Principal, El Crystal Elementary School
San Bruno Park School District
Maybe it was sitting in the snow with his dad and watching the steam locomotives that gave Skip Johnson his curiosity about how things work. “My Dad worked on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and I witnessed the evolution from steam to diesel power,” Skip remembers, “I guess that’s why I’ve always liked knowing how machines function.” When Johnson used his first computer, however, its functionality was limited to keeping track of which students passed Driver’s Education. “Now I look at my 20” screen and Mac® ‘mini,’ and I’m in awe of how far things have come,” says Johnson. Skip has developed his expertise in technology through many classes, including some for his recently-completed Masters in Education degree.
Skip began his career in 1970, teaching school in Barstow, California, where he grew up. After teaching in Washington State, he returned to teach in Palo Alto, then became principal at El Crystal Elementary School in San Bruno, where he has been for the past 13 years. During his tenure, Johnson has transformed the school into one of the most technologically astute schools in the district, and has received grants totaling $60,000, which paid for laptops, LCD projectors for the classrooms, and professional development. Due to his interest and acumen for technology, Skip has been tapped to chair his district’s technology committee, and to supervise updating the websites for the district office and for all the schools in the district.
One of the key ways that Johnson uses technology as a principal is to track student learning through a program called PowerSchool, which he is helping to implement throughout the district. This program, coupled with the use of color-coded Excel® spreadsheets, enables him to track student learning in a visual manner, sorting to see which students are performing at, above, or above proficiency levels in language arts and math. Johnson and his teachers utilize this information through a process they call Data Protocol, where they decide which students need the most academic intervention.
Skip believes that the right kind of technology, in the hands of qualified, motivated, trained, and creative teachers, can improve student learning and build understanding. As he explains, “Understanding allows an individual to move beyond regurgitating facts to applying knowledge to other situations. Technology has the power to help students reach deeper levels of understanding, which translates into meaningful and long-lasting learning.” However, Johnson bemoans the cost of technology, which limits schools’ access, especially in small schools and districts. Technology costs also cause some districts to skimp on professional development, which he sees as essential for ensuring that these resources are used well by teachers.
When he’s not managing his many work-related responsibilities, Skip can be found spending time with his wife and teenaged children, taking an occasional cross country ski trip, and reading extensively (trains are a favorite topic – it must be genetic). While recent knee surgery has curtailed his lifelong love for running, Johnson still hits the gym on a regular basis, and never misses a Giants or 49er game.