

The second phase of the district's Ohio Facilities Construction Commission project is underway.

"It's been really exciting to watch all the new elementary buildings and a new (Franklin Heights) high school building come online during the first project," Johnson said. "Now we can bring those same enhancements to the middle schools."

The $193 million second phase will include construction of new buildings for the district's four oldest middle schools – Brookpark, Finland, Norton and Pleasant View – and renovations at Jackson Middle School. The second phase also includes renovations at East Franklin Elementary School. 

The new buildings are scheduled to open in August 2022.

As with the elementary schools, the new middle school buildings will offer updated architecture and upgraded technology to enhance student learning, Johnson said.

Other more basic improvements also will affect students' learning, she said.

"It's going to be so nice to know that we will have proper air conditioning throughout each of our middle schools," Johnson said. "That's going to make it easier for students to learn. How can you concentrate on learning when you're worrying about how hot it's getting in your school?"

Ragland has served on the board since August 2016, when he was appointed to fill a vacancy. He was elected in November 2017 to fill the remaining two years of the seat and elected again in 2019.

"As always, our mission is to provide the resources to give our students the best education possible," he said.

Robert Ragland Sr.

During his year as president, Ragland said, he advocated for the district to continue its efforts to meet the needs of students both in and out of the classroom.

South-Western is one of the largest school districts in Ohio and has a diverse student population with a wide range of needs, he said.

Issues like food security, access to technology and even homelessness have been even more impactful during the pandemic, Ragland said.

"We had a principal who used to say 'great kids make great learners,' and that's what we have in South-Western, a lot of great kids," he said.

The district will continue to strive to help students with the issues at home that could hinder their learning at school, Ragland said.

"We're trying to do what we can to remove any barriers to learning," he said.

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