Levon Johnson, Perspective Change
Elkhart Community Schools is taking a calculated risk having someone who is less than two weeks away from leaving the system, write a perspective piece for the newsletter. In all seriousness, I appreciate this opportunity to reflect a little. If I had to title this perspective piece, I would call it “Perspective Change.”
Let me start with where I get my perspective. I have been with Elkhart Community Schools for 38 years. First as a student, athlete, and musician. After graduating from college, I came back to Elkhart and began my “second” stint with ECS. During that time I have been a teacher, coach, club sponsor, assistant principal, principal, chancellor (don’t ask), and central office administrator. Between my dad, who was a teacher and administrator, and my mom, who was a long-time teacher, there has been a Johnson employed by ECS for the past 56 years. If we want to stretch that out a little more, from the time my dad entered kindergarten in 1943 until my youngest son graduates in 2022, there will have been a Johnson, from my family, in Elkhart Community Schools for 79 consecutive years. As students or employees, we have touched every school in the system, including some that don’t even exist anymore, like Lincoln Elementary, Weston Elementary, Willowdale Elementary, Samuel Strong, and Brookdale Junior High.
I started there to say – I am very appreciative of all that Elkhart Community Schools has meant to my family and countless others who have been positively impacted by so many great people involved with the system. I know I speak on behalf of my family when I say we hope that we have had an impact on the students, staff, and school system as well.
Change! Some love it. Some hate it. Some embrace it. Some accept it. Some believe we need to, while others pretend like it doesn’t exist.
From a school system perspective, let’s agree that we can all lament the following cultural shifts and changes in the education world: the loss of kindergarten nap time, losing morning and afternoon recess in elementary, true block scheduling in the middle schools, one hour open lunches at the high school, seniors getting out of school two weeks before all other students, any time before standardized testing ruled everything, and a time when teachers had full creative license to meet the needs of the individual students in their classrooms. There are countless others but this is not the forum for some of those.
Our school system has also been a catalyst for change in our community through such initiatives like embracing and supporting Title IX legislation, ensuring that our girls/young women are able to reap the benefits of equal participation in all educational opportunities. We pioneered the inclusion of special education students into the regular classroom, making sure every student’s talents and gifts are realized in the best possible educational setting. The desegregation of our schools made it possible at a much earlier age for our students to learn and appreciate different cultures and perspectives. Changing the way we educate and help build student relationships with non-English speaking students, understanding that young people become friends with the students they have in class and that those friendships last a lifetime, have had a major impact on students and community.
Most recently, the demonstrated ability and leadership in helping all students, regardless of background and circumstances, be able to earn college credits before ever leaving high school. We now have students in Elkhart earning enough college credits to have completed their first year of college or even earn their associate’s degree. On top of that, there is a renewed level of collaboration between schools and businesses. Elkhart Community Schools has been a leader in this area for some time, and at a time when the state is focused on making sure that all students are college and career ready at graduation, this change in thought, vision, and action will provide great opportunities for our students.
When we talk about changes in Elkhart education, we are facing what is perhaps one of the biggest changes in our school history: the combining of our high schools into one high school. For me personally, with my current and previous roles, the question has been asked in many of my conversations out in the community: “how do you feel about the merging of the two high schools?” My answer is this: as long as the merger is about – and I believe it is – how we as a school system and community support student growth and allow them to become as successful as they work to be and give them opportunities to be aspirational in their goal setting, I’m all for it.
Plus, if we are going “back” to one high school, maybe we can get nap time and those extra recesses back as well.
The changes coming to Elkhart Community Schools are only a piece of the bigger changes happening, both in the field of education, as well as in our community. You don’t need to look too far to see changes in Elkhart – a stroll along the riverwalk will give you a front-row seat to the Aquatics Center construction; a trip to Martin’s on Jackson will give you a peek into the new living spaces coming to Elkhart Avenue; new restaurants and businesses; expansions to manufacturing facilities; a new Boys and Girls Club at Beardsley. And as I face change in my own career, I love it, embrace it, and know with change comes the possibility for infinite growth. Great things are in store for Elkhart, and though my role is changing, I’m excited to be a part of the change.
Supervisor of Corporate and Community Partnerships, Elkhart Community Schools
President/CEO, Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce