Thirty-five years after graduating from Central High School, Mike Johnson is returning to begin the 2018-2019 school year as High School Principal.
“When I graduated, I think we had 99 students in our class,” Johnson recalls. “I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was around there. Our incoming class of freshmen that we have this year is over 170 students, so the size is almost double.
“When I drive around, I see that it’s all the same streets and the same boundaries—so I’m thinking, ‘Where are all these students coming from?’”
After initially going to college in Rolla to pursue a degree in Engineering Johnson felt drawn to coach high school athletics, which he pursued by transferring to Southeast Missouri State University where his background in mathematics allowed an easy transition into education.
After graduating college, Johnson spent a year at Perryville where he taught and coached middle school football and high school basketball. After that first year, Johnson took a job at Scott City where he coached for ten years and taught every math class from the basics to the upper-level calculus and trigonometry classes.
After ten years as a member of the Scott City faculty, Johnson was hired as the high school principal for that school.
“I coached for ten years and I enjoyed that, but whenever the principal job came open, I decided it was time for a change,” he said. “Sometimes, I think being a principal is actually less time-consuming than being a coach. Nowadays, coaching is year-round. Even ten years ago, that’s where it was going.”
Johnson served as Scott City High School’s principal for about ten years before being hired for the position of at Central High School this year.
Having been a teacher, a coach and a principal, Johnson said the biggest difference between his past and current roles is the variety of responsibilities that can be on his plate at any given time.
“You never know from one day to the next what it’s going to look like,” he said. “It gives you some freedom to be in classrooms, to see certain teachers and students, sometimes just the paperwork aspect of the job and the networking with other principals. There’s just so many things to do and not one day is the same as the next. That’s really the best part of it—the variety and the many different hats that we wear.”
After graduating from Central when it was a smaller district and spending much of the last twenty years working in a small district, Johnson said he has spent much of his first week on-campus familiarizing himself with everything the district has to offer.
“There’s just such a wide variety of programs at Central,” he said. “I still don’t even have a grasp of everything that goes on here. Every day we’re talking about a different program that is going on here, and I think that’s a part of what makes Central very successful—the wide range of programs to ensure the success of students.”
In addition to district-specific programs, Johnson said the high school has a very unique advantage with Mineral Area College being positioned in such close proximity.
“It’s crazy, the amount of access that we have here to MAC,” he said. “It’s right in our backyard and the opportunities that our kids have to graduate with 60+ hours of credit and their first two years of college out of the way is just mind-boggling to me.”
In addition to the larger amount of resources and programs operated in the high school, Johnson said the physical size of the campus is something he’s getting used to, having come from a school that housed its entire district in one building.
Johnson said that in his position at Scott City, there were two local districts that were always held up in the educational community as being especially successful, one of which being Central.
“Park Hills and Ste. Genevieve were always the two beacons,” he said. “When someone thought of a really good school, for lots of reasons, they thought of Park Hills and they thought of Ste. Gen. So now that I’m here, I’m figuring out what it is that makes Central that beacon. I think a lot of it is the technology that we have here and the opportunity that kids have to go to MAC.
“It’s a great school and my job is to not mess that up,” he said.