Jason Johnson is known by most of his students as “Mr. J.” The nickname, which got tacked on years ago, has stuck and now brands everything the Frederick County Board of Education candidate does.
“My life’s passion is to educate and inspire,” Johnson said.
A former Frederick County Public Schools teacher and assistant director of the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) program at Johns Hopkins University, Johnson said his life has finally lined up in the right ways where he can commit to serving on the school board, which is something he has wanted to do for a long time.
Johnson’s priorities as a candidate include advocating for more funding for the school system and improving how the school system pays and retains teachers.
Johnson admitted that he himself had to leave FCPS partly because of pay.
“On my exit letter, they asked me why I was leaving. I wrote, “I don’t want to leave, I have to,” Johnson said.
As the parent of one current FCPS student and one graduate, Johnson feels the board should make financial decisions around the focus of making sure teachers are paid well and competitively.
“We need to find where are we wasting funds and where can we make adjustments to prioritize teacher pay,” Johnson said. “If it’s a priority, it’ll get done...if it’s a priority you will make adjustments, you will make cuts and do what is necessary.”
If elected, Johnson also hopes to work to address what some call the achievement or equity gap that exists within FCPS.
Johnson says he knows it’s there but that he views it differently.
“The first thing we have to address is a different gap that makes the other gaps true, which is a perception gap,” he said. “When you see a child of color you automatically think there is an achievement gap there.”
For Johnson, addressing implicit bias and perception both inside and outside the classroom, is the first step in erasing inequalities and disparities that may exist. Perception also affects students, Johnson said, because they themselves start to believe that there is a gap between them and others.
“If you don’t see a gap, they won’t see a gap and you’ll just drive them further ... the top thing we need to do is expecting kids to achieve high and not mentally putting them down,” Johnson said.
He also wants to see more of a focus on mental health, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have to make sure we’re still preparing our students while understanding that they have been through trauma. We’ve all been through trauma and so we have to not only help our students but help our teachers,” Johnson said.
He has ideas such as a roaming counselor or therapy worked into the school day. Most of all, he wants to make sure students and teachers don’t come back feeling like they can’t talk about how they’re feeling or what they’ve been through.
“We have to make it where it’s not taboo...we’ve all gone through this,” Johnson said.
He also hopes to see improvement in how the school system handles distance learning, should a second wave of the coronavirus hit in the fall.
As a parent, Johnson said the past two months of distance learning have been a roller coaster. He was proud of FCPS in the beginning stages, getting devices to students while other counties were scrambling.
“However, once we had the hardware in place, we lost step with our implementation,” Johnson said. “Going forward I really think we have to get our teachers, parents and students prepared for working on a synchronous model. I’d like to see it be a lot more organized where there is a class structure.”
If elected, Johnson said he will be a team player and bring optimism to the board while working to make sure FCPS students have what they need to tackle whatever the future throws at them.
“I have a heart for the county and I am beyond enthusiastic and beyond innovative and creative...and I will work my hardest to make sure Frederick County becomes the leader in the state,” Johnson said.